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Pubcasters seeking millions in storm aid

Originally published in Current, Oct. 3, 2005
By Jeremy Egner

As Gulf Coast pubcasters begin putting their stations and lives back together, the system’s reps in Washington are scrambling for funds to fuel the effort. CPB has laid out $1 million in emergency grants, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program sent $283,320 to Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and sums of up to $250 million are sought from Congress.

PTFP gave the grant to the Louisiana network to repair a damaged television transmitter in Baton Rouge, and a Commerce Department spokesman said more requests to PTFP are expected.

A massive Katrina reconstruction bill introduced Sept. 22 [2005] by Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) calls for $250 million for pubcasting infrastructure and facilities repair.

Also pending before Congress are CPB’s Sept. 13 request for $30 million in emergency funding that it would disburse and a request for $59.3 million for emergency repair funds that PTFP would distribute, proposed by APTS, NPR and PBS, said CPB government affairs spokesman Eben Peck. The requests went to OMB and key leaders in both houses of Congress. System lobbyists hope Congress will include the pubcasting aid in a third Katrina-related supplemental appropriation that could see action as soon as mid-October.

The overall amount requested will also likely change as pubcasters get a clearer picture of the extent of the damage. A pubcasting hurricane team, including officials from NPR, PBS, APTS and CPB, has been charged with placing dollar figures on station damages after conferring with Gulf Coast pubcasters, said Louisiana Public Broadcasting President Beth Courtney.

Recovery needs have been divided into three categories: Category A to fill high-priority requests and help stations get back to pre-Katrina shape; Category B to buy emergency diesel generators or otherwise “harden” facilities against future storms; and Category C to cover miscellaneous "wouldn’t it be nice” costs, Courtney said. The team is “trying to be responsible in our ask,” she said, adding that the request will take insurance payments into consideration.

The group last week set the price tag for priority aid needs at $45 million, but that total is changing daily as more accurate damage assessments come in, Courtney said.
Included in that request will be repairs for damage wrought by Hurricane Rita, which followed Katrina and waylaid some Gulf Coast pubcasters that had escaped Katrina largely unscathed.

KRVS-FM in Lafayette, La., received “only a few sprinkles” from Katrina, but Rita knocked out power to its main transmitter in Crowley, La., and destroyed the auxiliary transmitter with the structure protecting it, said General Manager David Spizale. The station was off air for almost three days.

Spizale estimated KRVS would need $100,000 for the auxiliary site and $80,000 to get that transmitter digital-ready. The station will also spend at least $55,000 for a 3,000-gallon emergency diesel generator for the main transmitter, Spizale said.

KVLU-FM in Beaumont, Texas, was also hit hard by Rita, Spizale said, but he’s been unable to reach anyone at the Lamar University station to get a damage assessment. Current’s calls to KVLU were met by a busy signal.

Station staffers directly affected by the storm will also receive help through systems set up by PBS and Development Exchange Inc. to allow pubcasters to make donations to help their colleagues. The funds, at and, total more than $45,000 and $7,500, respectively. Disbursements will be made when more details about specific needs are available.

Spizale praised CPB’s quick response to the storm. “When we needed help,” he said, “CPB was there immediately.”
CPB has laid out more than $1 million so far. Grants of $2,500 to $80,000 went to 20 stations in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

More help is needed, according to a delegation of Gulf Coast pubcasters who spoke at the CPB Board’s Sept. 26 meeting. “The federal request must happen,” said Randy Feldman, president of WYES in New Orleans, as he showed the board pictures of his shattered station.

But the hurricane recovery funds have to come from somewhere, and late last month the system again found itself targeted by conservative lawmakers hoping to use CPB’s annual funding for other purposes. The Republican Study Committee, a large group of House Republicans led by Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, proposed eliminating funding for CPB, among many other federal agencies and programs, as part of its broad “Operation Offset.” The plan intends to cut federal costs to free money to pay for Katrina recovery, but most observers believe the costs will instead be defrayed by an across-the-board cut of all discretionary programs.

“Operation Offset hasn’t gained much traction with Republican leadership. . . I don’t think you’ll see those recommendations go through,” said Sage Eastman, spokesman for Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.). Camp, a member of the House public broadcasting caucus as well as the RSC, did not agree that CPB should be zeroed out, Eastman said. A list of RSC members is on the Web at

Meanwhile, the federal budget bills are in a holding pattern, according to observers, as Washington focuses on the devastated Gulf Coast and Supreme Court confirmations. The Labor/HHS bill has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee with funding for pubcasting at about the same level as last year’s, but the differences between it and the House version, which included no funds for interconnection, digital conversion, Ready to Learn or Ready to Teach, must be reconciled in conference. Congress is expected to finalize budget bills in mid-November.

Web page posted and corrected Oct. 5, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Current Publishing Committee


Public TV and radio stations raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for storm relief in September.


Backup generators: When the power goes out, broadcasters start counting the gallons.


The PBS Foundation Disaster Relief Fund collects donations online to help employees of stations hit by the storms.

DEI offers varying guidance about stations' own fundraising after the storm. Also scripts for on-air announcements.

The Republican Study Committee says storm recovery money should come from public broadcasting (among many budget items) rather than go to it. RSC says: "Eliminate Federal Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
CPB, which receives $400 million annually from Congress, funds the Public Broadcasting Service at 15% of its annual budget. The other 85% of PBS’ budget comes from viewer donations, local government, and universities. CPB and PBS continue to use federal funding to pay for questionable programming, such as a documentary on sex education funded by the Playboy Foundation. Additionally, much of the programming on PBS, such as Sesame Street, could bring in enough annual revenues to cover the loss of federal funding. Savings: $5.6 billion over ten years ($2.2 billion over five years)." See Operation Offset recommendations in Word document.

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