New York Post questions whether PBS should exist

“Move on, Big Bird,” insists a New York Post headline. It cites problems such as WNET’s recent federal investigation, then launches into a more broad attack. “Once upon a time, the network’s slogan was: ‘If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?’ These days, the answer’s obvious: CNN, Fox, A&E . .

Charlotte PBS affiliate begins cutbacks in staff, programming

The slashing has begun at WTVI in Charlotte, N.C., after Mecklenburg County cut its support from nearly $860,000 to just $95,000, according to the Charlotte Observer. “We cannot continue the business model next year we had this year, and it will be painful,” Elsie Garner, WTVI’s president, told the station’s board Wednesday (June 23). The board approved a $3.2 million budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, a 13 percent reduction from the current fiscal year. Probably two or three jobs will be eliminated from the 16 full timers at the station. WTVI has dropped its contract with Nielsen, about $60,000 annually.

Knight-McCormick fellows include four public broadcasters

Four pubcasters are among 20 fellows announced today (June 23) for the 2010 Knight-McCormick Leadership Institute hosted by the Knight Digital Media Center at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Participating will be Holly Kernan, news director at San Francisco-based KALW public radio; Christine Montgomery, managing editor of PBS.org; Michael Skoler, vice president of interactive media for Public Radio International; and Matt Thompson, editorial product manager at National Public Radio. The announcement called the program “a unique, six-month curriculum ‘tailored’ to meet their individual needs as primary digital news leaders in their organizations.”

Yellowstone pubradio personality dies at 55

Lois Bent, a longtime voice on Yellowstone Public Radio, died June 15 after an 18-month fight against cancer. She was 55.According to an obituary on the station site, Bent started her career at YPR/KEMC as a volunteer in the late 1970s. She began a classical program in 1983, also as a volunteer, and was hired as operations manager in 1986. Bent was named interim general manger in 2005 and remained in that position until her medical leave of absence began in January 2009.Barrett Golding of Hearing Voices, an indie radio collective, recalls his friend who, as he put it, “passed on into that great audio control room in the sky.” He also offers an audio clip of Bent in 2003 answering his question, “How would you change the world?”

WTTW honors John Callaway with fellowship

Chicago’s WTTW has created the John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship, the station will announce on this evening’s Chicago Tonight (June 23). The fellowship is named for the founding host of the longtime pubaffairs program who died last June 23 (Current, July 6, 2009), exactly 10 years to the day after his final show. The fellowship will be funded through donations from family, friends and WTTW viewers, according to a statement from the station. It’s open to graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Each quarter, a young journalist will work with TV producers and web staff to create original and supplemental content for the Chicago Tonight website.

CPB Board gets reports on station collaborations at meeting in Beverly Hills

Among items on the agenda at the CPB meeting wrapping up today (June 23) in Los Angeles are reports on pubTV collaboration projects in the L.A. market, as well as four stations in Alaska. The meeting is at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, which, notes CPB Digital Strategy veep Rob Bole, monograms each guest’s pillowcase (above).

PBS’s satellite developer John Ball dies

John Edward Dewar Ball, who oversaw development of PBS’s first satellite-based programming delivery system and was an early supporter of closed captioning, has died at age 77.He was recruited by PBS in 1971 to design and oversee the implementation of the satellite system. “The successful completion of the system led other U.S. television networks to move to communication satellites for reaching their affiliates,” notes TV Technology, which just reported his March 25 death. Ball received an Emmy for his work.While working on that project in 1971, Ball attended a demonstration of closed captioning, then called “subtitling for the deaf,” at Washington’s Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University). The enthusiastic response of the largely deaf audience led him to urge PBS to adopt the technology. By 1979, PBS had done so.

