Public TV, radio still see budget danger

Some programs would be lost if House cuts stand up in the Senate.
Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Local public broadcasters KMOS and KBIA would lose federal money and programs that support public broadcasting if an appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives goes through the U.S. Senate unchanged.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is required by law to give local affiliates about 95 percent of the money it receives from the federal government. The stations generally get 7 percent to 50 percent of their money from the corporation.

The $72 million in cuts that passed in the House would hurt and KBIA/91.3 FM, the NPR station owned by the University of Missouri System Board of Curators, and KMOS/Channel 6, which serves Columbia but is run by Central Missouri State University.

Although KBIA administrators are unsure how much money they stand to lose under the proposed cuts, the station could lose money that would delay its transfer from analog to digital, said Mike Dunn, director of KBIA and an adjunct professor at MU.

The transfer to a digital signal improves sound quality and would allow KBIA to have two different formats at the same location on the radio dial. People with digital radios could then choose between two stations: one would broadcast mostly news, and the other would focus mainly on classical music, Dunn said.

Last year, KBIA received $97,000 from CPB to continue the transition to digital, continuing a process that began in 1999 and that Dunn said is 85 percent complete. KBIA also received $200,000 of its $1 million budget from the corporation.

The loss of money could affect other services KBIA provides, such as which programs the station airs, if the CPB were to try to make up for the loss of cash by taking money from other places in its budget.

KMOS would see a reduction in the number of services it provides if the cuts are enacted, said Donald Peterson, the station‘s general manager. Its Ready to Learn program, which received $25,000 last year from the CPB and prepares pre-school children for kindergarten, could be eliminated if the Senate passes the cuts.

The satellite interconnection program that beams shows from the national Public Broadcasting Service office to affiliates has also had its budget eliminated under the House bill. The removal of that program would leave the PBS network and local affiliates scrambling to find new ways to get their programs and could force them to return to the use of less efficient phone lines that reduce the broadcast quality of the programs, Peterson said.

KMOS has already made the conversion to digital, Peterson said, but he worries that stations that have not made the switch might go dark when television stations start broadcasting solely in digital.

KMOS receives $500,000 of its roughly $1 million budget from CPB. KMOS and other smaller stations that serve fewer people rely more on the corporation for their money. Stations with more consumers, on the other hand, are able to collect more money through donations and fundraisers.

The House Appropriations Committee originally recommended cutting CPB funding by an additional $100 million. An amendment to restore that money passed with by a wide margin with bipartisan support in the House despite critics who said public broadcasting had a liberal bias and said the budget needed to be tightened.

Supporters of public broadcasting who contacted legislators were instrumental in defeating the additional cuts, Peterson said.

Ninth District Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., voted against restoring the $100 million.

“If CPB funding were to remain at current levels, that would require cuts to job training programs, GEDs and higher-education programs that impact a significant number of people,” Hulshof said. “During tight budgets such as these, tough decisions must be made.”

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