Austin's public sta­tions fear­ful of Trump's cuts

Ex­ecs say staffing, pro­grams, com­mu­nity outreach in dan­ger.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Gary Dinges gdinges@states­man.com

A bud­get pro­posal from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to “zero out” fed­eral fund­ing for the Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing could re­sult in bud­get cuts for Cen­tral Texas public ra­dio and TV sta­tions.

The com­bined hit for Austin’s PBS af­fil­i­ate KLRU-TV, NPR af­fil­i­ate KUT-FM and sis­ter sta­tion KUTX-FM, and clas­si­cal music sta­tion KMFA-FM could reach $2.5 mil­lion each year, ac­cord­ing to the sta­tions’ lead­er­ship.

KLRU es­ti­mates it would lose about 12 per­cent of its an­nual bud­get, KUT and KUTX say they could lose 5 per­cent, and KMFA says it could lose 8 per­cent.

The rest of the sta­tions’ fund­ing comes from a va­ri­ety of other sources, such as grants and pledge drives. Stepped-up fundrais­ing ef­forts are one pos­si­ble op­tion be­ing looked at to bridge po­ten­tial bud­get gaps, the sta­tions say.

In 2016, the Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing re­ceived $445 mil­lion in fed­eral money. Some of that money is used to fi­nance pro­grams made avail­able to mem­ber sta­tions such as “Nova,” while 1,136 local ra­dio sta­tions and 362 local TV sta­tions share about 70 per­cent of that money.

With­out the Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing money, broad­cast­ers in Austin and else­where could be forced to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions. Staffing could

be cut, pro­grams elim­i­nated, and com­mu­nity outreach ef­forts trimmed back.

“We could lose the very pro­gram­ming that makes PBS so trusted,” KLRU CEO Bill Stotes­bery said. “We’re also talk­ing about many ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices for low- and mod­er­ate-income kids. We’re very con­cerned about the loss of cov­er­age, reach and im­pact.”

KLRU in re­cent months has moved to in­crease its local news and public af­fairs of­fer­ings, in­clud­ing the hir­ing of well-known Austin jour­nal­ist Judy Mag­gio. Less fund­ing could po­ten­tially di­min­ish or undo those ef­forts.

News also takes up a big part of the bud­get for KUT and KUTX. The po­ten­tial $600,000 loss the sta­tions face rep­re­sents about half of the KUT news­room’s an­nual bud­get, Gen­eral Man­ager Stewart Van­der­wilt said.

“This is money that goes to local com­mu­ni­ties to sup­port local ser­vices,” Van­der­wilt said. “This isn’t money that sits in Washington. This fund­ing can’t be re­placed.”

KMFA Pres­i­dent and Gen­eral Man­ager Ann Hume Wil­son said she also is wor­ried about the po­ten­tial cuts.

“KMFA cre­ates a sig­nif­i­cant amount of orig­i­nal live con­tent in part­ner­ship with Austin’s clas­si­cal music or­ga­ni­za­tions,” she said. “We also broad­cast pop­u­lar na­tional shows like ‘From the Top’ and the bilin­gual English/Span­ish ‘Concierto.’ Th­ese pro­grams am­plify and strengthen the cul­tural fab­ric of our com­mu­nity, so the loss of CPB fund­ing ex­tends well be­yond its im­pact on our bud­get.”

The cuts could be es­pe­cially tough on small-town broad­cast­ers. Some PBS af­fil­i­ates in ru­ral ar­eas rely on the Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing for 30 to 50 per­cent of their an­nual bud­get, Stotes­bery said.

“Those sta­tions will go off the air,” he said, “and those are the ar­eas that need it the most.”

Trump isn’t the first pres­i­dent to sug­gest cut­ting or elim­i­nat­ing Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing fund­ing. Public out­cry shut down pre­vi­ous at­tempts. This time, broad­cast­ers aren’t so sure.

“The threat, I feel, is more real this time,” Stotes­bery said. “Still, there’s a long way be­tween the pres­i­dent’s bud­get and fi­nal ap­pro­pri­a­tions. It’s Congress that makes the fi­nal de­ci­sions.”

Stotes­bery and Van­der­wilt said their sta­tions are hear­ing words of sup­port from across Cen­tral Texas in the form of calls, emails, so­cial me­dia posts and even pe­ti­tions. Public broad­cast­ers na­tion­wide have started a web­site, pro­tect­my­pub­lic­me­dia.org, which asks sup­port­ers to sign a pe­ti­tion “urg­ing Congress to con­tinue the es­sen­tial fund­ing for public me­dia and your local sta­tions.”

“We have a strong, grass­roots sup­port base,” Stotes­bery said. “As long as we con­tinue to see that kind of sup­port, that helps morale a lot.”

Some have ques­tioned if the move to cut fund­ing for public broad­cast­ing is an at­tempt to muz­zle me­dia out­lets that have been ac­cused by Trump of lean­ing too far to the left.

“There’s this on­go­ing chal­lenge and at­tack to the fun­da­men­tal role of jour­nal­ism and the me­dia to be seek­ers of truth,” Van­der­wilt said. “As our fund­ing is be­ing chal­lenged, so is the role we serve. We’re not go­ing to stop what we’re do­ing. It’s too im­por­tant.”

How­ever, White House bud­get direc­tor Mike Mul­vaney has dis­missed those claims.

“The pres­i­dent fi­nally got to the point where he said, ‘Do I re­ally want to make the coal miner in West Vir­ginia, or the auto worker in Ohio, or the sin­gle mom in Detroit to pay for the Na­tional En­dow­ment of the Arts or the Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing?’ And the an­swer is no,” Mul­vaney said in an in­ter­view on Fox News this month.

But broad­cast­ers say those peo­ple in West Vir­ginia, Ohio and Detroit — and mil­lions more across the coun­try — count on PBS and NPR for pro­gram­ming that ed­u­cates, en­ter­tains and in­forms.

“You have to look at public broad­cast­ing on a pro­gram-by-pro­gram ba­sis,” Stotes­bery said. “We’re here to serve ev­ery­body, no mat­ter what they think.”

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

KMFA-FM Music Direc­tor Chris John­son hosts “Rideshare,” an af­ter­noon clas­si­cal music show, on Tuesday at the sta­tion’s stu­dios. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s bud­get pro­posal to elim­i­nate fed­eral fund­ing for the Cor­po­ra­tion for Public Broad­cast­ing would slice funds for local sta­tions.

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CANSTATES­MAN

KMFAFM Music Direc­tor Chris John­son (right) speaks with Joshua Figueroa, a pro­duc­tion in­tern, dur­ing a show break. Public sta­tions have been re­ceiv­ing words of sup­port from across Cen­tral Texas.

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