WGBH helping Disney World visitors to “hear” the park

The Media Access Group at WGBH is providing audio descriptions of Walt Disney World for visitors with vision loss. A new palm-sized wireless Assistive Technology Device developed by Disney provides information about outdoor areas, from architectural elements to the location of restrooms. The environmental descriptions were written by Renée Ruthel, one of WGBH’s describers. Visitors can hear descriptions of key visual elements, including action and scenery, for more than 50 attractions; amplified audio for most theater attractions; and closed captioning in pre-show areas where television displays narrate the upcoming experience. (Image: WGBH)

Half of testers use mobile DTV devices once or twice a day, comments reveal

The first reactions from consumers are rolling in from ongoing tests of mobile DTV in and around Washington, D.C., according to a statement from the Open Mobile Video Coalition. The coalition is analyzing some 2,800 comments from more than 150 “hands-on” users of new mobile devices capturing television programming. Just under 50 percent of viewing respondents say they watch one or two times a day on the device, and around 30 percent watch three or more times a day. Around 63 percent of viewing is taking place “on the go,” compared with 44 percent at work or at school, and 33 percent at home. Many viewers also say they are excited about the potential of mobile DTV.

FCC gathering tech experts for broadcast engineering forum June 25

PBS’s Chief Technology Officer John McCoskey is among speakers at the Federal Communication Commission’s upcoming broadcast engineering forum (PDF). The June 25 meeting from 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern will tackle topics including cellularization of broadcast architecture, metholologies for repacking the TV band, improvements in VHF reception, and advancements in compression technology. If you can’t attend the meeting at FCC headquarters in Washington, catch it live online or submit questions via email (broadbandoutreach@fcc.gov) or Twitter using hashtag #brdcstforum.

CPB/PBS Diversity and Innovation Fund weekly series RFP

Three years after Latino activists bitterly criticized Ken Burns’s The War for omitting interviews with Hispanic soldiers and sailors, CPB and PBS concluded negotiations to create a Diversity and Innovation Fund to seed new productions, Current reported. PBS issued this RFP on its website. CPB/PBS Diversity and Innovation Fund
Request for Proposals
Weekly, Primetime Television Series
Objective
This RFP, the first from the Diversity and Innovation Fund, is designed to solicit proposals to provide the NPS with a new, weekly, primetime series – content that will expand viewership and usage, reaching an adult audience on-air and online that reflects the diversity of the 40-64 year old US population. Specifically, the DI Fund seeks to:

Diversify the NPS by attracting more racially and ethnically diverse viewers and Web visitors within the target demographic;
Expand the current NPS audience through the increased use of content created by a diverse group of producers and through the effective use of new and emerging technologies;
Leverage the talent and creativity of executive producers and producers from minority and underserved communities;
Build capacity for the public media system from within those communities; and
Encourage innovation in the planning, production and distribution of public media content. The content should be conceived and budgeted with multiple-platform use (broadcast, VOD, Internet, mobile, DVD, etc.) in mind from the outset.  As producers develop their proposals and ultimately their pilot programs, they should consider not only the traditional broadcast components but also the digital strategy which may include web presence, mobile applications, social media, inclusion in the Digital Learning Library and/or PBS Teachers, etc.

Accounting problems cost WNET $1 for every $7 in federal grants

WNET’s accounting problems have cost it $1.96 million out of a series of production grants totaling $13 million, following  a two-year federal investigation of the big New York station’s grant accounting. Federal lawyers and the licensee — Educational Broadcasting Corp., now officially known as WNET.org — signed a settlement in which the station gave up 15 percent of the grant money:

$950,000 to be paid back to the feds for inadequately documented or prohibited costs, and
$1,015,046 that the station has spent on the productions but agreed to give up. By the time of the settlement, the growing sum of unreimbursed expenses had cut a $7.8 million hole in the station’s financial fabric. To keep federally backed productions going, the nonprofit continued spending money on them but stopped asking for reimbursements. Robert Feinberg, general counsel, said it was a voluntary decision by the station: “If we have done something wrong, we didn’t want to compound the error.”

“It’s definitely been a drain,” Feinberg said.

