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Will Sesame Street stay on? How budget proposals could affect PBS

Blue Ridge PBS reacts to possible state cuts

January 19, 2011|Jean Jadhon | WDBJ-TV Anchor/Reporter

Elmo and the Cookie Monster are broadcast into hundreds of thousands of homes in this part of Virginia.  Sesame Street is part of Blue Ridge PBS programming, but a recent proposal by Governor Bob McDonnell would halt all state funding of PBS.

News 7 wanted to know how much the local public broadcasting station relies on state money and what will happen to Blue Ridge PBS if that state money is cut off.

Blue Ridge PBS reaches 26,000 square miles in Virginia.  The station, which is located on McNeil Drive in Roanoke, employees 25 people.  Blue Ridge PBS not only also provides resources to teachers in 42 districts, not just over the air, but on-line. 

"We're trying to make sure we can provide teachers, students and schools with an opportunity to make learning fun," Rose Martin, Blue Ridge PBS Director of Educational Services said. 

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For example, teachers can go online and download educational videos to use in class.  "If I can show you the suspension bridge that's in a storm and is buffering and is absolutely falling apart, that is much better than trying to tell you about it," said James Baum, President and CEO of Blue Ridge PBS.

Right now state funding makes up 20 percent of the station's more than $3.5 million dollar budget. Another 20 percent comes from the federal government. The rest comes from viewers and corporate donors.

Governor Bob McDonnell outlined plans to cut funding during his state of the Commonwealth address earlier this month which was broadcast by PBS statewide.  "Now I like PBS. It airs a lot of great programs if I do say so myself including tonight's speech," McDonnell said.  "But you know with hundreds of options out there, public broadcasting is not a core function of government."

"Well I believe he's misguided," said Baum, referring to McDonnell's plan.  PBS, Baum said, is not a commercial operation and by Federal Communication Rules, it cannot air commercials.

Funding cuts are nothing new for public broadcasting.  In  2008 the state funded more than $1-million to Blue Ridge PBS.  This year it's down to $732,000. Under the current budget proposal it would be slashed to zero over the next two years.

"We've made every other cut possible that we can," said Baum. "We've had to layoff employees. We've had to do everything."

Baum said if PBS loses all state funding, the station would survive and shows such as Sesame Street would continue. "As a station, yes, but as a provider of educational services no." Baum said. "Unfortunately we won't be able to and that really tears the soul out of what public television is."

Representatives of PBS are meeting with Senate Finance Committe members Thursday afternoon.  Rocky Mount delegate Charles Poindexter has proposed an amendment that would restore PBS funding to the budget.  The General Assembly is in session until the end of February and will likely take up the issue sometime next month.

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