Public radio works to hang onto funds

Radio not affected by cuts to public TV, but operators lobbying to keep what they have

Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

After the Alaska House of Representatives cut funding for public television, members of Alaska public radio stations seized an opportunity Tuesday to make the case for their budgets to senators.

The Senate Finance Committee this week is hearing public comments about the fiscal year 2006 operating budget that was recently passed by the Alaska House of Representatives. The budget includes funding for hundreds of government programs.

One controversial item in the $2.6 billion budget was a 34 percent cut in funding for the state's public television stations. Instead of receiving $724,000, stations will get $500,000 for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Public radio stations are not affected by this cut. Still, they rallied Tuesday to tell senators they are satisfied with the funding they get, but not a penny less.

"Public radio is critically necessary in this vast area about the size of Oregon," said Joan Hamilton, who serves on the board overseeing the Bethel station. Life in her territory is linked to weather. People, such as search-and-rescue squads, need to hear updates on the airwaves.

The radio also serves as a free alternative to expensive long-distance calls in the remote area, she said.

In Juneau, Jamie Waste, executive director of Alaska Public Broadcasting, said radio stations did not ask for more money for next year, only the same amount as appropriated before, known as "flat funding."

Waste said he has no information that the Senate will propose an amendment to cut funding for radio, but was surprised when he heard about the amendment to cut funding for television.

The amendment, proposed by Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks, was suggested to begin weaning public TV stations away from government money and relying on federal grants and private contributions. It passed the House Finance Committee with a vote of 6-5.

Holm also wanted to cut funding from radio but was not successful in getting it in the amendment.

Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said cutting funding for public radio is not on his list, but other senators may suggest adjusting the amount when the Senate reviews amendments on Thursday.

"It's all out there for discussion," he said.

Dan Etulain, president of KCAW in Sitka, said he was comfortable with the amount of state money given now and supplementing the rest with fund-raising.

Juneau's affiliate station, KTOO, recently completed its annual telethon fund-raiser and met its goal of $90,000.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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