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Adventists fail to disclose facts to donors about selling own radio station to itself

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  • Adventists fail to disclose facts to donors about selling own radio station to itself

    This article was originally published by the Columbia Union’s Visitor Magazine, the official magazine of the Columbia Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. .
    WGTS 91.9 is transitioning from Washington Adventist University (WAU) to a separate nonprofit entity. Pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it will soon be owned and operated by a new corporation called Atlantic Gateway Communications, Inc. (AGC), which has been incorporated specifically for this purpose.

    On May 9, 2018, the WAU Board of Trustees voted to divest itself of the station’s operating license for $12 million. Pending FCC approval, the purchase will be completed sometime this fall with all assets transferring to the newly formed nonprofit, AGC.

    “While ownership will change, our mission, programming, team and focus remains on bringing our listeners in the Washington, D.C., region a message of hope and encouragement,” says Kevin Krueger, vice president and general manager. “We are so thankful for the foundation which has been built over the last 60 years at WAU. Now, much like a college student coming of age and moving out of Mom and Dad’s house, WGTS 91.9 is moving forward and expanding.”

    Rob Vandeman, Columbia Union Conference executive secretary, who has served as board chair for the last seven years, and will continue in that role, says, “This governance shift will facilitate a nimbler operation, which will enable the ministry to stay relevant in the ever-changing, fast-paced arena of media and digital communication. Overall, the change will provide the room and tools necessary for the team to grow stronger and serve the community in even greater ways.”

    To facilitate this and other plans for growth, much of the media ministry operations will be relocated to a larger space that will provide greater access to advanced technology, equipment and the broadcast tower. However, WGTS 91.9 will maintain studios on the WAU campus to continue its training and mentoring work with the university’s students, as well as for backup studio and transmission needs.

    “We are excited for both WGTS and WAU in this transition and pleased that they remain committed to continuing the legacy of service, which is one of our pillars of excellence. It will also support our focus of better serving current and future students,” says Weymouth Spence, university president.

    “Everything we are doing will enhance our ability to help us reach out to people who need connection, encouragement, spiritual care and hope in their daily lives,” says Krueger. “We introduce people to Jesus, answer their questions, and invite them to become engaged with us through intentional outreach initiatives. And we appreciate the opportunity to partner with area Seventh-day Adventist churches and ministries who initiate the next steps in spiritual growth.”

    Dave Weigley, president of the Columbia Union Conference, believes God has a special mission and purpose for the media ministry. “Through the ministry of WGTS, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is able to share Christ’s message of hope and wholeness with 600,000 listeners each week, which is remarkable!” he says. “As it continues to grow, this valued ministry will maintain its denominational status and strong ties to the union.”

    This transaction is perhaps legal but ethically, stinks to high heaven. Notice the last sentence of the article.
    “As it continues to grow, this valued ministry will maintain its denominational status and strong ties to the union.”
    The station is being “sold” from one arm of the Adventist church, to another newly created arm of the Adventist church. The Adventist church maintains ownership and control, before and after the sale. .

    What the article doesn’t say, is that WGTS is almost entirely supported by donations from the community - WGTS listeners, almost all of whom are non-SDA. Not only is the radio station not funded by the Adventist church, it actually provides funding to the Adventist church, paying highly over-inflated rent and services to Washington Adventist University -- it's current parent organization. .

    In other words, the church is moving the station from one pocket to the other pocket, and allowing WGTS listeners, Christians who sacrificially give to the station, and believe that this is a real transfer of ownership, to fund this sham move. In reality, this is not a real transfer of ownership, the station stays entirely within the Adventist church and maintains its denominational status. This is not the story that is being told on-air and publicly, outside the SDA church, however. This is what listeners are hearing publicly ...

    This is what the radio industry is hearing ...

    "WGTS Ownership Update - 7/20 - WGTS 91.9’s morning show host Jerry Woods check in to clarify the transition at the Christian contemporary station. He shares that the station will be now be owned by a non-profit that was set-up specifically to run the station called Atlantic Gateway Communications. This new company has no connection to current owner, Washington Adventist University. The station is currently running a capital campaign and will be moving to new facility in 2019, if all goes according to plan. Woods makes it clear that the station is making the transition to self-ownership to help the station grow and serve its listeners in the DC area better. "The long-term goal is to be live and local all the time, and this expansion helps us get closer to that goal. It's the next step in serving the DC community better," says Woods. WGTS will continue to rent back-up studio and tower space at Washington Adventist University to use in case of emergencies....."
    From the Tom Taylor Now Radio Newsletter:
    Even after the $12 million sale of Washington DC-market WGTS/91.9, not much will change at the not-for-profit contemporary Christian station. This looks more like a deal for Seventh Day Adventist-connected Washington Adventist University to off-load the big Class B signal licensed to Takoma Park to a new not-for-profit corporation – and generate some regular income for the school. There’s a seller note for $10 million, after buyer Atlantic Gateway Communications pays $1 million up-front and takes care of another $1 million in loan forgiveness on notes from 2010 and 2016. Station GM Kevin Krueger says “much like a college student coming of age and moving out of mom and dad’s house, WGTS is moving forward and expanding.” Though the “moving out” is mostly in terms of the name on the license. WGTS signs a five-year lease (at $50,000 per year) to keep a studio presence on-campus - though it will also build new studios. University president Rob Vandeman will have a continuing role at the new Atlantic Gateway, and says “the governance shift will facilitate a nimbler operation.”

    Donors are missing a key piece of information which would very likely, strongly influence their decision to give or not--that this is playing games on paper. This is because the Adventist church, in many circles is at least suspect theologically (if not considered an outright, non-Christian cult) by a growing number of Christians. Knowing that a branch of the Adventist church is selling the station to itself, and funding it almost entirely by listener donations, would probably not be looked upon favorably, by potential donors. Not sharing who the true owners are, both before and after the sale, not sharing that story up-front in its “outside the Adventist church” public communications, leads donors to believe that they are funding a true sale, to a truly independent, non-profit, non-SDA ownership. This is not the case, however.

    What is driving this lack of disclosure? Do the old and new owners (both, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination) believe that if they don’t disclose these material facts, the $12 million they are charging themselves for this sale, might not be provided by unsuspecting donors?

    Is this kind of behavior indicative of an ongoing culture of dishonesty regarding financial matters, within the Adventist church, as evidenced by the Adventist church's Davenport financial scandal of the early 1980’s?

    Is this lack of disclosure appropriate for any church? What do you think the consequences will be if the larger, non-Seventh-day Adventist, WGTS listener donor pool, is apprised of this information? What do you think the consequences will be if the IRS is informed?
    Last edited by 1stthings1st; 08-12-18, 02:18 PM.