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The Roanoke station will turn off transmitters in Marion and Norton because of budget reductions.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Television viewers in far Southwest Virginia will no longer be able to watch Roanoke’s PBS station due to the loss of state funding.
Blue Ridge PBS (WBRA-TV, Channel 15) is shutting down its transmitters in Marion (WMSY-TV) and Norton (WSBN-TV), which means viewers will not be able to receive the station’s over-the-air digital signal.
Those transmitters carry Blue Ridge PBS programming to the coalfields and to the Tri-Cities region of Bristol, Va./Tenn. and Kingsport and Johnson City, Tenn. Some cable providers in that region might be able to continue carrying the Roanoke PBS affiliate, although that was still unclear Wednesday afternoon, according to station president James Baum. He said that about 15 percent of viewers in Southwest Virginia receive Blue Ridge PBS over the air through digital antennas or converters.
“The downside is that we won’t be able to serve over-the-air viewers,” Baum said. “We will do our very best to cover as many good people as we can, but the bottom line is that we cannot afford to operate those facilities any longer.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell and Virginia legislators eliminated all state money for public broadcasting last year, which cut about $1 million in funding for Blue Ridge PBS, nearly one-third of its entire operating budget. The station had to cut another 5 percent earlier this month when the federal budget sequester went into effect.
The station axed its two-person education department last year and eliminated an engineering job. Shutting down the two transmitters will save about a half-million dollars per year, Baum said.
The station’s board of directors decided on Tuesday to close the transmitters, based on Baum’s recommendation. The changes will happen sometime before June 30, he said.
Some far Southwest Virginia viewers still will receive PBS shows by way of East Tennessee PBS from Knoxville, Tenn. That station carries many of the same national programs as Blue Ridge PBS, from “Sesame Street” to “Downton Abbey.” The Tennessee station also carries the mountain music show “Song of the Mountains,” which is taped at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion.
The Tennessee station does not carry Virginia-based news and public affairs programs, such as “This Week in Richmond” and “Virginia Currents,” or any of the original documentary programs produced by Blue Ridge PBS. In recent years, the Roanoke station has made documentaries about Virginia’s state parks, bluegrass music and the history of the Executive Mansion in Richmond. The station has won regional Emmy awards for its shows about health, education and finding jobs.
“Every time we’ve taken a budget cut, we made sure the viewers did not see this,” Baum said. “Now, we don’t have a choice. Looking forward, we are not tearing the transmitters down, so if we find a way to bring them back on line, we will.”
He added, “A corporation would say, ‘We’re right-sizing the corporation.’ But this is a hell of a way to do it.”
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