County okays merger of Charlotte’s WTVI, college

The merger of PBS member station WTVI in Charlotte, N.C., with Central Piedmont Community College was approved March 20 by Mecklenburg County commissioners in a 6–3 vote, saving the station from going dark. Like a number of other troubled stations, WTVI’s broadcast area is overlapped by other PBS outlets — in this case, South Carolina ETV as well as North Carolina’s UNC-TV network.

The county will provide $357,000 to finalize the deal and $800,000 over the next four years for equipment upgrades. The college will use WTVI as a base for journalism and videography courses and develop a digital media curriculum.

Elsie Garner, WTVI president, told Current the parties aim to complete the deal before the start of the fiscal year in July. The station, which broadcasts in a market with two other public TV stations, will remain a PBS member. “CPCC is very aware of the power of the brand,” Garner said.

Tony Zeiss, the college president, has pubcasting experience. As department chair of broadcast production technology at Vincennes University in Indiana from 1969 to 1973, Zeiss managed its PBS and NPR stations. Later, as dean of Central Texas College in Killeen, Zeiss headed KNCT-TV and KNCT-FM.

For years WTVI routinely received Mecklenburg County funds to cover salaries, equipment maintenance and program costs. But in 2009 county commissioners determined that broadcasting was not part of the county’s core mission and slashed its annual contribution from nearly $860,000 to $95,000. The station cut its staff 50 percent, to 16 employees, Garner said, and dropped its $60,000 expenditure for Nielsen ratings. Last year WTVI ran a deficit of about $300,000 on a budget of $3.2 million.

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