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W.Va. Public Broadcasting chief to step down in December

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The executive director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting announced Thursday that he will retire effective Dec. 21.

Dennis Adkins' announcement followed an hour-long, closed-door session of the Educational Broadcasting Authority to discuss personnel matters, and after months of Adkins being at odds with authority members over finances and the future of public broadcasting in the state.

In accepting Adkins' retirement, EBA members directed chairman Bill File of Beckley to begin a comprehensive search for a new executive director, and to appoint a task force to study the future of public broadcasting.

Adkins has wrestled with EBA members for months over the direction of public broadcasting in financial hard times, as the economy's downturn caused viewer contributions and corporate sponsorships to fall, and with the prospect of state and federal funding cuts on the horizon.

Ironically, in his presentation to the authority Thursday, Adkins said corporate underwriting for public television and radio programming has improved over the summer.

Two Charleston-based law firms -- Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff & Love; and Farmer, Cline and Campbell -- have become programming sponsors, as have Tudor's Biscuit World and the Charleston Civic Center, among others.

"We went through some tough times. That's standard in this business -- you just work through them," Adkins said.

However, he noted that West Virginia Public Broadcasting still faces a 7.5 percent funding cut in its state appropriations for the 2013-14 budget year, as do many state agencies. That amounts to a $420,000 reduction for WVPB.

Adkins said legislators might be persuaded to roll back that cut if there is sufficient public outcry to maintain the budgets for public radio and TV.

"If we have a bunch of letters from everybody not to cut, I can make that pitch," he said, referring to the authority's 2013 budget presentations to the House and Senate finance committees.

However, Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin seemed to contradict him, saying that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration has not given agencies any reason to believe the 7.5 percent cuts will be scaled back.

"Certainly, my office will not be asking that we be exempt from the cuts," Goodwin said.

Also during Thursday's meeting:

| News director Beth Vorhees said she is hiring two new full-time reporters for the Charleston newsroom.

That will allow public broadcasting to expand its news operations to seven days a week. She said that decision was made after criticism over West Virginia Public Radio's failure to provide extensive coverage of the aftermath of the June 29 derecho storm, which hit on a Friday evening.

"Currently, our newsroom is not staffed on Saturday or Sunday," she said.

The new reporters also will be assigned to cover the House and Senate for public TV's "The Legislature Today" program, she said.

| EBA members tentatively approved a memorandum of understanding to produce a second season of "Abracadabra," a children's series promoting exercise and healthy eating, hosted and produced by Dr. Michael Adelman, president of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

That led to several tense exchanges between Adelman, EBA members, Adkins and director of TV production Rich Carter over the series' production costs for public TV.

The memorandum calls for Adelman's production company to pay public TV $15,000 for production costs, below the $60,000 that Adkins and Carter said had first been proposed to more fully cover the production costs for public TV.

At one point, EBA member John Dahlia called on public TV officials to move forward with production of the second season, which has been in limbo since spring.

"Taking this long to produce a kids' program is absurd. It's absolutely absurd," Dahlia, of Fairmont, said angrily.

Another issue is that the public TV studio in Beckley, where the first season of the show was produced, is no longer operational, and the memorandum is contingent on the viability of filming the program at TV studios in Charleston's Capital High School.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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