The Federal Communications Commission, in an effort to break a logjam that has excluded New Jersey from its own VHF television service, yesterday proposed switching Channel 9, WOR-TV, from New York City to a nearby city across the Hudson River.
The unprecedented move, although months away from being released as a formal FCC order, was made over the objections of the current holder of the Channel 9 license, RKO General Inc.
RKO is appealing an FCC decision made earlier this year stripping ths company of the license of WOR and two other major television stations. If a federal appeals court overturns the FCC's unprecedented RKO decision, the New Jersey TV proposal automatically would be thrown out with it.
In the January decision on RKO, the FCC ruled that the company and its parent, General Tire and Rubber Co., were unfit to hold licenses as a result of a variety of overseas payments revelations.
State officials and interest group leaders repeatedly have complained to the FCC about the state of commercial television in New Jersey. They say the state's residents are slighted in news and public affairs coverage by not having a locally based commercial television station.
The action came in the form of a notice to seek public comment on a petition by New Jersey Democratic Sens. Bill Bradley and Harrison Willians, who claimed that the denial of the RKO license for Channel 9 provided an opportunity to address the state's repeated concerns about television service.
In the past, the FCC, in responding to years of complaints from the state, has cited the government's inability to single out one station for the move. The commission also said the consequences of the loss of service in other areas and the inability of stations in other states to upgrade their service to New Jersey were reasons for not taking such a dramatic step.
In light of the murky status of the Channel 9 license, the commission proposed moving the station's studio facilities to New Jersey while keeping the transmitter in New York City, therefore not jeopardizing the reception of New Yorkers and residents of Connecticut who pick up Channel 9.
The decision was approved by a 5-to-2 vote, although FCC members Robert E. Lee and Abbott Washburg bitterly dissented. Lee said the "timing of this notice is terrible."