Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-25th) and Richard Hanna of Utica (R-24th) both supported the resolution.
On March 17 the House voted to prohibit federal funding for National Public Radio (NPR). The bill, known as HR 1706, would also prohibit local stations from using federal monies to purchase programming from NPR. Buerkle voted for HR 1706, while Hanna voted against it, one of only a handful of Republicans to do so. In doing so, Hanna objected to “government picking winners and losers in the media.”
The March 17 vote was largely symbolic:
The Senate did not approve the cuts, and President Barack Obama was likely to veto it in any case. But these events, and a miniscandal involving an NPR fundraiser captured on tape disparaging Republican activists, created a sense that public broadcasting is in the gun sights of budget hawks. With newly elected Republicans talking of bigger budget cuts in the coming year, could we be seeing the demise of commercial-free public broadcasting?
The answer, according to WAER director and general manager Joe Lee, is an emphatic no. “We won’t go dark,” said Lee, who has worked at the station for 19 years. “I’m confident that we will do what we need to do in order to provide the level of service that we’ve been providing. Will it be painful? Yes.”
According to Rosie Taravella, WCNY’s vice president for advancement, the station has been working for years to diversify its funding base, in anticipation of a decline in government funding. “Currently 29 percent of our funding comes from government sources,” she said, “compared to 57 percent in 2005. We’ve been mindful for some time that we have to work to do more with less.”
WCNY operates both the local public television stations and the only classical radio station audible throughout Central New York. “Our membership continues to be the highest single source of support,” noted Taravella. “Between 22 percent and 25 percent of our revenue comes from our members.”
One million dollars currently flow from the CPB to WCNY, which spends more than 90 percent of that on its television station, currently based in Liverpool, although plans are afoot to move to the Near West Side.
The operators of WRVO, the SUNY Oswego-based public radio group, used the same mixed metaphor employed by Lee to express their optimism in the face of GOP criticism and a climbing budget deficit. In a letter to listeners and supporters, general manager Michael S. Ameigh wrote that “WRVO will not go dark if federal funding goes away.” The impact of slashed funding will be more subtle, he contended, because NPR programs rely on the subscription fees from local stations.
“Should some stations be forced to drop out of the market for NPR content, the broad variety of high-quality programs currently available will be reduced,” Ameigh’s letter continued. It further asked those who listen to the radio station to contact their elected officials to make their views known.
Earlier this year WAER reached out to the newly elected Buerkle and invited her for a tour of the station’s headquarters at 795 Ostrom Ave. Buerkle’s press aide, Liza Lowery, visited the station in February. “There is no doubt that they provide fine programming,” said Lowery in a phone interview. “The question is whether we can prioritize this funding in this budget.”
In a prepared statement, Buerkle defended her votes as necessary in tough economic times. “American taxpayers want Congress to stop spending money that it does not have. It does not make sense to subsidize public radio with borrowed money. We need to shrink Washington to grow the country.”
As Lee sees it, what WAER does is an investment in the community. “WAER plays an important role in the cultural landscape, something you can’t get anywhere else commercial free. We help keep people aware of the cultural vibrancy of Central New York. We add to the cultural landscape with shows. We are an important part of making life in Central New York palatable and enjoyable. We offer local news coverage. At a time when you see radio news departments shrinking, WAER has three professional newspeople plus interns.”
Added Taravella, “Nothing against the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but if you can help an art form like classical music survive, that’s in a different range. Public broadcasting is here to provide the kind of culture and info that commercial stations don’t.”
WAER general manager Joe Lee: (pictured above) “At a time when you see radio news departments shrinking, WAER has three professional newspeople plus interns.”