By Mary Hladky

    One year after announcing they were exploring a merger, WXEL-TV and WPBT2 have agreed to join forces.
    The two public broadcasting stations will combine as South Florida PBS, reaching 2.42 million households from Key West to the Sebastian Inlet, and west to Lake Okeechobee.
    The merger agreement has been approved by the board of trustees of WXEL, which serves the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast, and the board of directors of WPBT2, which serves Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. South Florida PBS would be Florida’s largest public media company, officials said in their July 15 announcement.
    The merger agreement has been submitted to the Federal Communications Commission for review and approval. That process, which will include time for public comment, could take six to nine months, said Max Duke, vice president of content and community partnerships for WPBT2.
    Discussions about combining the two stations have taken place several times since 1997, but did not end in a deal until now.
    “This agreement presents a unique opportunity to accomplish something truly profound for South Florida,” James Patterson, a best-selling author who lives in Palm Beach and is vice chairman of WXEL’s board, said in the announcement. “The combination of resources and talent at WXEL, WPBT2 and PBS makes possible a new level of community involvement and leadership that will encourage young people to read and learn and expose them to cultural programming that will enrich their lives.”
    The two stations would continue to operate. But the goals of the merger would be to eliminate duplication of programming and offer new programming, including more shows that are locally produced.
    The stations now offer a similar lineup during prime time. Bill Scott, WXEL executive vice president, said the merged entity would be able to offer more of the most popular programs at different times so that “viewers will have an opportunity to have more flexibility and convenience when they tune in.”
    “The primary mission and goal here is to increase the service to the community the stations serve as well as producing even more original, locally relevant programming,” he said.
    Decisions on new programs will be finalized after the FCC completes the review process, Scott and Duke said.
    “These programs will increasingly be based on our research and our reaching out to the communities and doing programs that would go anywhere from local documentaries to local community information and education programs,” Scott said.
    South Florida PBS would offer a larger market for donors and corporate underwriters and end competition between the stations for funding.
    “The reaction we have gotten already to our merger announcement is very positive,” Duke said. “We believe both communities will respond very positively.”
    Donors and underwriters “will have a greater level of assurance that their money is going to provide increased … service to the viewers,” Scott said. “Donors would have a sense that something is really happening. This is an opportunity not to be more, but much more.”
    WLRN, a public radio and television station that operates out of Miami, is not part of the merger and will continue to offer its own programming.

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