In 1980, when I started at WSLU (no one was calling us North Country Public Radio yet) we had one transmitter, located in Canton, which served most but not all of St. Lawrence County. Today, NCPR is a network of 33 transmitters serving 1/3 of NYS, northwestern VT and a nice chunk of southeastern Ontario. While few other public radio stations operate as many facilities as we do, across the country stations have worked for the past three or four decades to extend the public radio (and public television) signal to reach the American people in even the most remote locations.We’ve also continually upgraded our system to keep pace with technical innovations and improvements.
How did we do this? The PTFP of the NTIA in the USDOC. Classic government alphabet soup. In this case, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration within the United States Department of Commerce.
Today I received the-end-of-an-era letter from our old friend at the PTFP, Bill Cooperman. It’s official: the PTFP, which helped to build the public broadcasting infrastructure by matching 2:1 and even 3:1 the costs of putting in transmission and studio equipment at hundreds of stations, has been zeroed out by Congress. Will it come back? Well, maybe funding will be restored in the FY12 budget, but I’m not holding my breath.
Every day–regardless of which transmitter brings you a signal–the impact of the PTFP is heard by the American people. We simply couldn’t have done it without them. Or, it would have taken several decades longer, so perhaps people in Old Forge or Newcomb or Glens Falls would be waiting until 2020 to hear our station.
Over the years, I occasionally served as a panelist for the PTFP, helping decide which projects would get funded (in years when NCPR did not have an application on the table). It is not glamorous work. The folks who run the PTFP are people you will never read about in the news or see on television. Bill Cooperman and his team are the kind of federal employees who belie all the nasty stereotypes we hear about “bureaucrats.” They are helpful, they want to see stations succeed, and they understand when unforeseen circumstances force changes in timelines (e.g., bad weather keeps us from installing a new facility as planned).
Thank you, Bill. Thanks to all who worked with you through the years. We couldn’t have built the public radio system into what it is today without you.