CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week's meeting of the Educational Broadcasting Authority raised some dire issues regarding the long-term survival of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Individual memberships and corporate underwriting are down sharply since the recession hit in 2008.
Most ominously, in preparing the 2013-14 budget request, the Tomblin administration has directed Public Broadcasting to assume a 5 percent cut in state funding. Currently $5.9 million, the state appropriation accounts for more than half of Public Broadcasting's total revenue, and a $295,000 cut would be hard to adsorb.
On the other side of the ledger, WVPB's largest single expense, employee salary and benefits, is staying flat at $5.2 million, but that's primarily an accounting trick because of unfilled staff vacancies. Even without pay raises, costs for pension contributions and employer's share of PEIA premiums tend to increase annually.
The second-largest budget item, for programming rights, is going up 28 percent from $1.64 million this year to $2.1 million next fiscal year.
Executive director Dennis Adkins said the alternative is to cut back on programming and fill airtime with more repeats. However, that runs the risk of further alienating the audience.
(Speaking of Adkins, why do I get the feeling that when all is said and done, he'll be the fall guy for Public Broadcasting's financial issues?)
Meanwhile, like many state agencies, Public Broadcasting has issues with deferred maintenance. Its television studio near Beckley is being used for document storage, because the HVAC system is out of commission, rendering the studio unusable for TV productions.
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine president Michael Adelman has a grant to produce a second 13-episode season of "Abracadabra," the children's series promoting health, fitness and good nutrition, but production is on hold until if and when the HVAC system is replaced.
Some would argue that Public Broadcasting is an anachronism in an age when there are multiple cable networks that provide similar programming, as well as dozens of satellite radio stations and innumerable Internet radio channels.
However, not having legislative coverage through public television's outstanding "The Legislature Today" would be a major loss for viewers around the state.
Commercial TV stations in the Charleston-Huntington market generally do a poor job covering the Legislature and, presumably, coverage is even worse (or non-existent) on TV newscasts from stations in outlying cities.
EBA member (and legislative lobbyist) Mark Polen believes WVPB's long-term survival depends on innovation and providing programming that isn't duplicated on numerous other media outlets.
One proposal he's floating is for a statewide news/talk show on public radio. He's proposes airing it at noon weekdays, as a progressive counterpoint to Rush Limbaugh.
At first glance, it seems like it would have a good chance of drawing listeners and program sponsors, because the only equivalent statewide program, "Talkline" on John Raese's MetroNews network, presumably draws a more moderate-to-conservative (some might say conservative-to-Neanderthal) audience.