Local public radio managers aim to 'protect' stations as Trump proposes federal cutsSubmitted: 03/30/2017
WAUSAU, RHINELANDER - Every year, the federal government puts almost a half-billion dollars into public radio and television.

But in his preliminary budget proposal earlier this month, President Trump pushed for cutting all of that funding.

That could hit public radio in our area hard. Wisconsin Public Radio statewide and WXPR in Rhinelander rely on thousands of federal dollars to operate.

Wisconsin Public Radio is celebrating its centennial this year, and its Central Regional office in Wausau is celebrating five years in a new building on the UW-Marathon County campus.

Rick Reyer is the regional manager.

"What I really am passionate about is telling stories," Reyer said. "That essentially is what we do. We've done that for a hundred years in this state."

While Wisconsin Public Radio is telling stories, it's also facing challenges. About ten percent of its revenue comes from the federally-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which President Trump wants to gut.

"I'm not sure if it surprises me," Reyer said. "But I like the fact that people are talking about the value and the necessity that public broadcasting has."

In Rhinelander, independent community public radio station WXPR faces similar challenges. About 20 percent of Station Manager Pete Rondello's budget is federal money through the CPB.

"We will protect the station," Rondello said. "We believe that the station is a local voice that's worth protecting for the community."

Like many stations, WXPR uses federal money to pay organizations like National Public Radio for the right to broadcast its programs.

"All of those shows cost us money, thousands of dollars in the aggregate, so a lot of our funds go in that direction," Rondello said.

WXPR is urging listeners to sign an online petition called Protect My Public Media.

If it works, and federal money is preserved, WXPR and Wisconsin Public Radio will keep up their work. If it doesn't, major changes could be on the way.

"Certainly we're going to have to look at expense control even harder than we do now. I think we'd be able to weather that type of scenario where the CPB would go away," Rondello said. "We're talking about that. How do we begin to dialogue about running WXPR without that funding?"

"Will we be here?" Reyer asked rhetorically. "Yes, but it would be significantly a different Wisconsin Public Radio."

Story By: Ben Meyer

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