Illinois public TV network reduces airtime to save money

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Network Knowledge, licensee for three central Illinois public TV stations, has reduced daily airtime to save money and may need to cut more hours due to severe budget constraints.

WQEC in Quincy, WMEC in Macomb and WSEC in Springfield “have been near the edge of the cliff before, but never this near to the cliff,” President Jerold Gruebel said, referring to ongoing financial struggles since the 2008 recession.

The network recently lost a longtime foundation donor and a production contract, which totaled $400,000 — about 17 percent of the annual budget, Gruebel said.

And those losses occurred after a 75 percent drop in state support over the past several years. “Our accumulated loss in state funding is estimated in excess of $1 million,” he said.

Starting May 6 the stations began signing on the air at 10 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. and signing off at 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. Sundays. Saturday sign-off is also 11 p.m. instead of midnight. The changes reduced part-time staff hours, transmitter and network utility bills, and engineering maintenance support by about $7,500 a month, Gruebel said.

The network is also halfway through a campaign to generate $276,800 by June 30, and Gruebel is hopeful that further reduction in airtime isn’t necessary. “We will likely break a record by the end of this month” in fundraising, he said. Viewers “want to preserve their public television service.”