Butler at NETA: Federal pubcasting funding a lifeline, not a yoke

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, told attendees at the National Educational Telecommunications Association conference this morning (Oct. 19) that he doesn’t want the public to get the impression that “public broadcasters are eager for the day when federal funding will go away.” He was reacting to a question from the breakfast crowd about Louisville Public Media’s “Campaign for Independence” radio pledge drive, going on now, that aims, according to its website, to help the station “become independent from unreliable funding streams.”

“This attitude is not really helpful to us,” Butler said.

“I fear that some of our friends in public radio, because they feel burned by recent political fires, just can’t wait to get out from under the ‘yoke’ of federal funding,” Butler said. While some see government support that way, “others see it as a lifeline, which it really is.” He added that he’ll be meeting soon with incoming NPR President Gary Knell.

UPDATE: Butler’s remarks puzzled Louisville Public Media chief Donovan Reynolds. “I think Pat completely misunderstands what we’re doing here,” he told Current. “We’re not suggesting that it’s a good idea to lose federal funding. We’re making the opposite case.”

Government funding for LPM’s stations — from CPB and the Louisville city government — have dropped dramatically in recent years, Reynolds said. Message points from its “Campaign for Independence” emphasize that listener contributions are LPM’s most reliable revenue source and are more important than ever.

“We’re being realistic and honest with our audience about public funding in our city and in Washington,” Reynolds said. “We have to let our audience know that we’re in jeopardy and we have to rely on them to ensure our success and survival.” LPM operates three stations in Louisville, providing NPR News, classical and contemporary music on separate channels.

The campaign, unveiled this spring, has been highly effective with LPM’s listeners, Reynolds said. Member contributions of more than $615,000 set a new record over spring 2010 pledge revenues, marking a year-to-year increase of 22.5 percent. LPM is on target to meet its $600,000 goal for this fall.

Reynolds is among the pubradio managers who fully supported the alliance forged in February between advocacy teams at APTS and NPR, and he has been very active in defending federal aid to the field via grassroots advocacy and personal visits to members of Congress. “I am surprised [Butler] would say these things,” Reynolds said. “We are fighting the same fight.”

Also during this morning’s NETA session, Butler made a pitch for more stations to become APTS members. About 72 percent of public TV stations are dues-paying members of the advocacy organization. But that missing 28 percent is leaving APTS short about $1 million in annual revenue and unable to fill several key positions including a vice president for government relations and regulatory counsel. “This is a problem,” he said. “If we could get to a point where everybody was in this boat and supporting our efforts in Washington, it could have a transformative effect.”

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