Budget woes cause KUHT
By Dionne Victor
The Daily Cougar
In a decision that mirrored the actions
of several PBS stations across the country, KUHT-Channel 8 on Wednesday
laid off 12 employees and left eight
positions vacant. Because of a budgetary
shortfall nearing $1 million, the Houston PBS affiliate housed in the Melcher
Center Public Broadcasting has had to reduce of its workforce by 20 percent,
joining the ranks of other affiliates in Dallas, Nebraska, Chicago, Philadelphia
The layoffs were made in the production,
promotions and communication departments.
As a result of economic shortcomings, KUHT
has had to restructure its local programming. John Hesse, station manager,
said that the viewer will not see
much difference in the programming. Although
there have been budget cuts, viewership should remain stable. Current viewership
is just under one million
households a week and is 2.3 million viewers
One of the major changes will be in Weekday,
the daily half-hour program on community issues and concerns, which will
be changed into a weekly full-hour
program. Programming such as Masterpiece
Theatre, American Experience and Nova will remain on the schedule.
"As a result of reducing hours we will
have reduced programming," Hesse said. With less money in its actual budget,
KUHT has less money to buy
programming. Because of changes in the
economy, there has been a reduction in annual donations and other contributions.
KUHT has 116 sponsors,
including such corporations as JP Morgan
Chase, Reliant Energy and Dynegy.
"Foundation support has reduced and investments
from companies have decreased," said Hesse.
PBS receives money from outside corporations.
Only 15 percent of its yearly budget comes from the federal government
through the Corporations for Public
Broadcasting. Although KUHT is housed
on campus, it receives no support from the state or University.
The internal budget cuts is only one of
the solutions that the management has initiated. It has also had to use
money in their reserves. Hesse said the
challenge now is to put money back into
"This is a two-fold challenge," he said.
"We have to raise money into the budget and have to have money to put back
To raise money, the PBS affiliate is looking
to its fundraising department, which is fully staffed, to add operational
funding. It is also are increasing
telemarketing, direct mail and "use the
current database more effectively," Hesse said.
The layoffs at KUHT are part of the continuing
cycle of layoffs in PBS. It began in March 2001 when 60 employees at PBS
headquarters in Alexandria, Va.,
were laid off because of similar budgetary
In Chicago, WTTW, Channel 11, a PBS affiliate
laid off 15 employees because of a $3.4 million dollar budget shortfall.
It was one of the only affiliates to offer
early retirement packages.
Closer to home, Dallas' KERA, Channel 13
cut 23 percent of its staff because of $2 million dollar budget shortfall.
Twenty-seven workers were laid off, and
nine positions remain unfilled.
Most of the budgetary shortcomings have
been a product of a down-turning economy. The first step is to downsize;
increases in the budget are not foreseen
for KUHT, but Hesse hopes viewership will