NMU Board Supports Public Radio

 

The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees voted unanimously to continue providing annual general fund support of $50,000 to keep the public radio station on the air. Trustees will not take action on the public television station until they receive additional information about the university's liability in obtaining grants, financing alternatives for federally-mandated digital upgrades, and marketing strategies aimed at students pursuing broadcast-related careers.

 

Trustee Scott Holman presented the motion. He said the issue is not the worthiness of public broadcasting on campus and in the region, but the fiscal commitment required especially in the case of WNMU-TV to continue operating in the midst of a challenging budgetary climate.

 

"I support public broadcasting and want to see it work here," he said. "It has value in terms of the potential for involving students and other disciplines. The U.P. community needs it and it is a form of outreach for Northern. There are many champions for these stations, which is necessary to move forward. Any project with that level of passion, and with the technical expertise on campus to support it, has a formula for success. But it's about the money, folks. What still concerns me is the capital required for the digital upgrades. We need time to understand this better."

 

The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that television stations convert to digital transmission. For WNMU-TV, this would require one-time future expenses of about $2.2 million for master control automation and transmitter migration to full power necessary to facilitate the conversion.

 

Radio stations are not required by the FCC to transmit their signals digitally. That is expected to change, according to Eric Smith, director of broadcast and audio-visual services at NMU. It would cost about $300,000 for Public Radio 90 to replace its FM transmitter.

 

Because of concerns about the potential for obtaining grants to cover most of these costs and the university's resulting liability, the motion was amended to include the caveat that any capital commitment for public broadcasting be deferred until a board-approved plan for funding has been developed.

 

While the future of WNMU-TV remains undecided, Smith said the board's action was a step in the right direction.

 

"We will work hard over the next few months to address the funding issues they raised, but what's important in the meantime is that the board has demonstrated a commitment to public broadcasting at Northern. That commitment is contingent in large part upon the public's continued support."

 

No formal timeline was established for finalizing the issue. The earliest opportunity for the board to address it again would be at the May 5-6 meeting.

In other action today, the board:

 

-Approved the purchase of property and structures located at 1504 and 1508 Presque Isle Ave., at a cost of $215,000, for potential future development as part of the campus five-year master plan. No specific use for the property has been determined. The funding will come from NMU operating reserves;

 

-Accepted about $3.1 million in external gifts and grants;

 

-Approved the previously ratified three-year contract for employees in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) bargaining unit; and

 

-Approved resolutions honoring board chair Mary Campbell and trustee Scott Holman, whose terms expire Dec. 31, for their service to NMU.

 

 

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Updated: December 17, 2004