State eyes large cuts to public radio funding
With legislators currently working out a budget for the 2017 fiscal year, proposed cuts to public radio contributions have a numbers of stations turning up their dials.
First hitting the airwaves in 1977, local radio
moment come primarily from three sources, with a third derived from federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting money, a third from the state administered through the Alaska Public Broadcasting Corporation, and the rest a combination of fundraiser drives and local advertising. The City and Borough of Wrangell also extends an $8,500 credit to the station for its utilities.
On the revenue side, Sweat explained the local advertising goal will be $44,700 for the year. Last year the station earned $48,424 from underwriting and advertising, and raised another $39,180 from member contributions.
In all, the radio station had a $490,000 budget last year, which this year has been reduced to around $360,000.
“Every year is a little bit different,” station manager Cindy Sweat explained.
The state funding component has been reduced in recent years due to rapidly declining oil revenues.
An 18 percent cut to this year’s budget was
approved by the Legislature, from $137,000 to $112,000. Though a final budget has yet to be hammered out, proposals for further cuts have ranged from
27 percent to 100 percent for next year’s budget.
A 27-percent cut was proposed by Gov. Bill
Walker for the coming year, which would roughly cut its budget by another $31,000. Cuts proposed by the House and Senate have varied between the governor’s proposal and a complete cut of state funding, respectively.
“Both would be devastating,” Sweat said. “I already cut everything I can.”
Already, Sweat said the station had to cut
programming and reduce its maintenance budget to meet the cuts. There are limitations to further cuts, as the level of federal funding is in part influenced by the station’s staffing. Its current equivalent is three
full-time and one part-time employees; any lower and the station could be moved down a grade, which could mean another $50,000 reduction in funding.
Even larger stations would see a substantial change to services with the cuts being proposed.
“A hundred percent would be pretty difficult to maintain,” said Bill Legere, general manager at Juneau’s KTOO.
Sweat warned six radio and one television stations could fold as a result of these proposed cuts, including KSTK and Petersburg’s KFSK.
“It’s really sad to me thinking about that eventuality,” she said.
In the worst-case scenario, Sweat said she
would be open to working with other stations on a
cost sharing agreement or similar measure. “There isn’t a mechanism in place right now to make up for that.”
Other stations have been dealing with cuts
in their own way. This year KFSK has requested an increase in contributions from the Petersburg Borough, from $8,000 to $19,000. With Wrangell looking at
budget cuts of its own though, KSTK has not sought additional aid from it. However, Sweat did
intend to write a letter to it asking for its continued support.
So far, the community has been supportive of its local station, with the Assembly being among the first in the state to pass a resolution of support to the Legislature, and city officials and members of the public testifying at House and Senate finance hearings.
“I think the city has been very supportive,” Sweat said. “I’m hoping that the people who make those decisions would realize what an impact that would be to the state.”
Loss of the public radio station would mean more than not being able to enjoy Prairie Home Companion on weekends. Sweat pointed out the station is tied in with the state’s emergency broadcast system. Taking it off the air could leave a large swath of the population out of the loop in the event of a disaster.
News coverage is another concern of hers, not just for local announcements but for the wider APRN network. Whether receiving news from around the state or contributing to it, whole communities could be blotted out from the public eye.
“Those are some real impacts of what could potentially happen,” Sweat said. “It cripples the entire statewide news network.”