June 20, 2006

Bye, bye Birdie?

Yes, the clichés about threats to Big Bird and friends at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are in the headlines again. But it’s no laughing matter for public broadcasting outlets. Behind them is a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee proposal to cut nearly $100 million from the CPB budget. (The CPB provides funding for the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.) The bill for fiscal 2007 also includes funding for health initiatives for poor and rural residents and education programs. This year’s proposed cuts would mean less money for stations to upgrade to digital technology and repair storm-damaged equipment. It also would provide no funding for early educational programs, one of which helps fund “Sesame Street.”

Meanwhile, public stations throughout Kentucky are working to preserve funding. Kentucky Educational Television and the public radio stations WUKY-FM in Lexington, WEKU-FM in Richmond and WKMS-FM in Murray have notices on their Web sites from TellThemPublicMatters.org, a campaign targeting Congress and sponsored by PBS, NPR, the Association of Public Television Stations and local public broadcasting stations. In Louisville the Public Radio Partnership sent an e-mail message to members yesterday informing them of the campaign to oppose cuts.

Understandably, a tight budget and mounting debt challenges Congress to make tough decisions this year. Some lawmakers justify the bill under the guise of reducing government spending. But citizens who look closely at the bill will find it includes $113 million in funding for community-based abstinence education.

Public broadcasting administrators say the cuts will have more impact on stations serving rural areas. Tim Singleton, WEKU-FM general manager, says the proposal would certainly mean cuts to the Richmond station, but he doesn’t know how much.

If approved, the reductions would go into effect on Oct. 1. This movement echoes last year’s effort by the House to cut CPB’s funding by $123 million, which the Senate later restored and Congress approved.

“Going through this every year — it wears people out,” Singleton says.