A new organization, the result of a merger of two San Diego groups, has reached a settlement agreement with the 15 other applicants for the KIFM (98.1) operating license, virtually ensuring that the new group will be granted the license by the Federal Communications Commission.
The still-unnamed entity, combining Representative Media and Triple Bogey Broadcasting, has agreed to make cash payments to each applicant. The payments are believed to be close to $200,000 each, with stronger applicants receiving more money. It is the largest cash settlement in FCC history, according to former KIFM general manager Bruce Walton, a limited partner in Triple Bogey Broadcasting.
Representative Media, which lists former KPBS-FM (89.5) producer Marta Concha as president, was named the winning applicant in the initial hearing process. But 16 applicants appealed the decision. The legal process could have dragged on for many years, perhaps even reaching the U. S. Supreme Court, participants say.
“The settlement will succeed in putting the station on the air at a much earlier date,” said Michael Rosenbloom, the Washington attorney representing Representative Media. “We had no reason to believe the case wouldn’t be litigated to its fullest, which would mean at least another three years.”
If the settlement is approved by the FCC, the new combination of Triple Bogey and Representative Media could take control of the station in three to six months.
The FCC stripped the KIFM license from West Coast Media in 1984 for failing to meet public-affairs programming standards. Temporary control of the station was given to an interim operator, AFC Broadcasting, while a new operator was sought from 47 applicants.
An FCC hearing was scheduled for Friday to hear oral arguments appealing the initial administrative decision in favor of Representative Media, but it was canceled at the request of the applicants, further evidence that the settlement is about to supersede the normal administrative review process. A spokesperson for the FCC said settlements are not unusual in applications of this kind.
Representative Media and Triple Bogey still must sew up details of the merger, Rosenbloom said, but the settlement by all other applicants appears to remove much of the uncertainty.
“Coming out of a review board, who knows what could have happened,” said Walton, general sales manager for KCBQ. Walton expects to become general manager of KIFM should the license be granted to the new entity. “I think it was fear of further clouding the picture that brought everybody to the settlement table; that and the fact that this could have been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Many of the applicants seemed almost relieved to have the whole issue settled in some manner.
“We just thought it was best to get it over with,” said local businessman Oscar Padilla, a limited partner in Soledad Broadcasting, when asked why his group agreed to settle.
“Everyone’s attorney fees were escalating,” said Mary Anita Robinson, a partner in Vista Grande Broadcasting, another applicant. “The timing seemed to be right (to settle). We attempted to settle ourselves, but it is difficult to get 17 diverse groups together. I think we made a good business decision.”
Some of San Diego’s most prominent business people sought the license, believed to be worth millions of dollars. One group, San Diego Broadcasting, includes San Diego Sockers chairman of the board Ron Fowler, XTRA general manager Tom Jimenez and former San Diego City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez.
Former Councilwoman Celia Ballesteros was also involved in a group, New Sounds for San Diego, which is believed to have been one of the top contenders in the initial administrative hearing. The FCC’s complicated system for evaluating applications tends to give extra weight to applications from minorities and women.
“It’s been a very interesting and challenging experience,” Ballesteros said. “Very often opportunities of this nature are not afforded to women.”
The settlement news means AFC’s days as interim operator are numbered.
“I went into this thing with a goal, to show that I could do it, and I’ve done it,” said AFC President Lee Mirabal, who said she has filed an application for a frequency in the Monterey area.
Walton said that, if the FCC does grant the license to his group, he does not expect any major immediate changes in the station.
“There is no question I am a fan of the (jazz) format,” he said. “I was there when the format started.”