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WTJX: FIND $4.6M IN NEXT 2 YEARS OR LOSE PUBLIC TV

May 24, 2001 – Two years from now, the territory's public television system will "go black" — cease to function — if it does not receive $4.6 million for conversion to federally mandated digital TV transmission.
Lori Elskoe, general manager of WTJX/Channel 12, told the Senate Finance Committee, meeting on St. Thomas Wednesday afternoon, that May of 2003 is the deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission for all of the nation's TV stations to be broadcast in digital format.
Elskoe said the capital improvements needed to make the conversion have been at a standstill because WTJX has not received any project funds for a decade. The station's Fiscal Year 2002 budget request includes the digital phase-in project, she said, adding, "Even if we didn't receive the full funding for capital, we would be elated to receive the $350,000 to purchase a new 240-foot tower and $780,542 to purchase a digital transmitter/antenna and accessories – a total of $1,130,542."
The station, a semi-governmental entity, has been asking for funding for digital-related projects for the last four fiscal years, Elskoe noted.
The transmitting tower is a revenue source for the station, she pointed out, and a new tower would allow the station to lease more air space. Figures supplied by Senate post auditor Maureen Rabsatt-Cullar show the current station, which is 29 years old and limited capacity, generated annual revenues of $ 119,280.
A new tower "would place us on the road to self sufficiency," Elskoe said. Channel 12 is applying for grants and is launching a "Buck Campaign" asking everyone in the territory to donate at least a dollar toward the station's survival.
One of Channel 12's major accomplishments in FY 2001, Elskoe said, was acquiring an FCC construction permit to build a digital television station, UHF Channel 44, ahead of larger stations, including some in the Puerto Rico area, also awaiting permits.
Digital TV will bring many benefits to the community, Elskoe told the senators. One is multi-casting, which will enable the station to transmit four programs simultaneously. "Today, if we are broadcasting a children's program, then we are not airing work force training or a college telecourse," she said. "DTV will enable us to share more of our wealth of educational and cultural resources."
Viewers will be able to download course materials or the transcript of a program such as "Newshour with Jim Leher" into their computers, she said.
Responding to questioning from Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Channel 12's program director, Marie Rhymer Martin, said the station is committed to producing more programming from St. Croix, a concern of the senator's.
Including the $4.6 for the digital conversion, Channel 12's FY 2002 budget request is $6.9 million. Hansen told Elskoe that she supports funding for the station, but "supporting funding for public television is not sufficient. We must be prepared to work to identify [sources for] the funding."
Nurse Licensure Board
The Finance Committee also heard from the V. I. Nurse Licensure Board regard its FY 2002 budget on Wednesday. Winifred La Garfield, board executive secretary, said it was requesting $180,301 for the coming year.
Hansen pointed out that the amount represents a drop from the board's FY 2001 appropriation, but Garfield said level is sufficient for the board to carry out its mandate.
The reduction in the cost was a result of the board's change in health insurance coverage to individual from family, post auditor Rabsatt-Cullar said in her analysis of the budget request.
The board's budget request raised no questions, but Hansen and Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole brought up a long-controversial issue: why the hospitals hire "traveling nurses" from off island, as opposed to hiring within from the territory. Garfield said she couldn't comment and referred the senators to Eugene Woods, chief executive office at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital.
Garfield and board member Lillian Gumbs did say, however, that the practice was an ongoing concern.
The Finance Committee will be continuing FY 2002 budget hearings with all government agencies and departments.
Attending Wednesday's meeting were all seven committee members: Hansen, Cole, Douglas Canton Jr., Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Norman Jn. Baptiste and Norma Pickard-Samuel.

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