Some Mixed News

Let’s see where the Tuesday morning item mix takes us…unfortunately, it’s mostly not good news…

CUTBACKS: The sour economy has resulted in some economic-related cutbacks on Campus Center Drive in Kent.

That’s the home of Western Reserve PBS, the local public TV outlet which operates WNEO/45 Alliance and WEAO/49 Akron, which is making some financial moves to try to ensure economic stability in an economy that’s forced pretty much every media outlet to make some hard choices.

Quoting a news release:

Due to the economic recession, cuts in state and federal funding and shortfalls in membership and other private support revenue, Western Reserve Public Media is enacting expense-reducing measures to ensure that its fiscal year ends in the black on June 30.

“We hope the measures we’re taking are temporary,” said Trina Cutter, president and CEO. “As we look ahead to the coming year and predictions of a furthering recession, we want to be proactive and guarantee that Western Reserve Public Media continues to serve northeast Ohio with high-quality programming and services.”

Effective March 1, 2009, Western Reserve Public Media is putting into place a 10 percent salary reduction for its full-time salaried employees and a 10 percent reduction in weekly work hours as well as a freeze on overtime for its full-time hourly employees. One employee has been laid off.

The station’s monthly program guide for members, The Alternative, has been reduced in size from 20 pages to 12 pages. The organization has also suspended production of three of its print publications — TechKnowledgy Newsletter, The Ones to Grow On and Aging Smart — through June. The organization will provide free e-newsletter versions of these three publications, available at http://www.WesternReservePublicMedia.org.

Western Reserve PBS hopes that its upcoming March fundraising efforts will help offset funding losses, and the pubcaster will add on-air pledge drives in April, May and June…hoping to bring in another $50,000 over the period.

Among the increase in costs…a 24 percent increase for PBS programming costs in the 2009 fiscal year, a reduction in state funding by “almost $800,000” since the year 2002…and something familiar to OMW readers, the ongoing costs of the digital TV transition.

Western Reserve PBS says it has cost about $7 million to make that transition on both WNEO/45 and WEAO/49, and notes that it’s now forced to pay for another four months of analog broadcasting on WEAO due to the delayed digital TV transition date (June 12, of course).

Like pretty much all TV stations, we presume that cost to keep the 49 analog transmitter running longer was not in the Western Reserve PBS budget.

The WNEO/45 analog transmitter shut off in November, as part of an FCC-approved plan to move the station’s digital signal from channel 46. But WEAO did not have to make such a move (it’s staying on digital RF 50)…and no one knew last fall that the national transition would be moved into June.

Despite the overall bad state of the economy, Western Reserve PBS cites strong local support, including a “9 percent revenue increase in membership” in the past five fiscal years, a doubling of underwriting and foundation support in that same period (fiscal year 2003-2008), and a rise in local corporate and foundation support to increase local programming in the past 18 months…

DISPATCHED: To Columbus we go, and a brief look at the Print Media Watch, where some 45 staffers have been cut at the Columbus Dispatch.

The article about the layoffs says they’re effective April 3rd…and you don’t need to read the linked article to hear why…publisher/CEO John Wolfe, who says the Dispatch put off the cuts as long as possible, cites the usual suspects: the tanking advertising market and bad economy. (We’re really, really getting tired of writing those words.)

Quoting the article:

Editor Benjamin J. Marrison said the newsroom staff reductions will hasten a restructuring of the newsroom to put a sharper focus on local news, local sports, enterprise reporting, and building a more robust online presence at Dispatch.com.

Marrison says that’ll be provided by “a smaller but no less dedicated” staff. He didn’t say “a smaller but overworked staff”, but that goes along with it for us…

DOT-WHEN?: While we’re electronically in Columbus, and talking about the economy and reading the Dispatch…

The newspaper provides a profile of the “.2 Network”, the still-not-up-yet digital subchannel network being offered out of Columbus-based Guardian Entertainment Group.

Guardian, the former owner of WSFJ/51 “GTN51” Newark, now owns low-power W23BZ “GTN23″…which it got in the swap with new WSFJ owner Trinity Broadcasting.

OMW readers are familiar with “.2” (“dot-two”) and its plans, but the Dispatch article reports a new intended start date for the long-delayed network:

Schilg said the network is halfway toward its penetration target, but the clock is ticking. Guardian originally set a rollout date of early December 2008 for the network. It changed that to April as the economy soured and the government delayed the mandatory switch to digital broadcasting. Now, Schilg said, October is more realistic.

But as the Dispatch piece by Mike Pramik notes, there are those competitors out there quickly gobbling up the digital subchannel space, with This TV and Retro Television Network garnering group deals. And some broadcasters, notably Columbus’ own Dispatch CBS affiliate WBNS/10, are skeptical about growing new channels that could further fragment viewership.

As it turns out, Ohio and local taxpayers have a stake in this, with the Dispatch article citing a number of local and state tax breaks and grants helping Guardian mount this effort…

MORE PAUL HARVEY: As he was quite a well-respected broadcaster, tributes are still pouring in for ABC Radio Networks’ Paul Harvey, who passed away Saturday morning at the age of 90.

Harvey’s affiliates are airing daily retrospectives of the veteran who helmed “Paul Harvey News and Comment” since 1951. Like the weekend hour-long special offered by Harvey’s network, the retrospectives are hosted by long-time Harvey fill-in Gil Gross…now a local host at Citadel’s KGO in San Francisco.

Citadel owns what is still called the ABC Radio Networks, though ABC Radio News is still an arm of Disney’s ABC News (though sold to radio stations through Citadel in a 10 year deal).

We put this in our update because we forgot to mention that NextMedia talk WHBC/1480 Canton was also a long-time Harvey affiliate…and in fact, WHBC also ran Harvey on its FM side (AC “Mix 94.1”) until fairly recently.

Speaking of Harvey clearances on FM, OMW readers in Northwest Ohio also remind us that Paul Harvey News aired in Toledo on Cumulus country powerhouse WKKO/99.9 “K100”. And we believe Harvey’s original former Cleveland affiliate, WGAR/1220, brought him over to its then-new home at 99.5 FM at least for some time.

Harvey was, of course, later carried in Cleveland on Clear Channel talk WTAM/1100, until that station dropped the carriage recently…

UNCLE AL: Broadcasters and viewers in Southwest Ohio are mourning the death of “Uncle Al” Lewis, the Cincinnati market’s iconic children’s show host who aired for 35 years on Scripps ABC affiliate WCPO/9 (1950-1985).

Since Jeremy at Tri-State Media Watch has been around, we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about the Cincinnati market, so we’ll leave the details and memories of “Uncle Al” to TSMW.

But we found this Northeast Ohio tidbit in the above linked Cincinnati Enquirer article:

Lewis was born in Cleveland. After spending three years in the Army in special services entertaining troops, he returned to Cleveland and attended the Cleveland Institute of Art.

While there, he met his future wife, Wanda.

Lewis graduated with a degree in art in 1949. While in college, Lewis worked at WEWS-TV as an announcer and an artist. Being an accomplished musician, he also performed in nightclubs playing the accordion, banjo and piano.

WEWS, then as now, was a Scripps sister station to WCPO, and that’s where Lewis went next and found his long-running local fame. The Enquirer notes that ABC aired “Uncle Al” for a couple of years as well.

And as far as we can tell, Al Lewis was no relation to the actor best known for playing “Grandpa Munster” on the TV sitcom. That Al Lewis died in 2006…

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