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WNEG to join Georgia public broadcasting

Struggling university station to change its name, join GPB network programming

POSTED: December 24, 2010 12:10 a.m.

WNEG-TV at the University of Georgia is joining the public realm and starting a programming partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting, UGA officials announced Thursday morning.

The university-owned station will become part of the state network of public TV stations and change its call letters from WNEG to WUGA in a few months. UGA Research Foundation executive board members unanimously approved the move Thursday morning.

"This is a positive and exciting step that will enable UGA to do more programming, give students an increased opportunity for internships and be a place for media research for faculty," executive board member Abit Massey said. "I love the fact that, if approved, ‘UGA' will be in the name of the station."

The Federal Communications Commission approval of the change from a commercial to noncommercial license could take two or three months, said Tom Jackson, UGA's senior vice president for public relations.

UGA officials will decide staffing changes during the transition period, Jackson said.

Under the agreement, the university will keep ownership of the license and pay the operating costs for the station. GPB will provide 24-hour programming.

"This is a great fit for GPB Media and UGA," said Teya Ryan, president and executive director of GPB Media.

"We're both educational institutions and through this partnership we can provide valuable programming to all of Northeast Georgia. GPB has its roots in Athens - we signed on 50 years ago on the campus of the University of Georgia - so the circle is now complete as we begin this important new partnership."

The station was acquired in October 2008 to serve Northeast Georgia and to pose as a media laboratory for UGA students and faculty. It has faced financial problems since construction started on campus last fall and the station began broadcasting in January.

The fiscal 2010 operating expense for WNEG was $1.8 million, and with a projected annual revenue of $800,000 - covering the $786,000 in staffing salaries - the station took on about a $1 million deficit. Station operators proposed a variety of options, from maintaining status quo to shutting off programming and perhaps even selling the station.

Throughout the summer, the UGARF executive board, which funded the original $5 million grant to bring the Toccoa-based station to Athens, extended money to help it survive during a tough economy.

During a September meeting to extend dollars and help the station survive through October, UGA President Michael Adams said, "We have not had success with WNEG."

UGA officials announced the idea of forming a partnership with GPB at the September meeting and recently closed the deal.

"This is a significant improvement over that as we take it out of the commercial station arena and enter into the public TV arena where there will be significant opportunities between a university station and GPB,"
Massey said. "This is a step in the right direction, which will help it do what we aimed for early on. This takes it up a level."

Daily operations will fall under a director of television who will report to Jackson and GPB media's director.

The station will carry GPB Knowledge, an educational programming package that targets adult audiences. It features news, documentaries, current affairs and history programs, including PBS NewsHour, the Nightly Business Report, Scientific American Frontiers, American Experience and Charlie Rose.

UGA officials intend to add university-produced programs that cover research, performing arts and public affairs.
"The alliance with GPB Media will sustain the vision of UGA as a production center for arts, information and entertainment programming as outreach to Northeast Georgia and indeed the entire state," said E. Culpepper Clark, dean of UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which houses the operation.

"The value of the signal and associated digital spectrum will only increase over time, as will the educational value and opportunities for our students."



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