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Advocacy group unveils plan to operate WQEX

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

At a press conference this morning, Pittsburgh Educational Television will unveil a proposed business plan for the operation of WQEX, Channel 16.

Since WQED Pittsburgh first announced plans to sell WQEX in 1996 -- and later began airing one lineup on both public-TV stations -- PET and associated groups have attempted to retain, and, ideally, control, an independent Channel 16.

An advance copy of PET's proposal sets forth a budget to pay for activation of WQEX ($2 million) and a first-year operating budget ($1.2 million). Such a plan does not include the cost of the government-mandated transition to digital television.

In its proposal, PET seeks to emulate other second service PBS stations, particularly KBDI in Denver and WYBE in Philadelphia.

"These two stations have each evolved with programming that strives to be grounded in local resources and that mirrors the local population from a different angle than its larger sister station," the PET report states.

PET would seek to "develop a program stream that features cultural festivals, ethnic concerns and labor history" and would be a showcase "for independent film producers and video journalists."

PET's proposal suggests ways for the station to reach viewers younger than most who watch public broadcasting, which mirrors recent efforts by PBS. PET also seeks to position itself "not solely as a television broadcaster, but as a critical and valuable partner with other local educational, cultural and civic organizations," a theme also espoused by WQED executives.

However, PET's WQEX "would not need much, if any, PBS national programming and would not want it." The report is critical of PBS, which PET says "has abandoned its mission in order to appease those who control the purse strings -- political officials, corporate underwriters and affluent subscribers."

The PET report was prepared by Nan Rubin, founder/owner of the consulting firm Community Media Services, and Jerry Starr, executive director of Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting and a longtime critic of WQED.

Starr could not be reached yesterday and Mike Schneider, from the steering committee of Pittsburgh CIPB, did not want to comment until today.

WQED officials did not have time to review PET's proposal, but station manager B.J. Leber said WQED intends to make no course corrections.

WQED's current proposal before the Federal Communications Commission seeks to have the status of WQEX's license changed from noncommercial/educational to commercial, with the intent to sell the station for $20 million to ShootingStar Inc., owned by former Pittsburgher Diane Sutter of California.

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