CPB eyes TV CSG rules in anticipation of spectrum auctions

CPB will review its television Community Service Grant policies to clarify how to handle station revenues from the upcoming spectrum auction. The auctions, mandated by Congress to be conducted by the FCC before 2022, will clear spectrum for wireless devices. All broadcasters must decide whether to participate, and a station’s sale of spectrum could bring in millions of dollars. So far, two recent noncom TV deals in California and Maryland, in which a speculator paid stations up front for a share of future spectrum proceeds, each topped $1 million. The value of a similar deal in Connecticut was not made public.

Damaged transmitter delays license renewal for Houston’s KPFT

Houston Pacifica station KPFT-FM is preparing to ask the FCC for a third extension on its license renewal, a delay resulting from transmitter damage caused by a lightning strike two years ago. The station, part of the financially troubled Pacifica network, has been struggling to raise funds to replace the transmitter. It has operated at half power since March 2012 and is pursuing its third Special Temporary Authority from the FCC. By failing to operate at full power for so long, the station puts itself at risk of  FCC fines. KPFT General Manager Duane Bradley said the internal divisions plaguing Pacifica aren’t helping.

CPB appropriation arrives despite federal shutdown

Public broadcasting’s federal subsidies were not caught up in the political stalemate that forced closure of the federal government Oct. 1. The U.S. Treasury delivered CPB’s $445 million fiscal 2014 appropriation that same day, as scheduled, while political leaders in Congress and the White House wrangled over tea party Republicans’ push to repeal the Affordable Health Care for America Act. CPB’s appropriation was forward-funded during the 2012 appropriations cycle. The federal budget that has been held up by a faction of GOP lawmakers will determine CPB’s funding for 2016.

Pacifica misses CPB deadlines, holding up funding for stations

CPB has withheld financial support for the Pacifica Foundation’s five radio stations after the organization missed deadlines for fixing errors and shortcomings in its accounting and operations. The errors were discovered during a CPB audit last year that cited Pacifica for insufficient accounting practices, misreported revenues and failure to comply with CPB rules on open meetings and financial transparency. The withholding of CPB funding hits Pacifica at a precarious time as its stations struggle to raise enough money to pay rent and staff. WBAI, Pacifica’s New York station, fell short of its on-air fundraising goal in May by 45 percent, or $343,000. The station can’t cover its June payroll or rent for its antenna, according to a June 9 email by Berthold Reimers, g.m., to members of WBAI’s board.

CPB accepts policy revamp proposal from radio CSG panel; first changes since 2005

The CPB Board on April 22 unanimously approved changes to its Radio Community Service Grants program for fiscal 2014, including phased-in hikes in nonfederal financial support (NFFS) requirements for most stations, pubradio’s first transparency requirements, qualification changes for minority-status stations and $9 million in financial incentives over five years for mergers and collaborations. Current CSG policies, which govern distribution of some $90.6 million in radio grants for fiscal 2013, were last updated in 2005. Since then, “shifts in technology, audience behavior, demographics, competition, and the economy have dramatically changed the landscape for public media,” said Oregon Public Broadcasting President Steve Bass, a CSG panel member who spoke at the CPB meeting. “That environmental reality was the backdrop for our discussions and influenced our thinking about the CSG program policy that would best serve the interests of stations and better align our system for the future.”

A 20-member CSG panel, more than half of which was made up of general managers from stations, has been crafting the update over the last 14 months. Bruce Theriault, senior v.p. of radio, told the board that more than 200 stations gave feedback on the document.

Sweetening the deal for partnering stations

NEW ORLEANS — CPB is considering a proposal to allocate $3 million annually over six years to support collaboration among public radio stations, with the amount to be drawn from Community Service Grant incentive funds. The money would support upwards of 20 collaborations among 80 or so stations, each of which would receive an additional $70,000 to $90,000 annually. That financial boost would help stations develop content, streamline operations, plan technology and infrastructure, and undertake other collaborative activities. The program would start in fiscal year 2015 at the earliest. By encouraging collaboration, CPB hopes to “unleash the potential of the network effect,” said Bruce Theriault, senior v.p. of radio, at the Public Radio Regional Organizations Super-Regional Meeting in New Orleans Nov.

CPB sets aside 10 percent

The looming political battle over federal spending — and the possibility of across-the-board budget cuts imposed through sequestration — has prompted CPB to alter distribution of Community Service Grants to stations. The change, implemented after CPB execs negotiated an agreement with the White House Office of Management and Budget over possible sequestration of its $445 million appropriation, boosts the amount of money stations will receive in the first of two CSG checks to be issued by CPB for fiscal 2013. But the second batch of checks, to be issued in March, will be much smaller. How much smaller depends on the outcome of the Nov. 6 general election and whether lawmakers and the Obama administration can work out a deal that would forestall some $1.2 trillion in automatic spending reductions required under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

House hearing loomed as CPB panel rushed to fix grant rules

As Congress threatened to convene a hearing on how CPB distributes its money, a public TV review panel released a proposal last month to change the formula that allocates grants to stations. The fixes ought to please North Carolina’s UNC-TV, which had complained to hometown members of Congress — who pressed for the hearing — that several state networks like itself pay more in PBS dues than they receive in Community Service Grants (CSGs). The proposal would aid state nets by establishing a credit for licensees that operate three or more transmitters. If the recommendation is adopted by the CPB Board, UNC-TV would see an 80 percent increase — about $320,000 — in its base grant in fiscal year 2003, according to CPB. The changes would also reduce the gap between the dues that UNC-TV pays to PBS and the grants it gets from CPB.