As ongoing budget cuts having left West Virginia Public Broadcasting with just two field engineers to maintain antennas, transmitters, and equipment around the state, the agency is looking at a program to hire veterans with broadcast engineering backgrounds, WVPB executive director Chuck Roberts said Wednesday.
Based on a program initiated by the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board — the equivalent of West Virginia’s Educational Broadcasting Authority — the program could be eligible for federal grants, Roberts told EBA members.
Roberts said he wants to work with the state Division of Homeland Security and National Guard to make the program a reality.
“I think it’s something the state can get behind,” he said.
On a related issue, Roberts said a $7.3 million project to replace transmitters for the state’s three public television stations is moving slower than hoped.
WVPB is replacing the transmitters to comply with FCC-mandated channel changes, as part of a national “spectrum repacking” to free up more broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband.
The transmitters will also incorporate cutting-edge ATSC 3.0 technology, which provides improved audio and visual quality, bandwidth for significantly more digital subchannels, and the ability for broadcasts to be viewed on devices with wireless internet receivers, including laptops, tablets, and cellphones.
WNPB-TV in Morgantown will be the first to get a new transmitter, which will move it from channel 24 to 34, but Roberts said the installation has been delayed. Under state Purchasing Division regulations, the contract to install the transmitter has to be bid out like a construction contract, he said.
“We’re running into issues like we knew we would,” he said. “Purchasing, for lack of a better word, is slow.”
Also during Wednesday’s EBA meeting:
n Jesse Wright, news and public affairs director, briefed the authority on the status of WVPB’s news operations, which currently has eight full-time staffers based in Charleston, Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Wheeling.
He said he has been moving coverage emphasis from spot news to features, and is looking for ways to fill gaps in coverage by larger media outlets in the state. That includes creating a health beat, since no major news outlets in the state currently have a full-time health reporter.
“The media has shrunk drastically all over the country, and no more so in West Virginia,” he said, adding, “I’m looking for gaps in coverage.”
Wright said WVPB also emphasizes that it is an impartial, independent news organization, given that some believe that National Public Radio has a liberal bias.
“We don’t take sides,” he said.
n WVPB’s legislative coverage begins Jan. 8, with the governor’s State of the State address, with The Legislature Today on weeknights beginning Jan. 9, and with coverage of the final hours of the regular session on March 7.
Also, House and Senate floor sessions will air daily on the West Virginia Channel.
n Roberts said public broadcasting in the state began 50 years ago, and WVPB’s 50th anniversary is being marked with commemorative spots on public television highlighting milestones since 1969.