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Budget woes force WVPB to cut programming

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State funding cuts, and a sharp downturn in corporate underwriting is forcing West Virginia Public Broadcasting to cut back on programming -- and more severe cuts could be coming, Executive Director Dennis Adkins told legislators Thursday.

"We're seeing erosion in our ability to provide a quality public broadcasting product to the citizens of West Virginia," Adkins told the House Finance Committee. "To put it bluntly, our expenses are outpacing our revenues."

Adkins said overall state appropriations to public broadcasting have been cut 9 percent over the past two budget years, while corporate underwriting of programming has dropped 17 percent in the past year.

"A lot of our corporate sponsors are holding onto their advertising money due to the economy," Adkins said.

He said commercial broadcast stations in the state would be having the same financial problems had they not benefited from campaign advertising generated by five statewide elections in the past 18 months.

"A lot of commercial stations would really be hurting without those political dollars," he said.

The financial strain has forced the Educational Broadcasting Authority to put the "This Week in West Virginia" weekly television news production on hiatus, and to cut the number of news updates aired on public radio, he said.

If the outlook does not improve, the next cuts could include national programming on public television and radio, and ultimately, shutting down translator towers that allow public radio and television broadcasts to reach rural areas of the state, he said.

"We're not at the point of needing to turn off equipment because of increasing utility bills," he said.

In fact, in the past year, the EBA added a public radio broadcast tower to serve Braxton and Webster counties, and should have a tower online in Bluefield in a couple of months, he said. Translator towers to relay TV broadcasts have been added in Welch and Flatwoods in the past year, he said.

However, he said, "This fiscal year will be very, very tough, until the economy improves and private contributions pick up."

Additionally, the EBA took a hit in the 2011-12 budget, with a directive that the authority appropriate $45,000 from its budget to help fund the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

Adkins asked that lawmakers delete the same directive from the proposed 2012-13 state budget.

"It's not an expense we planned for," he said. "I'm all for the Hall of Fame. It's great for the state and we like to televise the event."

Also during the committee meeting Thursday, former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch was introduced as the state's ambassador for West Virginia Imagination Library, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Department of Education and the Arts that provides free books to pre-school children.

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


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