If you are concerned about future funding for CPB, please scroll down to see a true story about what happened when Congress tried to eliminate CPB in the 1990s.
ERIE NONCOM OLDIES STATION GOES COMMERCIAL
Mercyhurst University’s WMCE 88.5 FM [link] is transferring its current oldies format (but not the station license) to an Erie, Pennsylvania commercial broadcaster. Erie Radio Company is acquiring the “intellectual property” of WMCE and is moving the format, including the air staff to 100.9 FM. The deal will be completed when a series of other Erie area frequency changes are finalized. According to press reports, the changes will happen over the next 12 to 18 months.
WMCE has performed pretty well as a noncommercial station. In the Fall 2016 Nielsen Audio ratings, WMCE had a 6.9% AQH Share and an estimated 25,600 weekly cumulative listeners. WMCE bills itself as a Classical Rock station but looking at their playlist on the left it looks more like Ancient Rock. Expect lots of Polident commercials on 100.9.
Mercyhurst will announce the new format for 88.1 soon.
CURRENT HOSTING “VIRTUAL CAREER FAIR” ON FEBRUARY 9th
Pubmedia news provider Current has announced it will be hosting a “Virtual Career Fair” on February 9th from 12pm-3pm ET.
The event is happening online. Qualified job seekers will be able to chat and exchange information with potential employers. Participating companies and organizations will set up virtual booths. During the live event, recruiters will connect directly with job seekers in one-on-one chats to discuss job opportunities.
Participants include WHYY, Philadelphia and PBS’ National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA)
Registration is available at [link].
SENATOR LARRY PRESSLER VS. CPB
We originally published this story just after the election in November. It has increased relevance since it was announced last week that President Trump and congress will be attempting to eliminate funding for CPB.
As Donald Trump’s resurgent Republican Party plans an aggressive and sweeping program to systematically dismantle much of the federal government, memory of an incident two decades ago provides an example of what can happen in a new era of conservative governance.
Today’s story has a positive ending because the 1990s incident failed because of overreach. It provides lessons about what public media may face from the new administration and GOP Congress.
In the fall of 1994, Congress came under the control of Republicans promising a new “Contract With America.” The Contracts’ many targets included the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The leaders of the effort to erase funding for CPB were House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Pressler was a true believer in unrestrained private business. For instance, he author of Telecommunications Act of 1996, that opened to door to hyper consolidation of the ownership of broadcast station. Pressler also disliked public broadcast and sought to “privatize” by defunding CPB.
Pressler expressed high-minded rhetoric about deficit reduction but he really thought public broadcasting was too liberal and it threatened his conservative agenda. It became a witch hunt that led to Pressler’s downfall.
THE PRESSLER QUESTIONNAIRE
As part of the Commerce Committee investigation of public broadcasting, in early 1995 Pressler sent a a 16-page, 168-point questionnaire into the financial, editorial and political workings of public broadcasting.
Pressler’s questions included:
• What is the commercial value of the current public broadcasting system? That is, what is the comparative value of the hardware–satellite transponders, transmitters, studio, etc.–and software–library of programs belonging to system producers, goodwill, etc.?
(CPB answered that it "does not own the assets of public broadcasting.)
• Please provide a list of all political contributions over $250 made by individuals employed by or working under contract for CPB-funded entities
• How many members of the staff at National Public Radio, if any, had “previously worked for Evangelical Christian associations or the Pacifica Foundation.
• What are the salaries for public radio "celebrities” such as All Things Considered host Robert Siegel (answer: $97,805) that year; Morning Edition host Bob Edwards, ($95,337), "ATC's" Noah Adams, ($90,9940), newscaster Carl Kasell ($90,953), ATC host Linda Wertheimer ($90,921) and Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr, ($100,025 as a private contractor.)
• Because public broadcasting benefits from the sales of products related to its programming, what is the total gross sales figure for goods and services connected to public broadcasting? Please break down by radio or television and also itemize by program and product.
In 1992 Republicans on Capitol Hill–pushed through a statutory requirement that CPB enforce “balance and objectivity.”– Rather than protecting public broadcasters from government pressure, CPB’s job was seen in Congress as the enforcement of official ideological boundaries.
Many of the questions asked about editorial decisions were very specific:
• Please describe the changes PBS required in Michael Pack’s film Campus Culture Wars and give the reason for each change. Please describe the changes PBS is requiring in the second episode of Reverse Angle and the reasons for each change. (Campus Culture Wars and Reverse Angle were controversial PBS programs at the time.)
IMPACT OF THE COMMERCE COMMITTEE ON CPB
The inquiries threatened the founding concept that CPB would be a “heat-shield,” protecting public TV and radio from the control of elected officials and government bureaucrats. The role of CPB was been reversed. Rather than protecting public broadcasters from government pressure, CPB’s job was now seen in Congress as the enforcement of official ideological boundaries.
Pressler and the Commerce Committee failed in their objective to defund CPB, though they cut CPB’s budget. CPB had bi-partisan support in Congress and many members personally disliked Pressler.
WHAT FOES AROUND COME AROUND
Pressler was widely criticized for the nature of the survey's questions. Influential conservative pundit William F. Buckley called the questionnaire "Orwellian persecution, pure and simple."
Back home in South Dakota, Pressler’s effort to defund CPB was a major campaign issue. Public broadcasting was (and still is) highly regarded in far-flung South Dakota where few things tie people together. Pressler was “privatized” by Democrat Tim Johnson in 1996.