Tucson’s public radio and television broadcaster is bracing for fallout from a $2 million funding cut being phased in by the University of Arizona starting next month.
Arizona Public Media, which operates radio station KUAZ and TV station KUAT from the campus, will see its annual income slashed by $400,000 starting July 1, with additional cuts each year until 2019.
Last school year, the UA provided $2.6 million in cash contributions to the public broadcaster, about one-quarter of its $11.7 million budget. The UA cash portion will drop to $600,0000 a year once the five-year phase-in for cuts is complete.
The UA also provides another $2 million or so a year in in-kind services such as human resources support and utilities, UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said. That support will continue, he said.
Chris Helms, chair of the broadcaster’s community advisory board, called the cuts “draconian” and said they will hamper the broadcaster’s ability to serve the public.
Layoffs will likely be necessary, and the quality of programming may suffer with fewer dollars available to purchase content, he said.
The broadcaster’s current TV offerings include local fare such as “The Desert Speaks” and popular PBS shows such as “Antiques Roadshow.” Radio programming includes local content as well as NPR shows such as “Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.”
Hundreds of thousands of locals tune into such programs, according to Arizona Public Media’s most recent annual report. For example, its PBS TV shows have more than 280,000 unique viewers per month, it said.
Helms has been contacting the broadcaster’s supporters to ask them to put pressure on the UA so the cuts can be avoided. He said those he’s heard back from are “furious” over the situation.
Sigurdson, a spokesman for UA President Ann Weaver Hart, said the cuts reflect “budget realities.”
The UA has sustained more than $180 million in state funding cuts since 2008. Many entities are having to carry more of their overhead costs to free up money for research and other UA needs, he said.
Phasing in the Arizona Public Media cuts over five years will buy the station time to find other sources of support, such as donations from viewers, listeners and program underwriters, he said.