Schedule: web platform model by year’s end

An NPR-led project this month officially launched planning for a joint Public Media Platform to put public radio and TV content on the Web and mobile devices. By year’s end it aims to create a “proof of concept” prototype. The six-month, $1 million planning initiative will build on NPR’s experience with its open Application Programming Interface, experimenting with ways to make public media content available for noncommercial public service, not only on comprehensive on-demand platforms and station websites but also through specialized widgets yet to dreamed up by creative hackers. Project participants — most of the major program distributors in public broadcasting — will work out terms of use and technical systems for sharing content among local stations, indie producers and others. The talks will also deal with organizational structure and business plans for operating the platform once it’s built.

While NPR is managing the PMP planning (Current, March 1), most of pubcasting’s other big content providers have committed staff and resources to the effort.

Washington State burg to get first locally produced pubradio station

A think tank in tiny Hoquiam, Wash., about 70 miles west of Olympia, has received a license from the FCC to create a pubradio station at 91.5 FM. The Grays Harbor Institute provides lectures, seminars and workshops on various issues including poverty, racism, education and the environment; past speakers have included activist Angela Davis and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D). Now it is the licensee for KGHI, according to the Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash. The paper says that station supporters hope to program “news sources, speakers and syndicated programming with radio of a purely local flavor, along with a free-form song format weighted toward classical music.” But first, they need some infrastructure.

El Paso PBS station gets interim general manager

With the departure of g.m. Craig Brush earlier this month from PBS affiliate KCOS in El Paso, Texas, retired TV exec Dan Krieger has taken the helm, according to the El Paso Inc. website. “How long will I be here? I don’t know,” Krieger said. “I expect four to six months. If I fall in love with it, I’ll stay.

New program delivery technology now in beta testing, after holdups

PBS’s Next Generation Interconnection System-Non-Real-Time Program File Delivery Project (NGIS-NRT) is back on track, after challenges including federal funding snags, a management change and technology issues, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The project is working to deliver programming as compressed digital files. “Catch servers” are now in place at 15 stations. Each server has 12 terabytes of storage for about 10 days of content. Files are encoded using MPEG-2 at high-quality mezzanine compression rates-33 megabits per second (Mbps) for HD video and associated audio, and 13 Mbps for standard-def video and audio.

Gov’t officials critical of nonprofit Friends units

Nonprofit fundraising arms of the state-owned network in West Virginia and the school-board-operated stations in Miami are under fire as public officials scrutinize longstanding financial relationships that underpin their operations. West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Miami’s WLRN-FM/TV, like many other public radio and TV operations owned by state and local governments, rely on sister nonprofits, often called Friends groups, to raise as much as 40 percent of their annual budgets. These private 501(c)(3) nonprofits around the country differ in many details but typically have separate governing boards and sometimes their own staffs.  

A major reason for their existence is also cause for the complaints: They give pubcasters more flexibility and speed in purchasing and contracting than government procedures usually permit and they can pay for programming or other mission-related activities that the stations couldn’t otherwise afford. Friends of WLRN, for example, was able to contribute funding to continue the station’s editorial partnership with the Miami Herald when the newspaper’s new owners were cutting costs in 2008, according to Janet Altman, chair of the friends group.

KQED producer blogs her Arctic journey

Gretchen Weber, associate producer for Climate Watch on KQED in San Francisco, is spending two weeks at Toolik Field Station, an Arctic climate change research station, as a Logan Polar Science Fellow. Follow her adventures — including breakfasts of reindeer sausage — on her KQED blog.

Lack of vision hinders bringing in new pubTV viewers, experts tell paper

Crain’s Chicago Business today (June 21) takes a look into both WTTW’s current money woes and pubTV’s future plans. The Chicago PBS affiliate endured recent staff reductions of 12 percent. Viewership has fallen almost every year since 2005, the paper says. Member, sponsor and government revenues are all down. “The Chicago PBS outlet faces a more fundamental problem, however: attracting viewers in a digital era that’s bombarding them with options,” the paper notes.