A Tampa, Fla.-based company bought a permit to build a commercial television station in the Atlantic City area for a $3.8 million bid during a Federal Communications Commission auction.
Western Pacific Broadcast LLC outbid two other companies during the three-day online auction last week for the right to build a digital VHF, or very high frequency, channel.
In a southern New Jersey television market often overshadowed by Philadelphia and New York stations, the creation of a local station is a rarity.
Western Pacific Broadcast is a recently created company that owns no other television stations, a distinction which gave it a bidding credit that reduced its bid price by 35 percent off the winning $3.8 million bid for VHF channel 4.
Its owners also own Richland Towers in Tampa, which leases communications infrastructure on television and radio towers to broadcast industries across the country, including a tower in West Orange, Essex County, said David Denton, senior vice president for sales and marketing.
There are no firm plans for where the local television station would be located or what types of programming it would offer, he said.
"It's just very early for us. We think it's a great market. It's got a large number of people to be reached," he said.
The full-power station will be a must-carry, Denton said, meaning local cable and satellite TV providers will have to offer it.
Denton said there is no timeline yet to when the station would start to materialize.
FCC regulations say construction must be completed and a license must be filed within three years.
"We're still in engineering phases to figure out the best locations," he said.
Western Pacific's owners include Jack Bray, president of Richland Towers.
Western Pacific bought another television station license during the auction - one in Seaford, Del. - but for much less.
The Delaware license sold for $210,000. The starting bid for both stations was $200,000.
The Atlantic City station was the most in demand, taking 13 rounds of bidding among three companies.
They were Los Angeles-based Loop Media LLC, Tampa-based Western Pacific Broadcast LLC, and Avinash C. Ahuja, based in Washington, D.C. The auction initially spurred interest from eight companies in California, Washington, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington, D.C.
The FCC chose Atlantic City as an available market because it has much less television service than in northern New Jersey.
One of the few southern New Jersey television channels is WMGM-TV 40 in Linwood, which owns a tower off Avalon Boulevard in Middle Township. WMGM-TV did not take part in the auction.
The FCC auction itself was caused by an unusual situation, stemming from a decades-old federal regulation that every state have at least one VHF station if possible.
New Jersey's last VHF television station belonged to WWOR-TV in Secaucus in Hudson County.
But during a national switch from analog to digital signals in 2009, the station switched to a digital UHF, or ultra high frequency.
That left the state without a VHF channel that counts toward the FCC's regulations.
VHF channels, which are from 2 to 13, are considered less desirable than UHF because of the potential for interference and ambient noise.
Yet a television station represents a valuable commodity, said Steve Miller, a Rutgers University professor who teaches media history and television reporting.
"This is the equivalent of cash in the communication marketplace. You get a license to distribute, it's really almost a license to print money if you do it the right way," he said.
New Jersey television is often overshadowed by Philadelphia and New York City, which are home to two of the largest media markets in the country, he said.
Miller said he was surprised that only eight companies expressed an interest, perhaps a sign of the coming changes to communications.
This includes the Internet, online television services such as Hulu.com, and a younger generation downloading television shows directly to their cell phones, circumventing television channels entirely, he said.
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