With the imminent departure of station manager Doug Myrland and yet another round of staffing cuts, has the time come to pry KPBS from the deathlike grip of San Diego State University? That’s the question some are asking in the wake of the latest round of bad financial news from the public broadcasting operation, owned and operated by SDSU with hefty subsidies from California taxpayers. The 55-year-old Myrland, who announced his surprise retirement last week after more than 16 years at the helm of the troubled TV channel and FM radio station that make up KPBS, is reported to take home an annual salary of $218,004. That’s not much less than the $230,004 that SDSU pays Sally Roush, the school’s vice president for business and financial affairs, regarded by many observers as the true power behind university president Stephen Weber, who makes $299,435.
In disclosing his plans to step down after his 56th birthday in December, Myrland revealed that funding from both the public as well as corporate “underwriters,” who pay for promotional spots on the stations, were off, requiring that yet another six positions be cut from the KPBS budget, which has already seen 12 jobs cut less than a year ago during what has become famously known in local media circles as the Full Focus massacre. That episode last August, in which the operation’s only regular public affairs TV show was summarily dropped without public input, drew harsh criticism from a host of regular station donors and corporate funders, many of whom quietly vowed to stop giving. But while programming was being cut, other expenses have grown, including salaries and commissions for a sales crew supposed to bring in corporate funding. Those costs jumped from $1,860,764 to $2,320,932.
Since its beginning, KPBS has been a subsidiary of SDSU; state taxpayers currently spend at least $2 million a year on the operation, controlled by Weber and Roush. In most other major broadcasting markets, including New York and Los Angeles, independent nonprofit corporations run the public TV and radio stations, insulating them from the kind of political pressure that critics say Weber’s team exerts on programming.