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Broadcasting panel raises funding questions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A committee appointed to deal with financial problems facing West Virginia Public Broadcasting reviewed everything from the costs of broadcasting WVU women's basketball games to the need to hire temporary employees during its first meeting Monday.

After the meeting, Executive Director Dennis Adkins said he thought the committee was something of an overreaction to comments he made about financial issues in January.

At that time, Adkins told the House Finance Committee that state funding cuts and a downturn in corporate underwriting were forcing Public Broadcasting to cut back on programming.

"To put it bluntly, our expenses are outpacing our revenues," he said at the time.

Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin asked the state Educational Broadcasting Authority to appoint a committee to review financial matters, and that panel met for the first time Monday.

However, Adkins said Public Broadcasting's financial outlook has improved with the recent economic upturn.

"Our underwriting is coming back around, and our current pledge drive is going to exceed projections," Adkins said. "In the four years I've been here, we've finished in the black each year, and we will finish in the black again this year."

Nonetheless, the committee raised a number of financial questions, including:

* Costs of broadcasting WVU women's basketball. Adkins said the total production costs for the five telecasts this year were about $120,000, with Public Broadcasting's share running about $24,000. The Mountaineer Sports Network picked up most of the production costs, he said.

"I think it's a good thing for us to carry," Adkins said. "It's promoting the student-athletes and I think we get a good demographic for it. I know I've heard good comments from the Legislature about it."

EBA member Bill File of Beckley said he would like to see a cost/revenue analysis, and also wants to see if an agreement can be reached so the games could air at no cost to Public Broadcasting.

"It really is a service to the university and to the people of the state," he said. "If we can run it in a break-even way, I'm all for it."

* Approval of several pending contracts. The Department of Education and the Arts has held up approving purchase orders on several Public Broadcasting contracts, pending the EBA meeting, and Adkins said getting the contracts approved is critical.

Those include a $16,786 bid to replace computer servers, which he said is critical to keeping the state's public television stations on the air.

"We're subject to [computer] crash at any time," Adkins said. "We could go black -- we could go off the air."

Likewise, a contract to replace roofing at the Beckley studio, home of the master control room for the public TV network, has been on hold for more than a month.

"Anytime you've got a roof leaking on your control room, that's scary," he said.

* Personnel issues. Education and the Arts has held up posting several personnel vacancies, including for a full-time master control technician. Adkins said an April 30 retirement would leave public television short-handed, requiring him to pay overtime to other technicians on staff.

"We're running three stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said of the need to fill the vacancy. "We have to have the staffing because the plane can't fly itself."

He also stressed the need to be able to advertise for temporary, part-time production engineers.

Those positions, which in the past have been filled by Marshall and WVU students, are called in as needed for productions requiring additional staff, such as coverage of the Legislature and the state Music Hall of Fame inductions, he said.

On Monday, the committee voted to lift all contract and hiring freezes, except for three pending leases for state vehicles.

The committee will meet again May 7.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-34-1220.

 


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