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Possible Funding Cuts Could Silence KCSN : Public broadcasting: Cal State Northridge station fights to survive.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, an earthquake knocked the radio station at Cal State Northridge off the air. This month, a political temblor is rattling KCSN.

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is poised to end decades of public funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports more than 1,000 public radio and television stations nationwide. The prospect is causing static among stations that serve the San Fernando Valley.

The threat of reduced federal funding is especially traumatic for KCSN, 88.5 FM, a classical music station that sustained heavy damage during the Northridge earthquake and is now broadcasting out of a makeshift studio in a dormitory room.

After the earthquake, the station received a special $10,000 federal grant so it could continue broadcasting--supplementing the $169,000 it receives annually from the government.

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“This whole debate is forcing us to do another self-evaluation,” said KCSN general manager Teresa Rogers, who has begun reviewing scenarios in case Congress pulls the plug on funding that makes up 24% of the station’s budget. “We had to look at what’s important for us after the earthquake. And we’re doing that again.”

The Angst at KCSN is not unique.

In Thousand Oaks, radio station KCLU, which operates out of a bare-bones studio, does not receive a dime in federal funds. But station officials fear the raging debate in Congress could leave the fledgling radio station unplugged.

KCLU, which operates at 88.3 FM, has applied for government money, but the contemporary jazz station is so new that its request is still being processed by the government; as it waits, public funding itself is in jeopardy.

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“Survival is a concern to us,” said general manager Dan Kuntz, whose station receives the bulk of its $87,000 budget from Cal Lutheran University. “We’re developing other strategies to fund what we do, but if a lot of money is taken away (by Congress), we as an institution could be in trouble.”

Initiating the controversy was House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who told an interviewer last month that “one of the things we’re going to do this year, I hope . . . is to zero out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has been eating taxpayers’ money.”

The words zero out caused panic among many public broadcasting supporters, who began to envision television without “Sesame Street” or the “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” and radio without “All Things Considered” or “Morning Edition.”

In recent weeks, KCSN has sent mailers to supporters asking them to lend the station a hand by contacting elected officials, while KCLU is using the airwaves to drum up support with editorials on the threat of losing public funding.

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Valley-area congressmen are divided on the issue.

Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) says such stations as KCLU, which is based in his district, are an important educational and cultural resource that ought to be supported by the government.

“I am strongly supportive of continued funding at least at current levels,” said Beilenson, a fan of public radio. “I listen to public stations all the time and frankly find virtually nothing of quality on commercial radio or television. Public financing clearly is not an extravagance. We’re spending perhaps a dollar per American per year.”

Taking the opposing view is Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), who, though he supports the stations, believes they ought to compete in the private sector just as commercial stations do.

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“We have a $5 trillion debt and that’s why we need to think creatively,” he said. “It’s like when you go shopping and there are a tremendous number of things you’d like to buy. But you can’t. You don’t have enough money. You could put it on your credit card but the government’s credit card is overdrawn.”

Created by Congress in 1967, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is receiving $285 million this year, with 75% going to television and 25% to radio. There are six radio stations in Southern California that receive the CPB funds, including KCRW-FM in Santa Monica ($611,421) and KPCC-FM in Pasadena ($181,415).

Based at Santa Monica College, KCRW is the behemoth of local public radio, with a signal that extends as far as Santa Barbara and Palm Springs. KCSN relies less heavily on National Public Radio and focuses its news coverage on the Valley. KCLU was established to provide NPR programming with a local flair for those in Ventura County.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) contends that taxpayer-financed broadcasting may be a luxury the country can no longer afford.

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“I’m a fan of public television and radio . . . but there are so many things in this great country we’d like to have that we can’t afford,” Gallegly said. “There’s a lot of things I’d like as a private citizen but can’t afford. We have to be pragmatic. I’m a lot more concerned about my grandchildren being able to survive in this country than to see Big Bird.”

Listener contributions are already a part of public radio and television--as anyone who has heard the regular pitched appeals for members can attest. But Gallegly wants to see listeners and corporate sponsors even more involved in stations now receiving government aid.

Discussions are expected to continue on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, and there are some signs that a compromise might emerge that would spare some public funding. A proposal offered by Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.) would eliminate federal funding for financially stable stations in large urban areas, such as KCRW, but continue to use government money for start-up stations and those in smaller markets. That idea, which Gingrich has said he might support, could end up helping KCLU.

To help stations recover if funding is lifted, McKeon wants to change regulations so that public stations could air commercials to raise additional revenue.

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Beilenson, however, wants to keep the federal support flowing just as it is now.

“It’s a big issue for me not only for our local station but for all of public broadcasting,” Beilenson said. “It’s a local issue but it’s also far greater than that. In a country as great as ours, we need these kinds of programs.”

Even if Congress does not move to eliminate funding this year, Gallegly predicts that government’s role in such stations will be scaled back.


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