After negotiating with PBS for eight months over a proposal to reduce its dues and reconfigure pubTV in the Los Angeles market, the city’s bigget public station announced this week that it may drop out of the network by Jan. 1. If KCET proceeds with that option, PBS would be left without a station committed to carrying its primetime and children’s schedules in the nation’s second-largest media market. It would be the first departure of a major-market member in the network’s history. KCET President Al Jerome told Current that he’d prefer to remain with PBS, but says — if the network doesn’t budge — he has unanimous backing from the station’s board of directors to forgo the PBS brand and the icon series of its National Program Service.
Two public broadcasters active in southern California during the 1960s and 1970s, James Lee Mathes and Fred Burgess, retired to Kansas together in the 1980s. They died within seven months in 2007. James Lee Mathes
James Lee Mathes, 73, a pioneer in public TV at KCET and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, died March 27  in his home state, Kansas. He had pancreatic cancer. Mathes worked on such KCET projects as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series and an eight-nation simulcast, as well as fundraising and general administration.
Lance Orozco is one of Southern California’s most honored and recognized journalists. Yet he doesn’t work for the Los Angeles Times or a commercial megastation. Orozco has instead landed dozens of awards from area press groups by making an unlikely news powerhouse out of tiny KCLU-FM in Thousand Oaks, a Ventura County suburb northwest of Los Angeles. The station employs just four full-time staffers but has won a flood of praise for the extensive local coverage spearheaded by Orozco, its news director and reporting dynamo. Last month the Associated Press Television and Radio Association of California and Nevada awarded KCLU and Orozco nine of its Mark Twain Awards, including one naming him Radio Reporter of the Year.
KCET in Los Angeles unveiled a multimillion-dollar initiative to help prepare kids for kindergarten by training the adults who care for them. Two new daytime talk series — one produced in English and the other in Spanish — are centerpieces of the project. Through daily broadcasts of A Place of Our Own and Los Ninos in Su Casa, KCET aims to provide skills, information and inspiration to unlicensed caregivers and enlist them in the important work of nurturing early learning skills. These friends, neighbors and relatives of parents often work in isolation and have little access to training. Shaped by input from leading educators and formative research on its target audiences, the station’s education initiative has raised $20 million so far, including the largest grant in KCET’s history—$10 million from the energy company BP.
A leading advocate for independent producers and openness in the governance of public broadcasting, Laurence S. Hall died Feb. 21  after a recurrence of cancer, according to one of his sons, Ole Hall. He was 74. Hall was one of “the three Larrys” — the others being Lawrence Daressa and Lawrence Sapadin — who were among the leaders of the 1980s movement to secure a role for independent producers in public TV. If there was one person responsible for that “modest miracle of legislation,” Daressa said recently, it was Hall.
ITVS, the CPB-funded organization operating in the tricky middle-ground between independent filmmakers and public TV stations, has appointed a leader in the San Francisco indie community as its next chief executive. [She succeeded James Yee, who died in March 2001.]
Sally Jo Fifer, executive director of the Bay Area Video Coalition since 1992, will join the Independent Television Service as its top executive in August. BAVC grew explosively under her leadership — through partnerships with Silicon Valley companies during the soaring tech boom and through job-training contracts with federal, state and local government agencies. The ITVS Board sought an executive with entrepreneurial skills and a proven ability to “raise money and think creatively,” says Mark Lloyd, chairman of ITVS and president of the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy. “Sally’s experience with the Bay Area Video Coalition certainly suggests that she has those qualities.”
San Francisco’s KQED-TV remains one of the most-watched public TV stations in the country, but, in the 1980s and ’90s it suffered under the expectations of a viewership that recalled its early years. David Stewart reminds us of KQED’s fertile ’50s and ’60s. In his history of public TV, The Vanishing Vision, James Day recalls that the first year of KQED/San Francisco, 1953, was nearly its last. Its headquarters was in the back seat of a station wagon. Day, the president, and a staff of eight had managed to keep the station on the air, but the board, alarmed by its increasing debts, had decided to call it quits.