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Coping With Cuts at WTVI

And other local media snippets

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There are meetings, meetings, and more meetings happening at WTVI, as the station tries to figure out what to do and what to ax after the recent $630,000 budget cut by the Mecklenburg County Commission. That's about half of its county funding, and about a fifth of its overall budget dollars. It's also a swell "welcome to Charlotte" for new station president Elsie Garner, who's just moved to town.

"The situation is quite unfortunate," says Garner, "and it will impact our services to the community. I wish I could tell you how, but the staff and the board (of directors) are getting together and discussing alternatives."

"We're determined. We're not going down," VP Sharon McNeal told me. "We just hope that the community is still going to be behind us."

These are tough times for PBS stations around the country, as cable competition competes for viewers interested in education and documentary fare. If I think like a TV programmer, I can see other factors that affect WTVI.

First, it's not a branch of UNC-TV Television, the statewide big dog in public broadcasting. Second, several PBS stations are on the Time-Warner tier, offering the same national lineup. Who cares where you get your Sesame Street or Frontline? Third, I believe that other local cable channels devoted to civic entities, like the Government Channel, dilute its programming mix.

We'll see what cuts will be made, but I fear they will come from local programming and education programs, the elements that provide the most bang for the buck for this community, and the reason WTVI exists.

It's a challenge for Garner and her staff, but perhaps this is also an opportunity for some change in station philosophy, a new mission statement, and a new awareness campaign to tell the community what it is and why it is needed.

I want a signature program produced here that airs nationally, like This Old House. I don't care about seeing shows in high-def on my non-existent HDTV. I want talented local producers to stop taking their act to Chapel Hill. But alas, all of that takes cash.

There still may be some hope that the scary FCC ruling in June will be overturned, or at least altered in Congress. In case you missed it, the Federal Communications Commission voted to change the rules about who owns what and how much in the media landscape. The basics are that TV networks can own more stations, companies can now own TV, radio, and newspapers outlets in the same city, and companies in large markets can own as many as three TV stations in the same viewing area. The forecast is a homogenization of media content, as Big Media Brothers gobble up independent media outlets.But there's hope, as the Senate Commerce Committee has voted to overturn this ruling, no doubt fueled by over a half-million citizen comments to the FCC protesting the new rules. It will have to go to the full Senate from here. Otherwise, watch out for McNews and McProgramming.

NEWS FROM THE SHIFTING SUMMER SANDS...Summer's the time for changes at stations here, so off we go. Nate Quick has left WPEG-FM. He's been known for his work in the community, including his first-person stories of his (former) homelessness...

Fox18 makes a roster change by moving Paul Butler from sports anchor to news anchor, replacing Bob McGriff, who's going into private business. Two other former sportsies who made the switch in the past are Chris Justice at NBC6 and Paul Cameron at WBTV...

WKRE 1060-AM in Monroe has changed its tune and ownership, and is now catering to the growing Latino community, dubbed the "La Maquina Musical." It features music, news and weather in Spanish, and the new owners are Kris and Kevin Geddings of Monroe. The website is www.1060radio.com...

WSGE-FM in Gaston County raised $19,000 in its first fund drive ever. It's a non-profit station operated and owned by the Gaston College Board of Trustees...

WRCM 91.9 is celebrating its 10th year as Charlotte's top Christian music station...

And look for a Union County boy's story this summer on PBS, as a part of its national "Be More Campaign." Sam McNeal's vignette describes how a NOVA program on bridge building has inspired him to work toward a career in construction...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a woman who's retiring after 40, yes, 40 years at WBTV here in Charlotte. B.J. Caldwell's been a cog in the news department since 1963, beginning by splicing together film for early newscasts to her administrative assistant position today. We have come to the time when people are grizzled veterans if they last one decade with a media outlet. Petite but with a killer golf game, Caldwell worked with "10 news directors and one interim one" in her years at Jefferson-Pilot, and has full knowledge of where the bodies are buried, we wager.

I was lucky enough to work with her as well, and here's to a great retirement and plenty of fast greens for her.

Stay tuned...

Shannon Reichley is an independent television producer and former news manager at WBTV. E-mail her at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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