What if Congress stopped allocating federal aid to pubcasting? The latest bleak financial analysis from CPB, released last week, adds some specifics about how service would be affected in dozens of congressional districts across the land. Fifty-four public TV licensees in 19 states and 76 public radio operators in 38 states would be “at high risk of no longer being able to sustain operations” if federal aid ends, CPB asserts in a report backed by Booz & Co. and delivered to the appropriation committees June 20. Congress asked CPB for a report on the field’s economic options when lawmakers approved the most recent advance appropriation in December.
James A. Fellows, 77, an advocate of high ideals, strategic planning and executive training for public television, died in his sleep Friday, Jan. 6, at a nursing home in Millville, N.J.
He had been besieged by Parkinson’s disease and the lasting effects of a nearly fatal car accident in 2003 and a stroke in 2004. Jim represented stations on the national scene for 40 years, serving as the last president of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, a forerunner and parent of PBS and NPR. Recognizing that few station leaders had ever been trained as managers and budgeters, he arranged for development of intensive short courses taught at business schools. He founded Current as one of NAEB’s last projects in 1980 and remained its publisher, in effect, for more than 20 years — advising its editors, never interfering, inspiring them with his sense of purpose.
By having two or three big master-control facilities oversee the digital assembly and transmission of broadcast schedules for all of the nation’s public TV stations, the field could save tens of millions of dollars a year, according to Mark Erstling, CPB senior v.p., system development and media strategy. CPB will cover a big part of the costs of public TV’s first two “centralcasting” setups this year, Erstling says. On Sept. 19, the CPB Board approved a $6.6 million grant to equip a centralcasting facility in Syracuse, N.Y., for all nine pubTV stations in New York State plus New Jersey’s four-station network. The grant covers about 90 percent of the cost of the project, to be located in the new home of WCNY-FM/TV in downtown Syracuse.
Long after giving a title to her new serious comic book, On the Media co-host Brooke Gladstone is having to explain it away. When forced into giddy sound-bite mode on The Colbert Report July 26, she was quick to say that The Influencing Machine doesn’t follow the alarmist line you’d expect. “This title is what I want to fight — the popular notion that the media are controlling our minds,” she said. “It’s really a mirror.” Calling the book “Our Harmless Media Lapdog” wouldn’t have fit the book, either.
George Leigh Hall, 82, a public television leader in North Carolina, Illinois and Virginia, died June 5 at a retirement home in Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
His wife of 60 years, Katherine Waddington Hall, had died six months earlier. After starting in radio during the 1940s in his hometown of Reidsville, N.C., north of Raleigh, Hall joined Capitol Broadcasting Company’s WRAL-AM in Raleigh and advanced to program manager; helped the company acquire a television license and served as the TV station’s first program manager. In 1960, Hall became g.m. of North Carolina State University’s Raleigh studios of the state educational TV network, UNC-TV. Later he headed the telecommunications department at the University of Delaware at Newark. In Illinois, he served as president of Convocom, a three-station confederation of stations in Springfield, Macomb and Quincy.
For 40 years New Jersey has justified having its own public broadcasting network by pointing to the limited reporting on its area by the Philadelphia and New York media. Now the state is moving to dismantle the New Jersey Network and entrust that reporting and its broadcast channels to public TV and radio stations in those two adjoining cities. The state has notified the NJN staff of about 120 that their jobs will disappear at the end of June, and observers doubt that a majority of the legislature will stop the process for more discussion as it did last summer. Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an emphatic budget-cutting former prosecutor, announced the new operators of NJN’s channels June 6, four months after the state asked for proposals:
NJN’s four full-power TV stations and three lower-power translators will be operated by Manhattan-based WNET under a five-year contract, with the state retaining ownership. Four NJN radio channels in northern and central areas, including one in coastal Toms River, will be sold to New York Public Radio (WNYC/WQXR).
This year, St. Patrick’s Day was the deadline for pubcasters to ask Uncle Sam for help replacing their ancient, failing transmitters, or for a broadcast starter-set to put a new station on the air. It was also one of those days when Congress lurched toward its budget compromise — and took back the offer. Gone is the 49-year-old Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, a $20-million line item in the Department of Commerce, which had been saved year after year by supporters in Congress. This time they were too busy saving PTFP’s younger and bigger sibling, CPB.
