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Towering Questions

Now that the deal for UB to sell its radio stations WBFO, WUBJ, and WOLN to local public broadcaster WNED has been announced, new details of the transaction have come to light.

The deal, widely reported to be for $4 million, is based on two confidential appraisals: one by a group called Public Radio Capital (PRC) based in Boulder, Colorado; and one by Satterfield & Perry, Inc. (S&P), based in St. Petersburg, Florida. The PRC study was done in August 2010, and cost $6,000. The findings are addressed to Joe Brennan, associate vice president for University Communications, and Michael G. Sutton, executive vice president and COO of WNED. The cost of the study was split between UB and WNED.

The S&P appraisal was done in March 2011 at a cost of $4,000—with UB picking up the tab. That one’s addressed to WBFO general manager Mark Vogelzang. Both studies place the value of the three stations at about $4 million. That doesn’t include the cost of the new radio tower that was constructed in 2008 on land UB owns to the east of Millersport Highway by the Amherst campus.

According to stories from UB press people at the time, that tower was built with federal grant money, plus matching funds from the Wendt and Baird foundations, plus other money from underwriters and listeners who opened their checkbooks to enhance the reach of WBFO—which now extends to reach 1.2 million listeners, thanks to the new antenna. The cost of the new tower, according to one source close to the deal, was around $800,000.

According to the language of the agreement between UB and WNED, the “WBFO Towers, known respectively as the North Campus and Kimball Towers, shall remain the property of the seller.”

The agreement goes on to describe how UB “shall grant a non-exclusive license to Buyer for the use of the WBFO Towers for a term of Twenty (20) years in consideration of Buyer’s maintaining the WBFO Towers in good working condition and the payment to Seller of $1 per year in fees.”

One reason why UB is not selling the new tower is because it isn’t paid for yet. UB has leased out space on the new tower to finish paying for it. According to UB spokesperson Joe Brennan, renters are paying $32,700 per year for space on the tower, and it will finally be paid off in another 14 years. Which would mean UB still owes $457,800 on the new tower.

Who is renting space on the tower from UB? Blue Wireless, a regional cell phone provider located in Williamsville, is paying $1,000 a month on a contract that runs through May, 2017.

Transwave Communications Systems, Inc., with headquarters in Clarence, is paying $1,400 a month on a contract running through 2014. According to their website, Transwave provides “critical applications for transportation, utilities, public safety, municipal IT, health care, homeland security, military related applications, services for carriers, education, and much more.”

The third vendor contracting with UB for use of the tower is Family Life Ministries, Inc., paying just $325 a month on a contract that was recently renewed for five years—through April 2016. Based in Bath, New York, Family Life Ministries boasts a “radio network, which broadcasts contemporary Christian music, biblical teaching, and original Family Life programming on over 70 radio outlets across New York and Pennsylvania,” according to their website.

Among the group’s core beliefs:

• The Bible is the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.

• There is one God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

• We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, in His personal return to power and glory.

• For the salvation of lost and sinful, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is essential.

• The present ministry of the Holy Spirit indwells a Christian, enabling them to live a Godly life.

• We believe in the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

• We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in Christ.

Also, according to a spokesperson at the Federal Communications Commission, the licenses to WBFO, WUBJ, and WOLN are technically not owned by the University at Buffalo but rather by the State University of New York. SUNY currently owns the licenses to 20 different stations around the state where its colleges and universities are located. Locally, the less-powerful, student-run WBNY is such an example.

Because of that technicality, sources say that the sale of WBFO, WUBJ, and WOLN must be approved by the New York State Comptroller and SUNY officials in Albany before UB gains approval to sell off its radio station, which was founded 52 years ago on campus and served as a learning ground for NPR notables like Terry Gross and Ira Flatow, among many others.

buck quigley

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