West Virginia Public Broadcasting Tries to Stave Off Budget Ax

It was noncommercial media’s version of “Defending Your Life” as Scott Finn, general manager of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, told the state's House Finance Committee this week that if the legislature zeroes out funding to WVPB, as proposed, it could be the first state to ever lose its public broadcasting network, radio and TV. "That's a first that you might not want to have," he said.

The current proposal by the governor is to eliminate the $4.6 million in state funding that represents about 45% of WVPB's total budget. Finn said that would also mean losing various matching federal grants.

In his presentation to the committee, Finn said that funding cut, if it meant not enough money to stay on the air, could also mean FCC fines and eventually losing their station licenses. 

"If you have a house and you abandon that house and it burns down, you lose the value of the house," he told the finance committee in a presentation. "The state of West Virginia has built this house over the last 50 years. We ask that you don't burn it down." 

Among the threatened offerings is popular NPR music program, Mountain Stage, which is produced by WVPB. Finn says the show currently has half a million online viewers and is picked up by 200 radio stations. Among the budget line items in the crosshairs is paying the musicians that perform on the show, he pointed out, as well as other expenses.

He did say he would prioritize preserving that show—"I will work to make sure it is protected first"—saying the show produces a million dollars in direct spending for the state. 

Finn talked about the cost of getting the noncom stations' signal to cable ops, broadcast viewers and over the top, saying that was not simple. He also pointed out that it has to pay PBS and other programmers $1.6 million to pay for content.

Finn said WVPB has already reduced its staff by 29% in the past five years and its reliance on state funding by a million dollars.

Finn said he was already looking at laying off 15 staffers and not filling five positions by the end of March just to get ready for the possible zeroing out, so the impact of the bill is immediate.

(Photo via Pictures of Money's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 9, 2016 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

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.