(Fred Weinberg, Penny Press) – I watched an NBC News report about President Donald Trump’s newly proposed budget which–let’s put this in terms we all understand—moaned and pissed about his defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The report by Kristen Dahlgren was heavy on “it’s a whole lot less than a single jet fighter” and pretty light on exactly how much $300-million (for public broadcasting) actually is to the taxpayers who are funding this stuff.
And, of course, she was heavy on the concept that defunding Public Broadcasting would, somehow, destroy early childhood education.
That, Kristen, is a big, fat crock of steaming bovine feces.
I know something about that because my late father founded and literally built WTVP, Channel 47, the public TV station in Peoria, Illinois where he ended his career as the Dean of the College of Engineering at Bradley University.
She was undoubtedly referring to Sesame Street and the Electric Company. Both of those programs are now essentially owned by Time Warner through its HBO subsidiary.
If you want to see a first run of Sesame Street or The Electric Company, you need to have parents who are wealthy enough to pay for HBO. Only after nine months do those shows show up on taxpayer funded PBS stations. In short, they are brought to you by the letters F and U.
Now, let me tell you the story of Channel 47.
Back in the 60’s, when my father was the founding chairman of the Electrical Engineering Department at Bradley, he became fascinated by the idea that television could be used for educational purposes—not a popular idea with the then nascent teachers’ unions.
He started the Bradley University Television Center so he could experiment with educational programming.
One summer, he went to visit his relatives in New York City and saw WNET. Then he journeyed to Boston and saw WGBH.
The light bulb in his entrepreneurial head went on.
I, he said, could do that in Peoria.
When he got back home, he told a local politician that and was told, “Oh no. You need a government grant, a government agency to own it and lots of tax money to keep it going.”
Imagine. All that so he could watch William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line in Peoria.
Not my father. He was a guy who specialized in the concept that ordinary people could do extraordinary things by simply putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. (My sisters and I received that through educational osmoses.)
It dawned on him (as he explained to me many times) that anything which was built with government money would be taken for granted by the people who watched it and they would not think as highly of it as they would if they wrote a check to support it themselves—even a very small check.
So he raised a few hundred thousand dollars, founded a not for profit corporation and put a television station on the air.
Then, he turned to the public and asked the average viewer for $13 a year. “Sit down. Write us a check. Send it to Channel 47, box 1347, Peoria, 61601.” That’s the way our first fund-raising spot went. It was pretty effective.
But since the 90s, the station—like most PBS stations—has been sucking at the public teat.
What the hell, it’s the path of least resistance and my father is no longer around to remind everyone thatcommunity support is the key to community appreciation.
But, even today, after the appeal to sign a petition on their web site to send to the President, there is a matching gift form from Caterpillar Tractor Company and an appeal to donate $1000 a year or more. They still have members and they still raise money from their very loyal viewers.
The 2014 IRS form 990 shows a budget of around $3.4-million but does not break out the Federal budgetary support. They list about a million dollars in government grants but how much of that is Federal is not delineated. (I need to point out that I have no objection to state and municipal grants because that’s much closer to home.) My guess, however, is that if it were off the Federal payroll—they call it “seed money” on their web site—that they would survive. The Peoria area is a thriving community which could easily lean on its own to support the station.
And, with all due respect to what my late father built, if the community would not support the station, well, when I flipped the high voltage switch in June of 1971 as a student, there were only three commercial networks. Today, there are 500 channels available, many of them free, and I have a hard time asking for Federal support with a national debt going on $20-Trillion..
The argument from the left seems to be it’s only a little bit of money.
To quote the late sage of Illinois, Everett McKinley Dirksen, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” He is buried close enough to Channel 47’s tower site that were he sitting on top of his grave, he could probably see the tower.
There is some dispute that Dirksen said that whole exact quote. Which is OK, because if it is partly fictional, the lefty bleating over the defunding is completely fictional.
Mr. Weinberg is publisher of the Penny Press. Get to know more about him by visiting www.PennyPressNV.com.