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‘Mountain Stage’ host: Programming sends message gov should want

By Brad McElhinny, MetroNews

Published February 12, 2017

CHARLESTON,  W.Va.  —  Gov.  Jim  Justice’s  proposed  budget  goes heavy  on  taxes  and  small  on  cuts,  but  he’s  already  getting  pushback Like 1.6K Share over  some  of  the  cuts.

Under  particular  scrutiny  is  a  proposed  $4.6  million  cut  to  the Educational  Broadcasting  Authority,  the  agency responsible  for  West Virginia  Public  Broadcasting,  Mountain  Stage  and  other programming.

Justice’s  cut  would  zero  out  state  funding  for  the  agency.  Although the  agency  receives  some  funding  from other  sources  such  as foundations  and  donations,  it  stands  to  lose  matching  grants  if  it doesn’t  have  the  state funding.

Because  Justice  recommends  only  $26.6  million  in  total  cuts,  some observers  have  questioned  why  the  Educational  Broadcasting’s budget  was  among  the  targets.  A  National  Public  Radio  story  last fall  described  Justice  as  the  nation’s  top  mine  safety  delinquent because  of  his  coal  mine  companies’  unpaid  fines.

In  a  conversation  with  reporters  last  week,  Justice  was  asked specifically  about  the  cut  to  Educational  Broadcasting,  although  his response  didn’t  directly  address  the  agency.

“I’ll  tell  you  what  I  tried  to  do;;  I  didn’t  like  that  either.  And  it’s  almost insignificant isn’t it? In the scope of everything, we’re going to wipe out  $25  million  or  $30  million  or  something.  And  those  services  are important  to  us,”  Justice  said  in  a  conversation  with  reporters  last week.

“I  tried  to  come  up  with  a  few  things  that  we  could  possibly  maybe, maybe  get  by  without  having.  I  didn’t  like  it  either.  I  keep  saying  the same  thing,  and  I  want  everybody  to  hear  it:  We’re  better  than  this. We  don’t  need  to  continue  to  strangle  ourselves  into  oblivion.”

“Mountain  Stage,”  the  long-­running  and  nationally-­syndicated  music program  originating  from  West  Virginia,  is  one  of  the  programs  that could  be  affected.

“That  would  damage  West  Virginia  Public  Broadcasting,  and  it  would probably  put  Mountain  Stage  off  the  air,”  said  Larry  Groce,  its  host.

“It’s  about  45  percent  of  the  budget  but  it  would  actually  hurt  even more  because  those  dollars  are  matched  as  the  other  part  of  the budget.  So  it  would  be  a  huge  blow,  a  crippling  blow  to  West  Virginia Public  Broadcasting.  And  frankly,  if  it  stays  like  it  is,  Mountain  Stage will  be  off  the  air  probably  by  the  end  of  this  June.”

Public  expressions  of  support  emerged  quickly,  Groce  said.  Now supporters  are  trying  to  formulate  a  strategy.

“None  of  us  knew,  this  came  out  of  the  blue.  We’re  beginning  to  hear from  a  lot  of  people  who  say  ‘We  don’t  understand  this.’  Now  we’re on  kind  of  a  fact-­finding  mode  to  figure  out  what’s  going  on.”

Justice  has  talked  a  lot  about  improving  West  Virginia’s  image nationally.  Groce  said  that’s  in  line  with  what  Mountain  Stage  and other  programs  at  West  Virginia  Public  Broadcasting  try  to  do.

“One  of  the  things  we’re  doing  is  helping  to  elevate  the  image  of  West Virginia,  which  is  a  tricky  thing.  It’s  difficult  to  do,”  Groce  said.  “We have  a  lot  of  bad  publicity;;  that’s  easy  to  get.  But  we  don’t  have  a  lot of  good  publicity.

“Every  week,  we’re  on  200  stations,  Mountain  Stage  is.  And  we’re projecting  out  an  image  of  good  things  happening  here  and  fun things  happening  here.  We  know  we  attract  tourists.  And  every  week we  have  a  couple  hundred  thousand  people  listening  on  the  radio  and online.”

Groce  said  programs  receiving  money  from  the  state  are  aware  of  the tough  budget  climate,  but  being  singled  out  to  lose  all  funding  seems extreme  to  him.

“Like  anybody  else,  we’re  not  above  taking  a  cut.  We  understand  that.

This  is  tough  times.  Everybody  in  the  state  is  taking  a  cut.  We’ll certainly  do  that.  But  a  hundred  percent  is  pretty  severe.”

West  Virginia  Public  Broadcasting  has  received  support  through  e-­ mails,  letters  and  phone  calls.

The  new  secretary  for  Education  and  the  Arts,  Gayle  Manchin,  met with  other  Justice  administration  officials  late  last  week.

One  possibility  being  discussed,  rather  than  zeroing  out  state  funding all  at  once,  would  be  to  step  down  funding  over  a  period  of  years, with  public  broadcasting  eventually  receiving  payment  for  the services  it  provides  directly  to  state  government,  such  as broadcasting  the  State  of  the  State  address.

The  long-­term  possibility  could  include  transferring  the  license  for West  Virginia  Public  Broadcasting  to  another  nonprofit  sponsor  or university  sponsor.

A  special  meeting  of  the  Educational  Broadcasting  Authority  will  be at  10  a.m.  Tuesday.

Friends  of  Public  Broadcasting,  immediately  after  Justice’s  State  of the  State  address,  put  out  a  statement  taking  issue  with  the  proposed cut.

“We  believe  this  would  be  unwise  and  irresponsible.  We  understand the  state  needs  to  save  money,  but  such  a  drastic  and  immediate  cut threatens  the  very  existence  of  our  state’s  PBS  and  NPR  stations,” wrote  Susan  Hogan,  chairwoman  of  Friends  of  West  Virginia  Public Broadcasting,  and  Ted  Armbrecht,  chairman  of  West  Virginia  Public Broadcasting  Foundation.

They  estimated  that  the  funding  cut  would  result  in  layoffs  of  75 percent  of  staff,  endangering  West  Virginia  Public  Broadcasting’s ability  to  operate.

“These  proposed  cuts  are  even  more  damaging  because  the  Justice Administration  did  not  consult  anyone  at  West  Virginia  Public Broadcasting  for  advice.  Currently,  there  is  no  transition  plan  for WVPB,”  Hogan  and  Armbrecht  wrote.

Jeff  Jenkins  contributed  to  this  story.

wvpbsupport‘Mountain Stage’ host: Programming sends message gov should want