The silencing of Benton Harbor, Michigan

Updated
 

On Friday, we reported on the sale of Benton Harbor, Michigan’s city-owned, low-power FM radio station. The state-appointed emergency manager has closed WBHC and listed the equipment and the license on eBay for $5,000. Under Michigan law, an emergency manager can do just about anything he or she wants, including firing elected officials and moving to abolish the town. Selling the station is just one more executive action, really, regardless of how the city feels about it.

As of Saturday afternoon, the auction of the public’s station had drawn three bids, with – I think – two from actor and human rights activist Ben Patrick Johnson. Right after eBay posted the third bid, of $5,200, the listing disappeared.

What gives? Eclectablog, where Chris Savage has been covering the story, sends over a comment on one of his posts in which someone suggests that you can’t sell an FCC radio license without permission from the FCC. An industry site called Radio Info reports the same, writing that “the FCC must approve any transfer.”

Another group following the story, the nonprofit Public Radio Capital, provides support for acquiring and building public radio stations. Erik Langner says Benton Harbor’s license cannot be sold and transferred on eBay. Instead, Langner says anyone interested in the station would have to go through the usual procedures at the FCC, like proving the new owner is based in Benton Harbor and not out to make a buck.

Public Radio Capital already gathered the listed price of WBHC and would like to help keep the station going. “We want to make it possible for a local nonprofit to buy it,” Langner says.

We’ve got a call in to emergency manager Joseph Harris to see whether Benton Harbor’s station is still for sale.

Michigan

The silencing of Benton Harbor, Michigan

Updated