Negotiations are under way to sell the broadcast license of local Christian radio station WGTS-FM (91.9) to the Minnesota-based American Public Media Group, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Columbia Union College, the Takoma Park owner of WGTS and an affiliate of the Silver Spring-based Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted earlier this month to pursue a bid from American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio in Minneapolis and Southern California Public Radio of Pasadena.
Sources — who spoke anonymously because the negotiations are ongoing — say the price being discussed is in the mid-$20 million range.
WGTS, which has existed for 50 years and has broadcast contemporary Christian music for the past decade, has about 250,000 weekly listeners in the D.C. area and is the second-most-popular noncommercial Christian station in the country. The station supports itself by raising more than $2.5 million each year in donations.
"The college is in bad financial shape," one source said. "Instead of taking a close look and fixing the problem, they look around to see what assets they can sell off, and this time around the station license was the big money asset."
WGTS broadcasts original programming from local Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church as well as contemporary Christian music and other national programs. Its signal, which comes from a tower in Arlington, can reach up to 6 million people.
At least two Web sites, savewgts.org and savewgts.net, have been created in support of preserving WGTS' Christian format, which would most likely change if the deal with American Public Media Group goes through.
Columbia Union College spokesman Scott Steward said school officials expect to vote on a proposal from a bidder when they meet in September, but he would not comment on whether American Public Media Group is the bidder.
"The Board of Trustees' first responsibility is to preserve and enrich the ministry of the college," Mr. Steward said. "We're in the business of educating young people, and WGTS is both a ministry and an asset. I don't think anyone wants to see it go away, but the possibility is there any time you consider an offer."
Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for American Public Media Group, said brokers often bring buying opportunities to the company's attention, but that "we don't publicly discuss any of these opportunities."
Some have speculated that the Minnesota company might seek to challenge WAMU-FM (88.5), which became Washington"s only public radio news outlet after WETA-FM (90.9) turned classical in January.
Sources opposed to selling WGTS seem to be in agreement that the transaction will be approved.
"At this moment I would say that unless there's a miracle, it's a done deal," one source said.
Another source noted that WGTS' board of directors — who put together their own buyout proposal for $10 million upfront but were rejected — is against selling the station. But "I'm guessing that [the college trustees] could end up dissolving [the WGTS board] and put up another board that would approve it."
However, Columbia Union's Mr. Steward said it's "not a done deal. Our board is not taking this decision lightly."
The college wants to keep WGTS in a digital format, accessible to listeners with high-definition radios, even if the broadcast license is sold, he added.
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WGTS isn't the only Christian station in Washington: WAVA-FM (105.1) broadcasts Christian music and talk, and WPGC-AM (1580) along with the new "Praise" WPRS-FM (104.1) play gospel.
WGTS station manager John Konrad declined to comment for this article. But in a recent statement on the WGTS Web site, he told listeners: "We've all done our share of worrying about the future of WGTS in recent days, but you know what, God is completely in control. ... He has a purpose for WGTS and that purpose is being worked out every step of the way."