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As WMFE prepares to sell out to a religious broadcaster, the community wonders what’s next for public television in Orlando

Photo: Illustration by Noah Scalin, License: N/A

Illustration by Noah Scalin

Photo: , License: N/A

But if that’s the case, Odahowski says – echoed by many other WMFE supporters, volunteers, donors and former employees interviewed for this story – the station’s directors failed to let anyone know it.

“I’m confident that if WMFE asked this community for $3 million, then the $3 million would have been forthcoming,” he says. “WMFE has been around since 1965, and people have contributed $5, $10, $15 to get a coffee mug, a tote bag, an umbrella. Many of us who are fiduciaries or philanthropists have been able to provide greater amounts of money for building and staff. … That this was a fait accompli was just not the best practice in the field of nonprofit organizations.”

But Fajardo says the station did let the community know it was having problems. Repeatedly. “WMFE has made it clear during our pledge drives and in all our communications with donors that we depend upon community support to stay on the air,” he writes in his email to the Orlando Weekly. “It was reported in the media that WMFE-TV was having problems meeting its financial goals. When it became clear that selling the television station was the only viable option left, it was necessary to maintain confidentiality as we pursued a buyer. We told the public about the sale of WMFE-TV at the earliest practical time possible.”

Now the region waits while the FCC reviews the complaints about WMFE’s sale.

According to a PBS spokeswoman, Jan McNamara, there are local negotiations underway to create a new PBS flagship station in the market, but she was careful not to reveal too much information. She says the PBS model is local and station-based – the national PBS organization cannot buy a license and set up a station in a market, nor can it insert itself in the negotiation between entities interested in perhaps becoming the next Central Florida flagship station – so the solution is ultimately up to the community broadcasters. (Currently, there are two low-power PBS stations in Central Florida: WDSC in Daytona, and WBCC in Cocoa both carry a limited slate of PBS programming.)

“Member stations in Florida are now discussing a number of potential approaches to meet the shared goal of ensuring that viewers in Orlando continue to be served,” McNamara says. “All PBS stations are community-focused organizations that are independently owned and operated. Members of the community should definitely let their stations know that they value continued access to PBS programming.”

None of the stations contacted for comment about the negotiations returned calls for comment; both WDSC and WBCC have been identified as potential new “flagship stations,” and UCF TV has also been mentioned as a potential player in the negotiation to keep full-service PBS programming in Orlando. As this story was going to press, the Weekly received an email from Anna Eskamani, a UCF student who founded a “Keep PBS in Orlando” campaign, that indicated that the UCF Board of Trustees’ Advancement Committee would meet on May 26 at 9 a.m. to vote on whether to approve a partnership between UCF and Brevard Community College to assume responsibility for a Central Florida PBS franchise. If the resolution is approved, the email noted, the full board of trustees would vote on the resolution the same day at 1 p.m.

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