Madison Hodges, longtime station manager and pubradio advocate, dies at 66

Madison Hodges, a longtime manager of public radio stations and advocate for the system who worked to increase the community impact of pubcasters nationwide, died July 18 in Tallahassee, Fla., from cardiac arrest following treatment of a rare bone cancer. He was 66. Hodges ran several university-licensed public radio stations over the course of his career and served as executive director of the University Station Alliance. He also oversaw station services at NPR and spearheaded initiatives with the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program to increase community involvement, help licensees secure CPB funding, identify gaps in public radio’s coverage and quantify stations’ community impact for license-holders. He began his broadcasting career as a reporter for a commercial radio station in Little Rock, Ark., before joining the city’s public radio station, KUAR. Continue Reading

Walter Sheppard, former grant officer for PTFP, dies at 82

Walter Sheppard, a veteran public radio general manager who worked for the federal government’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program for more than two decades as a federal program officer, died Oct. 19 at the age of 82. Over the course of Sheppard’s career, which began in 1947, he held roles at several public radio stations across the country, including WITF in Harrisburg, Penn.; Boston’s WBUR; and the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority (today known as West Virginia Public Broadcasting), where he served as deputy director in the 1980s and added more radio stations to the network. He joined the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in 1990 to manage grant portfolios as part of PTFP. Sheppard managed several different regions of the program during his 21 years there, including the South and Northeast. Continue Reading

PTFP’s last round of grants, fiscal year 2010

PTFP's last annual grant round came toward the end of fiscal year 2010, and the agency later began soliciting applications for FY 2011, but the lingering recession and budget stalemate took down the grant program early in 2011. In fall 2011 the Commerce Department agency National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced $20.45 million in PTFP grants for 126 projects. Nearly half the money, $9.9 million, went to replace old equipment at existing stations;
$5.1 million went to extend or start 30 radio services and 1 TV service;
$4.1 million helped TV stations with conversion to digital operation, a major expense during PTFP's last years. A handful of other grants went to four emergency repair projects during the year, digital radio upgrades, facilities planning by future applicants, a radio reading service for the blind, a distance learning project and the perennial grantee PEACESAT. 2010 PTFP Awards

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AlabamaAlabama Educational Television Commission
WBIQ-DT
Birmingham, AL
01-02-N10080

A project to assist the Alabama Educational Television Commission, Birmingham, AL, with the acquisition and installation of a Flywheel UPS unit and a 3,000 gallon diesel fuel tank for WIIQ-TV, Demopolis, AL. Continue Reading

Ariz. man accused of stealing PTFP funds pleads not guilty

The Arizona man indicted on charges of embezzling federal funds that were given to start a Native radio station pleaded not guilty April 26 in the District of Arizona U.S. District Court, according to online court records. The attorney representing the defendant, John Bittner, said he may file a motion for Bittner to be mentally evaluated. A jury trial was set for June 5. As Current reported April 23, Bittner is alleged to have used $322,364 in Public Telecommunications Facilities Program funds on personal expenses, including a car, medical costs, child support payments and a trip to Las Vegas. After his indictment, Bittner attempted suicide and spent time in a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz., his hometown. Continue Reading

Feds arrest Arizona man for stealing Native group’s PTFP money

An Arizona man with a background in Native radio faces federal civil and criminal charges for using a federal grant for personal expenses rather than its intended purpose — starting a radio station for two Navajo organizations. An indictment filed March 27 in the District of Arizona U.S. District Court alleges that John Bittner of Flagstaff misrepresented himself as a certified engineer to New Mexico-based Navajo groups. He obtained a Public Telecommunications Facilities Program grant based on a building plan that he is alleged to have lied about. After the Navajo groups received a PTFP grant at Bittner’s urging, the purported engineer used the $322,364 for child support payments, medical and legal expenses, travel and other personal spending, according to the indictment and a court suit. An FCC FM construction permit awarded to Diné Agriculture Inc., a Navajo nonprofit in Shiprock, N.M., expired in January, dashing plans for the station Bittner had promised to build. Continue Reading