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Funding keeps WNEG-TV running through October
Budget amendment is last one as station looks to work with GPB
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The WNEG-TV station at the University of Georgia has reached the end of its funding stream.

The full University of Georgia Research Foundation board voted Thursday to amend the budget one last time and include the final $111,216 remaining from the $5.8 million granted in 2008 to last five years. This will carry the station through October and possibly November.

Throughout the summer, the executive committee of UGARF Media Holdings, which funded the original grant to bring the Toccoa-based station to Athens, extended money to help it survive during a tough economy.

"In retrospect, if we had known where the economy was going, we might have done some things differently," UGA President Michael Adams told the board Thursday. "This has probably been the toughest 24 months for media properties, certainly since the Great Depression."

Despite success with overall fundraising efforts for UGA, "we have not had success with WNEG," Adams said.

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.

The station has faced financial problems since construction started in the basement of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication last fall and opened its door in January. Station operators have proposed a variety of options, from maintaining status quo to shutting off programming and possibly even selling the station.

One of the latest ideas? Form a partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting, moving from the commercial, profit-making TV operation to become part of the state's network of public television stations. UGA officials still want to focus on keeping it as a partial laboratory for students.

Brokers have approached university officials to sell the station's license, but administrators agreed they want to pursue the public TV path with GPB for now, said Tom Landrum, senior vice president for external affairs.

"Nothing has yet been signed, nothing has been agreed," he said. " ... It is not a done deal, but it looks promising."

At the end of June, just days before fiscal year 2011 began, the UGARF executive committee approved a budget amendment to help the station survive for the next two months. At the end of August, the group extended funds for another month. Thursday marked the final extension of funding for operations.

WNEG will continue to operate as it does now. The final budget amendment will carry WNEG past October, but not far after that, said Tim Burgess, senior vice president for finance and administration. Any additional funding for the transition with GPB, tentatively slated for early 2011, will not come from state funding but from discretionary funds marked for academic programs.

Negotiations with GPB started a few months ago, and there aren't many barriers left, he said. "It's not just a crazy idea," Burgess said.