When Jim Pagliarini and Judy Diaz say public TV should pay more attention to a younger audience, they’re not thinking of viewers in their 20s and 30s. Their Next Avenue project, based at Twin Cities Public Television, aims at Boomers, the big generation now between the ages of 45 and 65, with its biggest numbers toward the younger end. In contrast, 60 percent of PBS’s audience is over 60, Diaz says, though it has many Boomer viewers. “We’re not reaching them, and we’re not engaging them now,” says Diaz. Boomers — “that’s an NPR audience,” she adds.
The governor says the state can’t afford New Jersey Network anymore. NJN’s leaders say it would do better as a nonprofit anyway. But the NJN employees’ union predicts that a spun-off nonprofit NJN inevitably would fade away, its valuable assets and New Jersey news lost forever. Looks like the ideal time for a Legislative Task Force on Public Broadcasting, lawmakers decided June 29.
PBS comes to the end of the Rainbow Aug. 28 when broadcast rights for one of the system’s longest-running kids’ programs expire and Reading Rainbow leaves the network’s satellite feed. Only Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood have had longer PBS kidvid careers. In 26 years, Reading Rainbow won 24 national Emmys, including 10 for best children’s series. “Its real core support has always been in the education community,” says John Grant, chief content officer of Buffalo’s WNED, co-producing station for the show since its debut in July 1983.
Citing the Freedom of Information Act, three citizen watchdog groups petitioned CPB President Pat Harrison Nov. 21, 2005, to release certain documents mentioned in the CPB inspector general’s Nov. 15 report on the Tomlinson affair. Included are materials given privately by the IG to the CPB Board and members of Congress, minutes of closed and open CPB Board meetings for three years and communications with the White House and with producers of Tucker Carlson Unfiltered and Journal Editorial Report. Several days earlier the groups had requested similar information without invoking FOIA.
In the days before her 92nd birthday, Julia Child had been suffering kidney failure, according to her niece, Philadelphia Cousins. On Thursday, Aug. 12, “in her characteristically decisive way, she removed her oxygen mask, declined to go to the hospital and closed her eyes.” The public TV host who introduced America to fine cooking died in her sleep the next morning in her home in Montecito, Calif. “Julia Child let the hot air out of not only high cuisine but also public broadcasting,” said Scott Simon the next day on NPR.
Under the spending formula imposed on CPB by Congress in 1981, does the corporation have the authority to spend some of the portion reserved for stations by selectively giving out Future Fund R&D grants? When CPB created the TV Future Fund in 1995, it took half of the money from the 6 percent of its appropriation that the formula allocates to “system support” (see yellow portion of graphic at right). There is no dispute about that. The dispute is about the half that CPB spent from the 73 percent of 75 percent of 89 percent (no kidding!) that is allocated to grants for stations (the pale blue portion at right). The latter is often called the CSG pool because the station grants are called Community Service Grants.
James A. Fellows, a longtime leader in public TV, remained in critical but stable condition last week after being hit by a car in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 2. Since the accident he has had five major operations at Bethesda’s Suburban Hospital to mend broken bones and other damage. Though he still faces many risks, doctors said last week he was trending for the better, according to Fellows’ friend Pete Willson. On Dec.
Wielding a grim financial analysis of public TV by a big-name consulting firm, CPB has begun a campaign to glue together a consensus supporting three initiatives to end the stagnation:
catching up with other nonprofits in attracting “major gifts” of $1,000 or more from donors;
improving station efficiency, especially by consolidating operations;
using program research more effectively and taking other unspecified steps to re-examine public TV’s “approach to national programming.”
CPB President Bob Coonrod and Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Cox discussed the initiatives in a Current Q&A. Coonrod said the CPB Board called for the consensus building in its statement of objectives adopted in fall 2002. Coonrod told station managers the three initiatives show the greatest potential for improved performance among some 30 possible efforts examined by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. None is a “silver bullet” that could solve public TV’s money problems, he said. Likewise, he doesn’t want to wait for such long shots as Congress endowing a public TV trust fund with proceeds from spectrum auctions.