A movement among big-market stations to accept 30-second underwriting spots is turning up the heat on PBS to resolve longstanding discrepancies between national underwriting policies and more permissive practices at local stations. Some say six of the top ten stations are accepting the longer spots; others count 19 of the top 20. Among the stations now accepting 30-second underwriting messages are WNET, New York; KCET, Los Angeles; KQED, San Francisco; WCET, Cincinnati; WTVS, Detroit, and KRMA, Denver. The national underwriting that directly supports production of national programs has slipped in recent years, while local stations’ spot sales have grown–probably surpassing the total for national underwriting in recent years. “We can reach 80 percent of the U.S. population with 30-second messages on public television today,” said Keith Thompson, president of Public Broadcast Marketing, a firm that specializes in spot sales on public radio and TV stations.
You probably wouldn’t want one. Not if you knew what they’re like. Leave them alone and they’ll rip your couch, dig up your garden, growl at your kids. This is the word on Jack Russell terriers, like the zippy, smart little dog that stars in Wishbone on PBS. Wishbone is so amazingly cute that many children demand a doggie just like him, and thousands of adults want one, too.
Richard Carlson, a Republican credited with defending public broadcasting from attacks by members of his party, announced Jan. 24 that he will leave the CPB presidency June 30 or before. He opposed overlapping stations and pushed new rules to limit grants to them–winning support among politicians but losing the backing of many station execs. He spoke up for objectivity and ideological balance in programs, while spurning demands that CPB take a more intrusive role in programming to detect and correct imbalance. He trimmed the CPB bureaucracy and paid a quarter of the staff to leave, changing its human face, with consequences not yet known.
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.