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Rural public radio stations stand to lose half-million dollars in Dunleavy budget

A proposed budget by Alaska’s governor zeroes out funding for public broadcasting, including more than a half-million dollars to fund public radio in rural parts of the state.

Rural public radio stations stand to lose about $600,000 under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget.

But it’s not just news or music programming that could be affected. KIYU is a small public radio station in Galena, Alaska, about 250 miles east of Nome, Alaska.

Station general manager Brian Landrum said for rural communities where radio is a lifeline -- the cuts are a public safety concern

“It's quite crucial, especially in these river regions with flooding potential and things like that, when river breaks up, wildfires that happened,” he said. “Radio gets very critical during those times and it would be a shame that we have unmanned radio stations or a potential of having unmanned radio stations where we can't offer the services.” 

Full disclosure here – I serve on an advisory committee for Native Public Media where I represent Alaska Native public media stations – and many of those serve rural communities.

Landrum said KIYU in Galena had received $77,741 in state funding prior to Dunleavy’s proposed budget. The loss of that funding is the equivalent -- or “to about three months of operating money give or take if you broke it down to that.”

KYUK station general manager Brian Landrum says the potential loss of about $70,000 from the state is the equivalent of a salaried position or two to three months of operating money. (Photo courtesy KIYU)

KIYU currently budgets for two to three full-time staff, and a couple of part-timers.

“I'm really fearful, irrelevant of what happens staffing wise, irrelevant of what happens to my career, I fear for the future of some of these rural villages and not having regular radio service -- to be able to deliver that.”

Alaska Public Broadcasting Inc. supports all the public radio and television stations in Alaska.

Executive director Mollie Kabler says the state has 27 licensees that would be affected by the cuts.

“This 100 percent elimination of all state funding represents about 12 percent of the radio stations’ budgets,” Kabler said. “So it’s very significant.”

Landrum said the loss of the state funding could also impact the number of dollars stations are able to secure in federal funding from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. Stations often must secure non-federal funds to be eligible for the federal money.

Dunleavy’s proposal to zero out state funding to public broadcasting is still just that – a proposal. And Landrum and Kabler hope that public broadcasting has some champions in the Legislature.

“There’s so much at stake right now with significant cuts across so many areas,” Kabler said. “It’s very difficult to say who is or isn’t going to be key in supporting public media funding."

Landrum said small rural stations have endured the cuts before, and if it means doing more with less, then he hopes stations start collaborating more to save money.