By SCOTT FYBUSH
The mystery buyer of New Jersey's WNTI (91.9 Hackettstown) that we wrote about in Monday's column didn't stay a secret very long: on Monday morning, WNTI owner Centenary College said it had reached a deal to sell the station to Philadelphia's WXPN (88.5), which will take over programming on WNTI on Thursday.
Here's what Centenary president Barbara-Jayne Lewthwaite said about the deal:
"We are pleased to reach this agreement with WXPN, which preserves a strong voice for great music in our region and opens new horizons for the WNTI community and for Centenary College. WXPN brings exceptional resources and expertise in public radio and a deep commitment to serving the needs of listeners and supporting local artists. Centenary will continue to operate its own Internet radio station at WNTI.org to enhance our curriculum and involve students and community volunteers in programming. Centenary students will also be afforded opportunities to intern at WXPN at the University of Pennsylvania. We intend to reinvest the proceeds from the license sale in building Centenary's academic offerings, to support student recruitment and retention and fuel Centenary's role as an economic engine in Warren County, New Jersey."
NERW hears that Centenary had quietly sought as much as $3 million for WNTI's class B1 signal, which picks up right about where WXPN's own signal reach trails off in northeastern Pennsylvania and northwest New Jersey. The completed deal, however, is for just $1.25 million in cash, augmented by $500,000 in underwriting that WXPN will provide for Centenary over the next decade.
Until the sale closes, WXPN will operate WNTI under a Public Service Operating Agreement (PSOA), the noncommercial version of an LMA. The PSOA takes effect at noon on Thursday.
What becomes of WNTI's distinctive local programming now? We'll be watching to see whether the new WNTI.org is able to keep any of that spark alive - and to see whether the sale draws any of the protests that have slowed down (but not stopped) other high-profile college radio sales in places such as Nashville and San Francisco.