Prospective buyers of an AM radio station in Sylva could land a $289,000 loan from the Jackson County economic development fund in exchange for creating 11 jobs.
Jackson County commissioners already approved $179,000 of the loan and are poised to approve the remainder next week — if the county can figure out reasonable collateral should the radio station default. The money will primarily be used to purchase the radio license from its current owner, but since a radio station license is not very tangible, the county is hesitant about how it would serve as collateral for the loan.
Jackson County Attorney Jay Coward suggested another option: Jackson County’s name could be included as a co-license holder when filing for the frequency from the Federal Communications Commission.
“If not we would certainly have to rethink it,” Coward said of the loan.
The radio station, currently owned by Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting Co., went dead in August. Its owners cited a lack of revenue. Jackson County resident Roy Burnette, who once worked for WRGC and other local AM radio stations in the region, wants to get the station back on the air.
Burnette says the new radio station would broadcast at 5,000 watts, reaching from Canton to Topton in Cherokee County, and that he would create 11 jobs.
By comparison, WCQS, the National Public Radio station based in Asheville, employees 12 fulltime and four part-time employees, said executive director Jody Evans on Tuesday.
Commissioners appear partly driven by a desire to bring back the local AM radio station in addition to the jobs themselves. Commissioner Doug Cody said he believes WRGC represents more than simply job creation, from instilling community pride to broadcasting emergency weather information.
“It is a service to the entire county,” Cody said.
Jackson County will not actually become any sort of “partner” in the radio station, even if the county does end up as a co-license holder, Chairman Jack Debnam said.
Maybe, maybe not: The idea has yet to be researched and vetted, Debnam said, adding that it would be Coward’s job to ferret out such answers before commissioners’ actually vote on the final piece of the loan next week.
Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network in Asheville, described the potential for public-private license arrangement between the county and the station as unusual. Bowen said that he wasn’t immediately aware of legal barriers that would prevent such an occurrence.
“But whether it would be a good investment, one would really have to know more about the market and the assets involved,” Bowen said.
When asked about the likelihood of the AM radio station surviving in today’s advertising landscape, Jackson County commissioners said they were relying on the financial projections provided by the prospective radio owner.
— From staff reports