Sep 28, 2010

After three extensions, Peconic meets deadline with cash to buy WLIU's independence

With the help of $300,000 from two major donors and a bank loan of up to $337,000, WLIU-FM management is now prepared to buy the station's independence from longtime licensee Long Island University. The new nonprofit licensee, Peconic Public Broadcasting, said today it assembled the remaining $637,000 of the purchase price. Earlier this year, Peconic came up with a $213,000 down payment.

Six supporters guaranteed the $300,000 loan from Bridgehampton National Bank. Peconic plans to pay down the loan with its ongoing capital campaign. After assuming ownership, the station will be able to seek capital donations on the air for the first time, a spokesman said.

Though the station has a small translator at mid-island, most of its listeners live in the resort communities on the island’s eastern tip, where it faces competition from translators of larger Connecticut public radio stations. The university will be paid after the FCC license is transferred.

State broadcasting group takes precautions for Vegas PBS live campaign debate

Vegas PBS will produce the only live televised debate in the extremely contentious race between U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and GOP challenger Sharron Angle. And the Nevada Broadcasters Association is already ramping up security for the Oct. 14 event, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During the last campaign event Faith Lutheran High School, a fistfight broke out in the audience. Bob Fisher, president of the state association, said it is limiting each candidate to 12 accompanying persons instead of 40 to accommodate security as well as local, national and international media requests to cover the debate. There will be no public audience. Also, the relatively small studio contains expensive broadcast equipment. "We cannot afford to have an accident on live television," Fisher said. "It is a safety issue." The debate will run live statewide at 6 that evening, moderated by Mitch Fox, host of Nevada Week in Review.

Vegas PBS told Current in a statement: "Vegas PBS has been conducting political debates for almost 25 years and during that time created a process that is efficient and fair to the candidates participating in the debate.  The unfortunate episode that occurred during the Faith Lutheran event has no bearing on Vegas PBS' decision to not open the U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial or Congressional District 3 debates to the general public. These debates will be carried live on Vegas PBS channel 10 and it was always our intent that our audience view these debates via our website at or on television. Vegas PBS has always planned for adequate security to ensure the safety of our candidates, media and others participating in the democratic process.  We stand by our proven processes and procedures to produce quality and informational debates for our viewing audience."

NewsHour announces new science unit under former CNNer Miles O'Brien

PBS NewsHour isn't resting on its recent Emmy laurels. It's hired former CNN reporter Miles O'Brien to head a new science unit, reports the Associated Press. He'll be joined by producer Kate Tobin, also from CNN, and reporter Jenny Marder, reassigned from the NewsHour's national affairs unit. O'Brien left CNN in 2008 when the network disbanded its science and technology unit. NewsHour's science unit is being funded through a $350,000 grant from two foundations and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. More here.

Ten Indian stations among 31 signal expansion projects aided by NTIA

Thirty-one projects got matching Public Telecommunications Facilities Program grants to bring first public radio or TV service to a total of 500,000 people. Ten new stations will serve Indian reservations. Others will broadcast to communities as large as Honolulu, Portland (Maine) and Philadelphia. In all, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced yesterday it will spend $20.45 million in this year's grant round. NTIA committed $10 million for equipment replacement at 72 stations, $5.1 million for starting new stations and extending service, and $4.1 million for converting station facilities to digital — 16 in TV and three in radio. See lists of radio, television and nonbroadcast projects assisted.

Harvard professor who helped develop Sesame Workshop model dies at 84

Former Harvard professor and chairman of the Children's Television Workshop's board of advisors, Gerald Lesser, died Sept. 23, according to the Harvard Crimson. He was 84. His tenure with the Workshop, forerunner of Sesame Workshop, lasted from 1969 to 1996.  “He was instrumental in building the Sesame Workshop model, which was the bringing together of educators and researchers to work directly on a production process,” said Charlotte Cole, vice president of international education, research, and outreach at Sesame Workshop. “They were actually members of the production team.” Lesser had a great sense of humor, recalled Joseph Blatt, his former student and now director of Harvard education school's technology, innovation, and education masters program. "When I first saw a Harvard professor laugh out loud at Cookie Monster, I was hooked,” Blatt wrote in a tribute, “and as Gerry’s friends and students will understand, I learned that you could do important work while wearing sneakers everywhere.” Lesser's book, "Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street" was published in 1974.

Independent Filmmaker confab session definitely not "butt-clenchingly boring"

POV Series Producer Yance Ford moderated last week's (Sept. 19-23) Independent Filmmaker Conference panel with the intriguing title, "Cage Match: Filmmaking or Social Activism?" Journalist Tom Roston reports on the POV blog that in the session, Nick Fraser of BBC Storyville lamented the sorry state of the documentary medium, blaming funders for no appreciation for form, aesthetics, storytelling, or, as he put it, anything that is not "butt-clenchingly boring." But wait, Fraser wasn't done: "Doc makers are so desperate that if [Nazi Joseph] Goebbels was providing funding, there'd be a queue lined up around the block." As Roston quipped, "Fraser led by example by showing that a panel about documentary film can indeed be entertaining and a hell of a lot of fun."

Former NPR voice Ketzel Levine goes to the dogs

When NPR correspondent Ketzel Levine was laid off in 2008 after 30 years with the network, "the shock left me numb," she writes. "The numbness was a blessing. Until it wore off." Now the network's former Doyenne of Dirt has shifted her attention from nurturing plants to saving animals, she reveals in the latest All Animals magazine from the Humane Society of the United States. Several months ago, Levine says, she decided to travel to Ecuador — because she knew nothing about it. She enrolled in a language school in Cuenca, and volunteered at the animal shelter a few blocks from there. Walking between her apartment and school she got to know the local street dogs, "the Rasta-haired terrier mixes, the skinny, long-legged hounds, the happy packs of Mutts and Jeffs racing between cars." Through that experience, and her animal rescue work post-hurricane Katrina, " I began to sense a certain inevitability about where I was headed: the great wide world of animal activism, including rescue, welfare, and animal rights." So far she's raised a third of the budget for the ARCA (Activism, Rescue and Conscience for Animals) dog refuge in Ecuador. Check out more adventures in her blog, Kick 'N' Screamin' to Vegan.

PBS takes third place in News and Documentary Emmy Awards

In what the Hollywood Reporter is calling "an upset," both CBS and NBC beat out PBS, the usual top winner, for most News and Documentary Emmys at last night's (Sept. 27) ceremonies. CBS won seven; NBC, six; and PBS, five.

Nevertheless, PBS was well represented during the evening. The prestigious Chairman’s Award went to the PBS NewsHour. Roger Mudd, former Washington correspondent for CBS News, NBC News and the McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, presented the award to Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer, longtime executive producer Les Crystal, and current executive producer Linda Winslow. (Don't miss MacNeil's commentary on the award on the show's Rundown blog.)

PBS President Paula Kerger presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Frederick Wiseman "one of the most accomplished documentarians in the history of the medium," according to the Academy. Many of Wiseman's docs have aired on PBS. Perhaps the filmmaker's most famous work is 1967's groundbreaking and controversial "Titicut Follies," a graphic look at conditions inside the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Mass.

PBS winners:

-- Frontline won three Emmys: Investigative journalism in a news magazine for for "Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground" (by Frontline/World); continuing coverage of a news story, long form, "A Death in Tehran"; and investigative journalism, long form, "The Warning."
-- Bill Moyers Journal won for historical programming, long form, for "The Good Soldier."
-- POV took a statuette for science and technology programming for "The English Surgeon."

Visit the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences site for a full list of winners.