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WQED Multimedia finally may shed station WQEX

| Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

Viewers of WQEX-TV might no longer be able to tune in to buy gaudy purses and sequined high heels, but they would get to watch "Ghost Whisperer" and similar shows if WQED Multimedia sells the station.

The sale to ION Media Networks, announced yesterday but still subject to federal approval, would end WQED's more than decade-long quest to unload the station and improve its bottom line.

"Any influx of $3 million begins to ease financial worries," said Deborah Acklin, president and CEO of WQED, a nonprofit media conglomerate. "It does not, however, make us flush."

Besides the sale price, WQED also would get money from leasing space on its broadcast tower and letting the buyer use its production and technical expertise during the transition. Acklin declined to say how much that could be worth.

In the late 1990s, WQED tried to swap the station with Cornerstone Broadcasting, but that deal fell through. In 2001, WQED asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to switch the license from noncommercial to commercial. After getting the OK a year later, WQED began leasing it to ShopNBC as a home shopping channel since 2004.

"This is the right decision at the right time," Acklin said. "It allows us to focus on our educational mission exclusively."

ION officials could not be reached for comment. The deal would give ION 60 full-power TV stations, including stations in each of the nation's top 20 markets and in 40 of the top 50.

ION offers old network shows, theatrical and made-for-TV movies, specials and sports.

Diane Sutter, a media expert familiar with the sale, did not scoff at the $3 million price and called the sale "a stick deal." It involves only a license, transmitter and antenna.

"It has to be looked at a little differently than if you were buying WPXI, WTAE, KDKA," said Sutter, president and CEO of Shooting Star Broadcasting in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "There's no land, building, other equipment, on-air or behind-the-camera talent or network affiliation involved."

She added: "The economics of today are very different from what they were five years ago, 10 years ago. The market has gone through a very significant hard time and, as such, prices are deflated."

WQED knows about hard times. When the economy tanked, it lost all of its state funding, $1.1 million.

In January 2009, Acklin and former President George Miles took a 30 percent pay cut; wages and hiring were frozen; and employees contributed more to their health care.

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