Noncom KETC Slashes Expenses As State Rescinds Funding

KETC St. Louis has cut staff by over 10% and taken other cost-cutting steps in the face of a surprise state budget cut, but the self-described "most watched" noncom in the nation says that won't be enough.

According to KETC, the state this week rescinded the funding of both public TV and radio in a move that took management and staff completely by surprise and created a six-figure shortfall.

That cut, combined with fewer member donations in a tanking economy, prompted the cost-cutting, which included salary cuts as well as cuts in staff and expenses.

There was an across-the-board 5% salary cut, said Director of Marketing Kay Porter, with the station's president, Jack Galmiche, taking a 10% cut. Seven staffers were let go Friday. Porter said she hoped no more would be necessary, but that the station had to start working on a plan to do more with less, given that the surprise state announcement created an immediate shortfall didn't give them the luxury of coming up with a long-term plan. "We're already a very lean staff," she said.

Porter said the state funding cut amounted to $225,000 that the station had budgeted through the end of June, the end of the station's fiscal year.

One program that, ironically, will not be affected by the cut is the station's outreach on the financial crisis. It's local programming and help-line initiative, "Facing the Mortgage Crisis" (since rechristened "Facing the Financial Crisis") was so successful that CPB provided a grant to expand it to 25 other hard-hit markets, says Porter.

"Throughout our 55 years, Channel 9 has demonstrated sound stewardship of the public trust," said Galmiche in putting out an emergency call for funds from the community. "Unfortunately the unexpected loss of state funding compounded existing budget challenges resulting from the economic downturn. As difficult as it is to take these steps, I am confident that, with the community's support, we will be able to continue the programs and services that have such a significant impact on our region."

Porter said the already-scheduled pledge drive will be supplemented with the call for emergency funding to help get through the next two months.

That call for funds could be a tough sell, given that member support has "nosedived" of late, said Porter, given the state of the economy.

Just this week, Association of Public Television Stations President Larry Sidman called on governors and state legislatures to continue to invest in public TV as they dealt with funding shortfalls. APTS said a recent survey found states were looking at public TV funding cuts of up to $50 million.

Other states where public TV funding is threatened include Pennsylvania and Virginia, where there are proposals or efforts to zero out funding, and New York, where the proposal is to cut it in half, according to APTS.

"Given public television's key educational role, it is particularly unfortunate that dramatic cuts are now being proposed to state funding," Sidman said this week as the National Association of Governors was meeting with President Obama. "State governments are essential investors in local public television stations, providing vital resources to enable stations to fulfill their educational missions. Therefore, I call upon the nation's governors and state legislators to avoid making these cuts, and to instead continue their investment in local public stations to amplify the impact of state expenditures on education."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.