WQPT expects to keep license but may also retain fiscal woes
If all goes as planned in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, the community advisory board of pubTV station WQPT will become its board of directors by July 1.
The outcome differs from expectations two years ago, when present licensee Black Hawk College in Moline, Ill., said it would cut all aid to the station and try to sell it.
But the little station is not home free. After losing substantial funding from the state as well as the college, WQPT — which serves Illinois cities Moline, East Moline and Rock Island and Iowa cities Davenport and Bettendorf — is struggling financially and recently laid off two staff members.
In March 2007, Black Hawk College announced that it would cut funding to the station as of July 2007. In May 2007, the college said it was looking into selling the station’s license. State funding cuts have hit community colleges particularly hard, and Black Hawk was angling for cash, says Jay Turney, the college’s v.p. of finance. The college trustees deemed WQPT less important than Black Hawk’s services to students, he says.
After the WQPT advisory board — incorporated in 1982 as the Greater Quad Cities Telecommunications Corp. — expressed interest in buying the station, the trustees named a price of $2.5 million. But the would-be buyers could not raise the amount and lobbied the trustees to donate the station.
Last month, the trustees announced they’d stop looking for a buyer and hand over the license, according to local newspaper reports.
Black Hawk execs say no one bid for the station, and WQPT General Manager Rick Best surmises that the station would have lost the license if the college had found a buyer. He expects the acquiring Quad Cities nonprofit won’t have to pay for the license, though the agreement is still being drafted.
The college’s attorney has drafted a document detailing the transfer of license and broadcasting equipment, and the trustees have said they will give WQPT the document sometime next month, says Gene Gardner, interim president of Black Hawk. When the college and advisory board agree on terms, the college will have the license transferred.
The station ran deficits of $276,000 in fiscal year 2007 and about $80,000 in 2008 and is in the black this year. It’s now operating without the college’s past subsidies of about $200,000 a year, formerly about 20 percent of its budget. This year it also lost $50,000 in state aid. The station may sink into a deficit again if it can’t raise more money from local donors.
Further, because WQPT and all other area TV stations decided to continue analog broadcasts until June, it will now pay $8,000 more for electricity than previously budgeted. The station may also have to return rent to Black Hawk to stay in its current facilities.
To cut costs, WQPT is spending less on PBS programs. It opted for the PBS Program Differentiation Plan (PDP) last July, which means it pays less for and broadcasts fewer PBS programs. Although CPB doesn’t list WQPT as an official “overlap station,” the station’s viewing area overlaps with Iowa PTV’s.
Last month, WQPT laid off longtime head of public affairs programming Susan McPeters and videographer Brad Mosier. Eliminating these positions essentially eliminated regular local programming — the magazine show Life and Times and the interview program Perspectives.
With just 12 full-time and two part-time staffers, WQPT has no one assigned solely to sell underwriting, which means sales are “minimal,” says Best — about $50,000 a year.
The station also has no chief engineer and no marketing budget. As at many stations, staffers wear multiple hats. One handles fundraising and produces the program guide, the website, pledge drives and other events. “There’s a limit to how long any station can do that effectively,” Best says.
Nevertheless, Best says, WQPT is developing a kids’ exercise show and wants to produce local media roundtables and mayoral forums.
Web page posted March 9, 2009
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