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In what is believed to be the first-ever sale of a public television channel, the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association has agreed to sell its second station, Channel 23, to Sinclair Broadcast Group of Baltimore for $33 million.

Between $7 million and $10 million of the proceeds will be used to convert the primary local public television outlet, Channel 17, to digital broadcast early in the next century, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.

The remainder will constitute an endowment that will be used to enhance production and community service programs.

"We will research and develop the compelling stories that we know are in Western New York and southern Ontario. We'll turn those stories into television and radio programs," said Donald K. Boswell, broadcasting association president.

Channel 23, or WNEQ-TV, will continue to air public television programs until the FCC approves the sale and grants Sinclair a commercial license.

Some programs now broadcast exclusively on Channel 23 might shift to Channel 17 in the future.

The deal will increase Sinclair's already considerable presence in the local broadcast market. Last February, the company, which already owned six Buffalo-area radio stations, added WUTV-TV, Channel 29, to its holdings.

The Fox channel was part of Sinclair's purchase of closely held Sullivan Broadcast Holdings in a transaction valued at $950 million to $1 billion. In addition to WUTV, the transaction included WUHF-TV in Rochester and a dozen other television stations around the country.

Sinclair currently owns or programs 56 television stations and 55 radio stations.

The plan to sell Channel 23, divulged last May, generated "substantial market interest," said Mary Ann Lauricella, board chairwoman of the public broadcasting association.

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