AT&T Inc. (T), Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ): The Window’s Closing for the ‘Next Wireless Land Grab’

Remember The Beverly Hillbillies? If you don’t, here’s the premise of the long-running sitcom, as explained in its theme song:

“Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed,
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.
Then one day he was shootin’ at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubblin’ crude …
Oil, that is … black gold … Texas tea.”

It goes on to explain how finding oil gave Jed and his kinfolk the cash to leave the holler and move to Beverly Hills, where foolish hijinks involving movie stars and swimming pools would then ensue.

The Beverly Hillbillies, running nine seasons from the early ’60s into the ’70s, was a big hit for CBS Corporation (NYSE:CBS) during the shank of broadcast television’s golden age. However, more than 40 years after The Beverly Hillbillies’ oil well finally dried up, Jed’s good fortune now mirrors that of the denizens of broadcast television’s current backwoods — the UHF television stations.

UHF station owners are sitting on the equivalent of newly discovered oil reserves in a world that’s fighting for every last drop of crude. The valuable substance in this case is spectrum, the frequencies that the mobile operators covet as wireless broadband usage is driving the telecom industry.

The UHF channels are in the highest wireless frequency range allotted to broadcast television, and those frequencies are more useful to mobile communications than to the lower frequencies of the VHF channels used by the network affiliates and some independent stations.

Suddenly, UHF stations have become a valuable commodity — not because of their programming, audiences, or facilities, but solely for their spectrum licenses.

Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless communications, and the major mobile operators are willing to pay big bucks for it.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T)

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) tried and failed to buy T-Mobile USA and its spectrum in for $39 billion. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) paid $3.9 billion to Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and other cable companies for their cache of spectrum. Clearwire Corporation (NASDAQ:CLWR) is currently being sought by Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) for its frequencies, and now in a bit of a turnaround, T-Mobile USA wants to buy MetroPCS Communications Inc (NYSE:PCS) and its airwave resources.

To take advantage of the need for spectrum, there is a UHF station buying spree going on, according to Variety. Like real estate speculators searching out run-down properties in changing neighborhoods, investors are scooping up UHF stations for later sale to the highest bidders.