Fairbanks' local KUAC public radio and television station announced Wednesday it will eliminate five radio and television channels at the beginning of next month as the station scrambles to stay afloat following budget cuts by the state and the University of Alaska.
The channels to be discontinued include 9.7 and 9.8, which broadcast radio stations on television, as well as 9.9, which broadcasts 360 North, a channel that allows the public to watch legislative meetings. KUAC 2 and KUAC 3, two of the station's online digital radio stations, will also be terminated.
The cuts are a result of budget reductions by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in two major areas. Earlier this year, Dunleavy eliminated all state funding for the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, which helped support KUAC. That amounted to a $155,539 cut for KUAC.
Dunleavy also cut the University of Alaska budget by $25 million. With the university also providing some funding for the station, a trickle down effect left the station sustaining 94% cut in university funding, a loss of $500,000 for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. That's about 17% of the station's total $2.9 million operating budget.
KUAC has cut more than $1 million from its budget over the last seven years.
“Most of the cuts have been invisible to the public,” KUAC General Manager Keith Martin said in a statement. “Over the years, we’ve restructured, we’ve cut deals, we’ve streamlined our operations to the point that most of our staff members are doing multiple positions. With the latest budget reductions, the necessary changes will impact over-the-air services as well as staff.”
In a time when the public is keenly aware of looming changes to university structure and effects of funding cuts to K-12 education, the public will no longer be able to listen to UA Board of Regents meetings on KUAC 2 or the first hour of Fairbanks North Star Borough school board meetings on KUAC 3.
Martin said discontinuing the channels won't bring the station in line with what adds up to be nearly a $700,000 funding reduction.
“(Discontinuing these five channels) will not cover the full cut of nearly $700,000 in a single year,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, with the short notice, we’re continuing to make decisions while attempting to minimize disruptions to our listeners and viewers. But KUAC will not be the same.”
Martin said the station may work to find additional areas of cost cutting through discontinuing certain programming contracts as they expire, resulting in limited programming as time goes on.
Additional changes will be coming. That's because many of the program contracts were completed before the station realized the magnitude of the cuts, Martin explained.
"It’s going to have to happen over the next year because of the timing of all of this," he said. "The fiscal year started July 1. Contracts were done in June with the thought that it wouldn’t actually be this bad."
The budget cuts will likely reach beyond programming.
"Staff cuts are serious consideration right now," Martin said.
The station is owned by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and housed in the UAF Fine Arts complex. The station is the only one of its kind in being owned by the university; most other stations across the state are categorized as private nonprofits, according to Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission Director Mollie Kabler.
"Each is a little different, some have two staff, some have four or five," she said. "The impact will really vary. It's going to be one by one. Whether they do less community engagement work, whether their news reporters have to work less, whether they reduce content providers, these are the types of problems."
This is not the first time public broadcasting has been cut by the state, Kabler pointed out. The Public Broadcasting Commission sustained a 45% budget cut from 2016 to 2017.
"There’s very little to cut anymore without cutting programming or cutting staff," she said. "The other impact that will happen is all of the stations will spend more staff time on fundraising. So even if they don’t reduce a lot of staff, which some may have to, the staff they have are going to be spending more time doing fundraising."
Kabler considered the changes at KUAC to be an unfortunate loss to the statewide broadcasting community.
"KUAC had great comprehensive services. Not a lot of other stations have such a variety of multiple signals," she said, noting she has concerns for other stations across the state as well. "I think some people were holding out in hopes that there would be funding. So I think the real impact is just beginning."
The station has been providing FM services to the Fairbanks community for 57 years and television services for the past 48 years.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.