WEDU’s Too Close to Home, which was previewed to a packed theatre before its Sept. 26 broadcast debut, reports personal stories behind a troubling trend in the Sunshine State: Florida has become a huge destination state for human trafficking, ranking third in the nation.
Pubcasters and their advocates in the state capital credit the change of heart to help from sympathetic lawmakers, the governor’s willingness to change his mind and agreement by pubcasters to strengthen their case for support.
Eight years after the “For Sale” sign first went up on WXEL-TV/FM, the transaction resolving the future of pubcasting in Florida’s affluent Palm Beach region finally closed last month. WXEL-TV, which split from its radio sibling in a 2011 sale to American Public Media Group’s Classical South Florida, is to be transferred to a nonprofit headed by the execs who have managed the station through years of uncertainty…
The pull of economic strains and push of technical advancements continue to spark collaborations among stations, with seven pubTV outlets signing onto a CPB-backed joint master-control project in Florida and two Oregon stations preparing to link via fiber lines and share a single schedule. The CPB Board on March 27 unanimously approved a $7 million grant for a centralcasting facility that will serve six stations in Florida and one in Georgia. The Jacksonville Digital Convergence Alliance LLC will run one master control with customized programming streams for WJCT in Jacksonville; WFSU, Tallahassee; WPBT, Miami; WBCC/WUCF, Orlando; Tampa stations WUSF and WEDU; and WPBA, Atlanta. Depending on how many additional stations sign on, the participating pubcasters will save as much as $20 million over 10 years, according to CPB’s estimates. Cost savings have become imperative, as CPB’s supplementary appropriation for digital projects is nearly depleted.
Miami-based Classical South Florida, an affiliate of American Public Media Group, is expanding its service to the state’s western coast with the $4.35 million purchase of WAYJ-FM, a 75,000-watt station that broadcasts to a potential audience of nearly 1 million listeners in Fort Myers and beyond. The purchase, announced Feb. 14, is part of a three-way transaction with seller WAY Media, a religious broadcasting network that’s moving its Christian pop music service and its call letters to 89.5 MHz in Naples, a 100,000-watt station, formerly WSRX-FM. Though the Naples station broadcasts at a higher effective radiated power (ERP), Classical South Florida’s new station has the better signal, with a higher antenna and larger potential audience. It covers a population of 991,520, compared with 340,913, according to Tom Kigin, executive v.p. for Minnesota-based APMG.
Rick Ray considered purchasing public TV’s Nightly Business Report earlier this year but last week ended up as its new c.e.o. instead. Atalaya Capital Management, the New York venture-capital firm that ended up owning the show, was shopping it around in March, said Ray, a veteran media executive who built cable syndicator Raycom Sports. He took a look, was intrigued and spoke with Atalaya. But the timing for a deal wasn’t right at that point, Ray said; he was too busy with several other projects. “But I liked what I saw” in NBR, Ray said.
WLRN Radio and the Miami Herald have been collaborating on multiplatform news production for eight years, but the investigative-reporting package that they published this month, “Neglected to Death,” took their partnership to a new level. The package of radio reports by WLRN’s Kenny Malone and articles by Herald reporters grew out of a year-long computer-assisted reporting project that revealed systemic failings in the regulation of Florida’s assisted-living facilities. Over several months, Malone followed up on the Herald investigative team’s findings of incidents of negligence and abuse to produce two character-driven radio features, the first of which aired locally and on NPR’s Morning Edition. Malone’s first piece focused on the case of Aurora Navas, an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient and facility resident who wandered outdoors one night without supervision and drowned in 18 inches of water. It was one of many accidental deaths for which Florida regulators failed to probe or prosecute.
WMFE’s sale of its TV station in Orlando, Fla., leaves two smaller public stations reluctant to assume the role of big kid on the block. Other PBS member stations in the state are now discussing how to provide the full PBS schedule to Orlando, the country’s 19th largest TV market, according to Rick Schneider, chair of the Florida Public Broadcasting Service and president of Miami’s WPBT. The Orlando area’s largest PBS station will become a new outlet for the Daystar Television religious broadcasting chain. The buyer is Community Educators of Orlando Inc., based in Texas and headed by Daystar chief exec Marcus Lamb and his wife, Joni Lamb. The nonprofit evangelical Christian broadcaster owns some 70 stations and runs programming on about 80 more.
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.
In a series of dramatic events covered avidly by local news media, the staff of Palm Beach’s public TV/radio licensee last month chased out the lawyer who was both its board chairman and chief executive officer for the last eight years. Chairman Lewis “Dusty” Sang resigned the unpaid positions two weeks ago after WXEL employees went public with complaints about his high spending and autocratic ways. President Sam Barbaro and development Vice President Anita Kirchen, who were suspended by Sang’s executive committee, are back at work at the Florida station, along with Cameron Harris, the assistant development director who was fired for acting as staff spokeswoman. The major effect of the affair, Barbaro says, is that “we have opened the window and let the fresh air in.” Though he now estimates the station faces a $174,000 shortfall, in part because of donor desertion during the strife, Barbaro is optimistic that WXEL will catch up.