A tough economy, along with program budget cutbacks, has hit KPBS, the public broadcast operation run by San Diego State University, particularly hard over the past year, raising questions about the long-term viability of its single TV and two nonprofit radio stations. According to a just-released financial report covering the 12-month period ending in June 2009, “contributions decreased by $1,073,000, or 7%, from 2008 to 2009 due to the poor economic conditions during the period.” The KPBS programming budget shrank even more, by $2,334,000, or 14 percent, “as a result of cost containment measures during the year.” The report says so-called support service costs, including fund-raising expenses, dropped by $1,301,000, or 11 percent, also due to “cost containment.” San Diego State University slashed its funding of the operation by $1,397,000, or 18 percent.
In all, total operating revenue fell from 2008’s $19,384,469 to $17,542,599 in 2009. Total “program services” expenses, including production and purchase of programs, as well as promotion, were pared back from $16,178,543 to $13,844,403.
In another disclosure, the value of the broadcast license of KQVO, a Calexico FM radio station that KPBS acquired in November 2004 for an announced $1.1 million cash, was reduced by $1,275,000 in an “impairment” write-down, from $1,945,000 to just $670,000, “in line with an independent appraisal of KQVO during the year ended June 30, 2009.”
At the time KPBS bought KQVO, Broadcasting and Cable Magazine reported that the purchase price of the former Spanish-language station “is intended to be a bargain sale. To the extent that the fair-market value of the assets exceeds the purchase price, the difference will be a charitable contribution by seller to buyer on closing date.” The deal followed a $5 million bequest to KPBS in 2003 from the late Joan Kroc, heir to the McDonald’s hamburger fortune, who also gave $200 million to National Public Radio.
Despite bad economic times and the expectation that SDSU may further reduce its support, KPBS general manager Tom Karlo says he remains optimistic about the future and wants to raise enough money to expand San Diego Week eventually, a weekly local news review, to five days a week. “Local TV news has gotten very sensationalistic, and nobody is doing in-depth analysis the way we can.”