A budget proposal from President Donald Trump to “zero out” federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could result in budget cuts for Central Texas public radio and TV stations.
The combined hit for Austin’s PBS affiliate KLRU-TV, NPR affiliate KUT-FM and sister station KUTX-FM, and classical music station KMFA-FM could reach $2.5 million each year, according to the stations’ leadership.
KLRU estimates it would lose about 12 percent of its annual budget, KUT and KUTX say they could lose 5 percent, and KMFA says it could lose 8 percent.
The rest of the stations’ funding comes from a variety of other sources, such as grants and pledge drives. Stepped-up fundraising efforts are one possible option being looked at to bridge potential budget gaps, the stations say.
In 2016, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $445 million in federal money. Some of that money is used to finance programs made available to member stations such as “Nova,” while 1,136 local radio stations and 362 local TV stations share about 70 percent of that money.
Without the Corporation for Public Broadcasting money, broadcasters in Austin and elsewhere could be forced to make difficult decisions. Staffing could be cut, programs eliminated, and community outreach efforts trimmed back.
“We could lose the very programming that makes PBS so trusted,” KLRU CEO Bill Stotesbery said. “We’re also talking about many educational services for low- and moderate-income kids. We’re very concerned about the loss of coverage, reach and impact.”
KLRU in recent months has moved to increase its local news and public affairs offerings, including the hiring of well-known Austin journalist Judy Maggio. Less funding could potentially diminish or undo those efforts.
News also takes up a big part of the budget for KUT and KUTX. The potential $600,000 loss the stations face represents about half of the KUT newsroom’s annual budget, General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt said.
“This is money that goes to local communities to support local services,” Vanderwilt said. “This isn’t money that sits in Washington. This funding can’t be replaced.”
KMFA President and General Manager Ann Hume Wilson said she also is worried about the potential cuts.
“KMFA creates a significant amount of original live content in partnership with Austin’s classical music organizations,” she said. “We also broadcast popular national shows like ‘From the Top’ and the bilingual English/Spanish ‘Concierto.’ These programs amplify and strengthen the cultural fabric of our community, so the loss of CPB funding extends well beyond its impact on our budget.”
The cuts could be especially tough on small-town broadcasters. Some PBS affiliates in rural areas rely on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for 30 percent to 50 percent of their annual budget, Stotesbery said.
“Those stations will go off the air,” he said, “and those are the areas that need it the most.”
Trump isn’t the first president to suggest cutting or eliminating Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding. Public outcry shut down previous attempts. This time, broadcasters aren’t so sure.
“The threat, I feel, is more real this time,” Stotesbery said. “Still, there’s a long way between the president’s budget and final appropriations. It’s Congress that makes the final decisions.”
Stotesbery and Vanderwilt said their stations are hearing words of support from across Central Texas in the form of calls, emails, social media posts and even petitions. Public broadcasters nationwide have started a website, protectmypublicmedia.org, which asks supporters to sign a petition “urging Congress to continue the essential funding for public media and your local stations.”
“We have a strong, grass-roots support base,” Stotesbery said. “As long as we continue to see that kind of support, that helps morale a lot.”
Some have questioned if the move to cut funding for public broadcasting is an attempt to muzzle media outlets that have been accused by Trump of leaning too far to the left.
“There’s this ongoing challenge and attack to the fundamental role of journalism and the media to be seekers of truth,” Vanderwilt said. “As our funding is being challenged, so is the role we serve. We’re not going to stop what we’re doing. It’s too important.”
However, White House budget director Mike Mulvaney has dismissed those claims.
“The president finally got to the point where he said, ‘Do I really want to make the coal miner in West Virginia, or the auto worker in Ohio, or the single mom in Detroit to pay for the National Endowment of the Arts or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?’ And the answer is no,” Mulvaney said in an interview on Fox News this month.
But broadcasters say those people in West Virginia, Ohio and Detroit – and millions more across the country – count on PBS and NPR for programming that educates, entertains and informs.
“You have to look at public broadcasting on a program-by-program basis,” Stotesbery said. “We’re here to serve everybody, no matter what they think.”
What’s at stake
The loss of Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding would be felt by four Austin TV and radio stations:
- KLRU-TV: $1.7 million, 12 percent of budget.
- KUT-FM and KUTX-FM: $600,000, 5 percent.
- KMFA-FM: $140,000, 8 percent.