Tiny Minnesota town told it might lose Public TV

People in Orr, Minn., are about to lose their access to Public Television in an apparent funding dispute.

Current, the public media trade newspaper, says a translator which supplied signals from Duluth PBS station WDSE, as well as Duluth ABC and Fox affiliates, was shut down temporarily in April.

A community group formed to bring TV to the rural area says it decided to stop relying only on Orr property tax assessments to function. It has previously also gotten support from neighboring Leiding, Minn., which stopped contributing in 2012.

Now, the group needs $12,000 to operate and $7,000 to paint a transmitter tower to satisfy the Federal Aviation Administration.

It apparently doesn’t have the money.

Duluth’s Fox and ABC stations agreed to chip in to restore the translator service, but Current says WDSE, the Public TV station in Duluth, declined.

While the refeed of WDSE was off the air, Minneonto aired a message telling viewers how to contact the Duluth station if they wanted the broadcast to resume. “Let PBS know If ‘YOU’ care,” the slide read. “Or Kiss It ‘Good-By’ forever.”

Regardless, [WDSE GM Allen]Harmon proposed in a May 26 email to [Minneonto Secretary and Treasurer Curt] Glass that WDSE-WRPT would give Minneonto $150 per month for up to three months “in order to provide for the temporary continuation of service to our viewers while Minneonto TV II seeks sustainable funding.” Minneonto would be required to describe its progress toward finding sustainable funding on a monthly basis. It would also have to submit an income statement and balance sheet.

The board of Saint Louis County is offering $1,800 a year to provide the TV service, but only if the Duluth public station provides matching financial support, according to Saint Louis County commissioner Tom Rukavina.

  • Jack

    Time for a special pledge drive.

    • There’s only 303 people in Orr.

      • Jack

        But others can do the social good and donate as well. I’d throw a few bucks there myself.

  • Zachary

    Any explanation for why WDSE declined the offer from the other stations?

    • They want the group that is in charge of the translator/antenna to have a plan for being sustaining. The offer from other stations wasn’t to WDSE. It was to the community group in charge of the translator.

      • Zachary

        Makes sense – “Like putting too much air in a balloon!”

        Futurama quotes aside – I guess I am still a little confused here (the fact that I can’t use the link to Current doesn’t help I’m sure). Minneonto is the Orr community group, correct? And they need the money to operate and keep the feed from Duluth – but the parent station from Duluth (WDSE) won’t allow the other Duluth based stations to chip in?

        How about if the Duluth-Fox and Duluth-ABC become sustaining members – would WDSE then have to allow it?

        I guess I was under the impression that this was all lumped together. i.e. part of my MPR donations went to fund the transmitters of the Current (KZIO 104.3) in Duluth (so many Currents!) Does PBS work the same way? TPT and other PBS members (is there a MnPTV org, or am I only a member of my ‘local’ station?) fund these sorts of operations.

        I need to brush up on my public media operating trivia I guess.

        • The Duluth station isn’t the owner of the translator. The community group is. They use it to capture and then rebroadcast (at higher power, presumably) TV signals of TV stations who give them permission to do so, I believe.

          It seems to be it’s in the interest of the three stations to have their signals reach more people — which, presumably, is why Fox and ABC were quick to chip in — but the Duluth station may very well have calculated that the return on investment for the few number of people who watch Public TV in general, and applying that calculation to a town the size of Orr, just doesn’t make financial sense for them.

          And I’m going to guess that the station is getting zilch from any of the viewers in Orr in the way of membership.

          MPR has several translators around the state that push Current, News, and Classical into rural areas but I THINK MPR owns and is the licensed operator.

          I’m sorry to see Current go behind the paywall. I understand why they have to. Like most everyone else in public media, they’re running short of the dough, I guess.

          • Zachary

            Got it now. Where we live (south metro) – TV reception can be pretty spotty and TPT doesn’t come it at all most days – so we stream in the PBS stuff we watch – I imagine folks up there will be doing the same.

          • I have to believe a lot of folks up there have Dish or Direct. I doubt there’s a lot of streaming going on because rural Internet stinks.

          • Jerry

            Depends where. My parents live 10 miles from the nearest town but fiber is going in.

          • MikeB

            So, so true

  • Gary F

    Tom Rukavina

    He’s still out there, huh?