Public television station continues to try to reach agreement with creditors

Terry Bibo

The lights are on but the showdown continues at WTVP-TV, Channel 47.

"In my opinion, Bank of America thinks we’ve got a $2 million angel and they’re calling our bluff. We don’t," said WTVP board member Harry Puterbaugh on Tuesday. "It’s not a game of chicken … We’re not bluffing. This is what we have."

Bank of America and Commerce Bank have rejected the station’s final offer of $4 million to settle a $6.9 million debt. The bank has indicated it will get an assignee to handle a sale of the station’s assets once notified in writing that the board will turn over the keys. The station is pursuing every possible avenue before writing that letter.

"We can’t just sit down and die here. We’ve got to fight and do what we can," said station President and CEO Chet Tomczyk. "We can send the letter any time and throw in the towel."

The station’s representatives will contact the bank to ask for another period of forbearance until early February, Tomczyk said. He has been barraged with ideas and offers to save the station in the last few days.

"There are some potential things in play that need time to be pursued. It’s in everybody’s interest to do that," he said. "That means ‘leave the status quo as the status quo for the next two weeks.’"

About $1.5 million was raised in the last six weeks through a Save Our Station drive for special pledges that will be paid only if the station can come to a deal. The remainder of the $4 million offer comes from a $2 million loan from National City Bank and the Illinois Facilities Fund — and the remaining cash reserves.

The station has paid about $7.5 million in interest, fees and principal on a $10.3 million loan it took out in 2001. The money was borrowed so that the station could move from Bradley University to the riverfront and buy new digital equipment. Under the complicated financing arrangements, the bank was able to ask for the entire outstanding amount, even though the deal was not due to expire until 2022 and the station has been making its payments.

But the station emptied its already depleted reserves to pay another $1.3 million on its debt in September so the banks would give it forbearance until Jan. 15. Using that money to pay debt for the last few years has cut the investment income and affected the station’s cash flow in several ways, but Puterbaugh said that can be overcome with the right deal.

"Without the debt, we’re fine," he said. "We’re positive we can make this work."

In the meantime, Puterbaugh said he is sending an e-mail to all board members pointing out that the Jan. 15 forbearance deadline does not mean the station must close immediately. But since WTVP did not conduct its usual fund drive for fear of closure, the cash to run the place is dwindling.

"I’d like to think we could continue for another 45 days," he said.

He added the worst part is WTVP has 21 full-time and 20 part-time employees who remain in limbo. Bank representatives have seldom commented and did not respond to a request for comment. But in Puterbaugh’s view, everything rests with the bank.

"It’s poker," he said. "They’ve seen our cards."

Terry Bibo can be reached at (309) 686-3189 or at