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Atlanta Brouhaha Heats Up

As I reported last week, WRAS in Atlanta has agreed to simulcast Georgia Public Broadcasting content in the Atlanta area, where until now WABE has been the sole public NPR station.  This new agreement duplicates NPR’s flagship shows in the Atlanta area.  In the past, NPR had rules about duplication in a market, and they would facilitate negotiation between competing stations.  On the other hand, Seattle and Albuquerque, just to mention two, have had duplication of NPR shows for years, and the stations still manage to stay in business. From Rodney Ho at the blog accessAtlanta.com:

In an open letter released today, Louis Sullivan, chairman of Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s board of directors, blasted the Georgia State University partnership which allows Georgia Public Broadcasting to use its 88.5/WRAS-FM’s airwaves for public radio news and talk programming 90 hours a week.About 64 percent of GPB’s programming is the same programming offered by WABE on its 90.1 FM airwaves. Sullivan calls this “an unwarranted duplication of service.  It is a waste of Georgia’s tax dollars that could be better allocated elsewhere.”

Sullivan also notes that GPB is heavily taxpayer subsidized. That is not the case with WABE. While Atlanta Public Schools owns WABE, the station is self sufficient, with no reliance on APS.

“(A)t best, what can be gleaned from GPB’s financial statements is that, in 2013, GPB received $13.4 million in state appropriations, some 47% of its annual operating budget. By contrast, PBA operates a $12.6 million budget without any state or local taxpayer dollars for its operations.

The blog post finishes with a chronology of how this brouhaha has unfolded and the various protests arising from it.  Stay tuned.  I’m sure there will be big public broadcasting shifts in Atlanta soon.

2 Responses to Atlanta Brouhaha Heats Up

  1. Richard July 3, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    When did NPR have rules about duplication in the market? I worked in a dual market city in the late 80s and early 90s and there were no rules at the time akin to APR (then PRI)’s primary-secondary-tertiary membership status about duplication of programs like Keillor’s, orchestra broadcasts, or news programs like CSM and then “The World”

    NPR seemed to be “the more the merrier” approach to these programming duplicative efforts which not only applied to NPR’s news programming but the Arts unit as well. 2 stations in a market taking Performance Today (when it launched on NPR)? Not a problem.

    As for Mr. Sullivan, it’s a hollow argument but decent free publicity. He knows he is going to lose market share. Maybe not a lot, but some.

    Nice to see the blog active again.

    • Marty Ronish July 3, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

      I wondered if I was right when I wrote that. I remember that in Albuquerque in the 90s Performance Today was not available to KHFM, the commercial classical station there, because it was already airing on KUNM, one of the public stations. So maybe the rule only applied to a commercial station, because both of the public stations were airing NPR’s tent pole shows. One of them played it louder than the other, so it was hard switching back and forth.

      I remember talking to someone in Distribution while I worked at NPR, and she told me they always negotiated with stations to try to avoid duplication in a single market. The stations, on the other hand, are looking for the big bucks and as one program director told me, even though Morning Edition is expensive, the station can raise nearly all of its annual donations on that one show. That also might have been hyperbole. Basically, you should never believe anything anyone tells you in radio. 🙂

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