WEIU (03/17/17)

The digital production unit vehicle is pictured outside of Buzzard Hall at Eastern Illinois University, which is where programs like 'WEIU News Watch' are developed. 

CHARLESTON -- The mystery of the WEIU broadcast station’s status in the Federal Communication Commission's auction that started last year has lifted, and it has been revealed that the station’s frequency was not auctioned.

The FCC auction, which gave broadcast stations across the country the opportunity to sell their frequency in order to make room for more cell and wifi signals in the higher frequencies, is in its final stages.

And Jack Neal, WEIU-TV General Manager, said while Eastern did enter, WEIU’s frequency has not been auctioned.

As previously reported, the FCC only needs a certain amount of the frequency spectrum for the cell and WiFi signals and will be very selective as to which frequencies they might want.

Neal has said WEIU has a good high-frequency channel, but is geographically not as favorable as a station in New York City, for instance.

Because the station’s frequency was not auctioned, WEIU will be dropped to a lower frequency, however, Neal said there will likely not be a noticeable difference for viewers.

“When this finally happens and things are completed a few years down the road, viewers will have to hit the 'scan' button on their TV once,” Neal said. "It will essentially be invisible (to viewers)."

Despite this, the station’s future is still uncertain because of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget plan, which seeks to eliminate funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that funds local public broadcast and radio stations like WEIU.

CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in the 60’s that formed PBS and NPR shortly after.

Neal said should this proposed budget item pass, it would “destroy public television” like WEIU. Neal said there would be no way to replace the federal funding the station gets, and everything would likely be shut down.

Upon hearing about Trump’s plan, Neal said it was disheartening.

“When you take a serious look at it, we do return (in terms of value) way more than we cost,” Neal said.

Neal said the station serves the community, and without the station, he questions how local stories will be told like, for example in their series “This Is Our Story,” which covered cities in the area such as Charleston and Mattoon.

He said WEIU shows local programming that simply would not be broadcasted otherwise.

However, Neal was not surprised when hearing the news of the potential elimination. He said public media has seen scrutiny before from politicians seeking to eliminate funding to the non-profit before. He said it is fairly common for CPB get targeted, but he does not see the value of eliminating funding.

“For some reason, public media has become a bit of a political football,” he said.

CPB makes up a small fraction of federal government spending. According to the CPB, it costs an individual taxpayer $1.35 per year in taxes to fund the non-profit. PBS states that for every $100 of federal spending, 1 penny is spent on public broadcasting.

“It is a drop in the ocean,” Neal said.

PBS also stated, as a part of their statement to the potential elimination, that 73 percent of voters are against eliminating federal funding for public television. Republicans are reportedly against by a 2 to 1 margin, according to PBS.

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Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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