Sonoma County’s public broadcasting television station KRCB announced Thursday it will take over a South Bay public television station in a $12 million acquisition aimed at broadening its reach across the Bay Area’s nine counties.
The Sonoma County channel will take over San Mateo-based KCSM-TV, currently run by the San Mateo County Community College District, doubling its coverage area from about 3 million to 6 million people, and potentially saving the financially imperiled South Bay channel from being turned into a commercial operation. The acquisition does not include KCSM’s jazz radio station 91.1 FM.
“It will give KRCB a broad Bay Area-wide, Northern California footprint,” said Nancy Dobbs, KRCB president and chief executive officer.
KRCB can afford to expand because of a $72 million cash infusion it received earlier this year under an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission to sell its channel and switch to a different band.
The transaction, and others like it in a nationwide auction, freed up a stronger transmission band for the expanding wireless telecom industry and its demands for more bandwidth.
The windfall propelled the KRCB governing board to look for ways to expand its regional coverage and secure the local public television station’s future, board president Eric McHenry said.
With more people choosing streaming television content and getting rid of cable subscriptions, the station is preparing for an influx of people looking for quality broadcast channels, McHenry said.
“You’ve heard of the cable-cutting — people, more and more, aren’t buying Comcast. They’re streaming and they’re putting up high-definition antennas and getting phenomenal TV signals,” McHenry said. “This (deal) strengthened that, it set us up correctly for the future.”
KRCB will gain a prime antenna on Mount Sutro in San Francisco and Channel 27, a strong UHF transmission band, for public television programming.
KRCB’s Channel 5 draws about 825,000 weekly viewers who watch by way of cable subscriptions, satellite and over the airwaves using a less-powerful VHF band, a change made due to the FCC deal. Its transmission tower is on Sonoma Mountain.
The transfer of KCSM’s license to KRCB likely won’t finalize until next spring, once the FCC approves the deal after allowing for a period of public comment.
The San Mateo County Community College District had been trying to sell its license to KCSM-TV since about 2011 because of financial pressures, after having run the station for nearly half a century.
The station drew about a half-million weekly viewers in 2011 and was carried on about 60 cable systems, according to a report in the Mercury News.
A representative from KCSM couldn’t be reached Thursday.
Dobbs said the television station has not produced local programming for several years and there are no plans to bring KCSM staff to Sonoma County. It aired non-commercial national and international programs.
All operations will move to KRCB North Bay Public Media’s offices on Labath Avenue in Rohnert Park.
As part of the acquisition agreement, KRCB will still run an internship program for San Mateo County Community College District students and air a half-hour of student-produced programming each month.
The station will broadcast as KRCB on Channels 5 and 27 in Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
KRCB will begin asking viewers across the region for input as they build a plan to broaden and sharpen content for the broader Bay Area.
This story originally appeared in the Press Democrat.