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Board to vote on future of PBS

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 18:05

It's pretty surreal for most part that WMFE, Central Florida's public media broadcast network, does not yet know the fate of PBS Orlando. Even more surreal, UCF will play a major part in that decision.

The Board of Trustees will be holding an advancement committee meeting and then a full board meeting on Thursday, where it will vote on the transition of PBS to UCF and Brevard Community College.

The advancement committee meeting will be held at 9 a.m. and the full meeting will be at 1 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public in the Live Oak Room on campus. The station would merge with UCF TV and Brevard's WBCC on July 1, becoming WUCF, according to an e-mail from John Schell, vice president and chief of staff for UCF and associate corporate secretary to the BOT.

This vote will have a great impact on the Central Florida community, as well as the UCF community; especially for students Anna Eskamani and Ali Kurnaz, who created the "Keep PBS in Orlando" campaign.

Eskamani, a senior political science and international relations major, said she watched PBS in Orlando growing up and that it had a positive impact on her life.

WMFE is selling PBS because of a large decrease in financial support; direct TV support has decreased 68 percent from corporate donations and 40 percent from individual donations, according to information released from its media relations department.

Also, donations to WMFE would to go WMFE-FM 90.7, its public radio station, which is thriving at a more substantial rate.

"I like NPR, but NPR is for adults and PBS is for everyone — kids, the elderly," Eskamani said. "It's the fact that it lacked transparency and that smaller stations at community colleges wanted to buy it. If community colleges could do it, why couldn't UCF do it? After I talked to the former and current CEOs of PBS, we [Eskamani and Kurnaz] decided to take action."

WMFE's application for candidates requires more than 50 percent of its airtime to educational, cultural, public affairs, news and religious programming, which UCF TV would have to support after the transition.

Eskamani said she talked to many people at UCF who hated the idea because the station might be a financial drain for the university. She sees it as an opportunity that students, faculty and the surrounding community would benefit from.

Grant Heston, assistant vice president of UCF TV, said that the current plans UCF TV has for PBS would be better solidified after the decision is made by the BOT.

"For such a large university, UCF TV isn't really that well-known. [The campaign] has more likes on [its] Facebook page than UCF TV does," Eskamani said. "It would also allow for 20 percent of its advertisement for UCF at the same time. No matter what your demographic is, you would know about UCF and they could take advantage of that. We could create internships — not just for journalism or broascasting but for other programs too. And imagine having the PBS kids logo next to the UCF logo. I think it would be a great opportunity for everyone. There are definitely more important things than money."

Other possible candidates for acquiring PBS are Daytona State College's station, WDSC as well as stations in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville.

"I feel like PBS is the one channel that will tell you how the world is," Eskamani said.

Eskamani said the UCF takeover would be a really great alternative, but that people in the community are still reeling over what WMFE did.

"For a 45-year-old station to do this almost behind our backs is hard to take. I think a PBS station would make a lot of people happy, including myself," she said. "It's not exactly a win-win but in the long-run it's a good idea. I hope that it will be a lesson for other broadcasters not to handle it this way."


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