Adam Powell

NJ Public Television Signs Off; Other PBS, NPR Stations Threatened by Cuts

By Adam Powell | July 5, 2011 13

off_air.pngWASHINGTON -- While the nation celebrated the holiday weekend of independence, New Jersey's public television network signed off for the last time and many other PBS stations around the US may soon follow suit.

The reason: cuts in funding from state governments across the country.

As I had written about on the blog last December, NJN has finally come to the end of its broadcasting days.

The final New Jersey newscast on NJN was Thursday night. At its end, viewers saw a simple sign, "New Jersey Network. April 5, 1971 - June 30, 2011." As of that night, 130 employees were immediately laid off.

New Jersey public television transmitters will now carry programming from WNET in New York City, under a plan that the state legislature tried unsuccessfully to block in late June.

Public radio was also affected by the closure: NJ Network's nine public radio stations were sold to New York Public Radio (WNYC / WQXR) and Philadelphia's WHYY-TV/FM, as detailed in an article in Current magazine.

The same day that the New Jersey Network went dark, viewers in Charlotte, North Carolina, learned that their public television station, WTVI, was also in jeopardy of going off the air.

After a "disastrous" drop in fundraising, WTVI may exhaust its cash reserves to make up its current deficit of $300,000, according to WTVI's treasurer, C. Lal Vishin.

"Within a year or two, if nothing changes, the lights go out," Vishin told the station's board Thursday, according to the Charlotte Observer. "If we go with a deficit like this, we have one more year to live."

In Orlando, the longtime public television station, WFME-TV, canceled all PBS programming at the end of June as well. The station itself has been sold to a religious broadcaster. And in the wake of the sale, a weaker educational broadcaster in the area is scrambling to pick up the PBS programs. So far though, there is no word on whether Orlando cable television systems will even carry the station.

Nationwide, state aid to public television and radio dropped more than 25% in two years - from $270 million in FY 2008 to $210 million in 2010, according to a state-by-state survey in Current magazine. Declining state support coupled with the poor U.S. economy, stations face even larger total cuts. One general manager told me his public television station's revenues have declined 63%.

But last week also brought some last-minute reprieves:

-- South Carolina's ETV network survived last week's threat by Gov. Nikki Haley to defund the network.

-- In Kansas, public radio may receive most of the state funding originally budgeted for them, but stations will still need to reduce their spending.

-- In Maine, the state legislature blocked the governor's proposal to eliminate all funding for public broadcasting, however state lawmakers did reduce public broadcast funding by $200,000.

-- In Minnesota, the AP reported that the shutdown of that state's government brought an immediate halt to radio services for the blind.

And if you missed it last Thursday, the FCC signaled it is ready to begin the rollout of the "Open Internet" rules, also known as Net Neutrality, with a Public Notice of initial guidance on compliance. But many, including FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, predict court challenges will delay implementation for months - or possibly indefinitely. McDowell told Fox News that "a lot" of companies are readying court challenges, and he expects the new rules to be suspended while those challenges move through the legal system.

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13 Comments

Katherine Stock says:
July 5, 2011 3:39 PM

Closing public broadcasting is preferable to making millionaires pay their fair share in taxes. Welcome to America.

P. Backes says:
July 6, 2011 2:14 PM

It's a crying shame. Losing even one station is one too many. What are we thinking? Public Access Television and radio is just about our only hope for getting at the truth....

David Brugger says:
July 6, 2011 9:09 AM

Adam: The subject is collaboration or merger. Having already worked with other stations and currently with multiple markets in four states, I note that station Boards are starting to realize the need to act more quickly. Some managers do also. But the boards, as trustees of this enterprise have a responsibility to act before crisis. Public broadcasting is a good 20 years past the power curve on this issue, especially in overlap markets. Too bad some do not realize a crisis until they are in one. Station professionals have been "what-to-doing?" about this for at least 30 years. There are some real leader-stations re-thinking and acting on the effects of technology and social changes in use by the younger potential audiences. I'd like to see more success transfer and eagerness to act on it.

Lora says:
July 6, 2011 1:44 PM

How sad. I still have a little canvas bag I received as my first PBS member gift ever from NJN. So sorry it outlasted the station. I am still a member of my current local PBS, but I'm going to check their website now to see what their situation is.

July 6, 2011 2:32 PM

Very sad news to read here,for it looks like the PBS Network will soon be a long gone thing of the past and that we can expect to see long running favorite shows like SESAME STREET and various British TV programs on various cable TV channels.

Nancy Makela says:
July 6, 2011 3:17 PM

Why doesnt the goverment make cable and satelite providers , send more mone towards public television. I thought every station was suposed to support a certain amount of educational material or is that just network channels.

Kevin Connors says:
July 6, 2011 3:23 PM

As a viewer/member of wmfe and a viewer of the "weaker" pbs station, wmfe was weak as a flagship station. No local programming was done to speak of. Broadcast went off the air at 1 am unless you had the local cable ( I choose to pour my cable fees into much more meaningful pursuits such as the local pbs stations so no pbs on wmfe after 1 am for me). Signal for me over the air was about the same, all orlando area broadcasters are clustered in the same general area and foot print for effective signal strength is not terribly different. Weaker must mean viewership/fundraising.

Orlando is blessed with 2 other pbs outlets, both community college stations that did better than wmfe did with local programming, although one is Daytona and the other Cocoa Beach. The orlando cable system did pickup the WUCF programming on 1july.

Hopefully the orlando area will have a better system after all is done, hopefully having "lost" the flagship station in a middle of the night fire sale will make viewers appreciate WUCF more than they did WMFE.

Sue Ann Kainz says:
July 6, 2011 7:12 PM

This is pathetic. Every PBS station contributes something to the entire network. With each station that drops off, the programming options are diminished...which means less attractive programming....fewer donors...and a domino effect that leads to the death of the unbiased, educational programming that we all grew up with and still value. I am sick about losing these important "cousin" stations.

CDH says:
July 6, 2011 9:21 PM

This is sad. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ought to be ashamed of himself for doing this- outsourcing the New Jersey Network's statewide Public TV stations to Thirteen/WNET (a New York City Public TV station, though licensed to Newark, NJ- Governor Christie decided to appear on WNET instead of NJN, where he was rude to a New Jersey schoolteacher with his "It's None of Your Business" reply and outsourcing their Public Radio stations to WNYC and WHYY. I hope this doesn't happen to Maryland Public Television (that station's only big mistake was letting Louis Rukeyser go in 2002). Farewell, New Jersey Network (1971-2011).

nvsand says:
July 7, 2011 9:05 AM

No matter how badly one feels about the shut down of public stations and radio, you to look at what the citizens voted for! Their votes expressed what they wanted; in the dark about information. They also had the choice to contribute to the stations to keep them alive. No real interest in that area either. No interest in "pubic" information sources. Long live special interests!

August 17, 2011 10:55 PM

It's a sad day when the economy start picking off innocent public services.

September 25, 2011 6:28 PM

It is sad to know that great station is to shut down. Some great and wonderful news and information would not get across to more people effectively. However, I believe greater things would happen in future for us.

October 12, 2011 3:39 PM

Gosh... I didn't know this was happening to PBS stations across the country. On occasions, I watch free programs on channel 12 here in Philadelphia. I guess the end is near.

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