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Share and Share Alike: Two NCEs Assigned Full-Power Timeshare

Longstanding issue resolved for California nonprofits; will air on 95.5

After challenging an FCC action, two nonprofit organizations each hoped they would be assigned a full-power FM license in California. The final result was quite different than either expected.

The two have been awarded the option to timeshare the channel by the FCC.

“We find ourselves in uncharted waters [in determining] how these two different groups can share the same station effectively and harmoniously,” said Rob Monroe, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Turlock, one of the organizations that will share the frequency. “We are eager to see what the next chapter holds as we move forward in securing a lease with the tower, setting up our transmitter and our broadcasting studios.”

Calvary Chapel and the Modesto Peace/Life Center were among eight applicants that petitioned for Channel 238A in Westley, Calif., as part of as part of a 2010 round of applications for new NCE FM construction permits.

Based on the point system that the commission uses to determine winners of these types of applications —and an added requirement that the applicant provide a first or second NCE service to at least 10 percent of the population within their service areas — the FCC originally selected Turlock-based Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Parish (SHRCP) to operate on 95.5 MHz.

Soon thereafter, the Peace/Life Center and Calvary Chapel submitted petitions to deny, alleging that the parish application failed to account for local Stockton NCE station KUOP(FM) when it submitted its service calculations. According to the Peace/Life petition, when station KUOP is taken into account, SHRCP’s reach would serve approximately 5 percent of the total population, not the required 10 percent.

The FCC ruled that the SHRCP application was out. The runnerup was not one group, but two: Peace/Life Center and Calvary Chapel. And they were about to learn the meaning of share time.

The news came as a surprise to both, and is made a bit trickier by the diverse political orientations of the two organizations: ThePeace/Life Center is more of a left-leaning group, while Calvary Chapel is considered a conservative organization, said James Costello, board member for the Peace/Life Center. “It was a surprise,” he said. “We were hoping each one of us to have full control.” Added Calvary Chapel’s Monroe: “Our first thought was to buy out Modesto Peace and Life, and it turns out they were thinking the same thing,” he said. As they spoke, though, they “came to the consensus that we should share the station,” he said.

Smooth relations between the two may lead to a number of opportunities, one of which may be sharing of costs. The Peace/Life Center is hoping the groups can share expenses when it comes to a transmitter and expenses in running a tower. The groups have submitted an application for permission to share tower space with Entravision Communications Corp., which has a tower in Patterson, Calif. But each group plans to build its own studio and create its own programming.

“The tricky part will be making sure the public understands there’s a split station here. That might cause some confusion,” Costello said. “This was kind of a unique opportunity because [the frequency] was open to a nonprofit that was local and within 25 miles of the tower. We applied and here we are.”

The extended amount of time that it took to get this application processed — more than five years — also piqued the interest of several commissioners, including Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who lamented the “convoluted and subjective point system” that the FCC still uses in these types of cases to make final decisions.