Bartlett seeks local hearing about sale of radio license

February 17, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

BRADDOCK HEIGHTS, Md. - U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett said Monday he will ask the Federal Communications Commission for a local hearing on the pending sale of a Christian broadcaster's license to a National Public Radio affiliate.

The transfer of WJTM-FM's license to WYPR-FM of Baltimore would leave the Frederick, Md., area without a locally based Christian radio station, opponents of the transaction said at a rally attended by about 40 people.

Bartlett, R-Md., questioned the wisdom of adding another NPR outlet in the area, when people already can hear three NPR affiliates - WAMU-FM and WETA-FM from Washington, and WVEP-FM from Martinsburg, W.Va.

"Clearly, it's in the community's best interest to have a full hearing regarding the purchase of the WJTM license," Bartlett said.


He said the FCC agreed to extend a public-comment period on the license transfer for one week, through Friday.

Anthony Brandon, president and general manager of WYPR's owner, Your Public Radio Corp., said Bartlett should butt out.

"This is a business transaction between a seller and a buyer, and it's unrealistic for a congressman to interfere in this commerce, and it's unrealistic to think that this is not a legitimate transaction that is in the public interest," he said.

A director of WJTM's parent company, Joy Public Broadcasting Corp., said Bartlett's request would not necessarily be granted.

"The FCC is an entirely different entity than Congress. We're confident of our application for sale and hopeful that the FCC will act upon it," Thomas Bush, Joy's treasurer, said in a telephone interview from his home in Madison, Wis.

The FCC did not return calls from The Associated Press. Most federal offices were closed Monday for Presidents Day.

WYPR began broadcasting from the 4,000-watt station at midday Monday under an agreement with WJTM's owner allowing the Baltimore station to assume operations even though its $1.2 million purchase hasn't yet won FCC approval.

Brandon said he expects the deal, which was announced in January, to be approved within two weeks. He said it will enable WYPR to extend its range and take a step toward its goal of building a statewide network.

WJTM broadcasts in roughly a 40-mile radius, reaching parts of Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as Central and Western Maryland.

Although much of WYPR's programming is the same as that carried on other NPR affiliates, it has an all-Maryland news report, Brandon said.

He said the station "has astonishing access to Maryland politicians and will provide enormous insight into Maryland politics that a Washington station cannot provide."

Michael Payne, who managed WJTM as a Christian station, said NPR promotes liberal causes that are not in the public interest.

"At issue is whether the secular humanist programming found on taxpayer-funded National Public Radio works toward the greater benefit of any community," he said. "The FCC is supposed to protect the public airwaves and act in the best interest of the community."

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