BIB at a crossroads, organization says

Even as it offers more programming than ever, Bainbridge Island Broadcasting may go off the air.

The non-profit organization is seeking one-time funding of $105,000 from the city, to cover immediate equipment needs and some operating expenses over the next six months. Without relief, BIB officials say, the community access station will “cease to operate” as early as June.

“It’s expensive to have a media center – it costs money,” said Wendy Johnson, BIB executive director. “But despite the fact that there’s been no funding, all of this (studio and programming) has grown up.”

Of immediate concern for the station is the imminent departure of longtime cameraman, editor and technician Kit Spier.

Credited for creating programming, building BIB’s studio in Commodore Center and training volunteers, Spier is leaving to pursue his own productions. And when he goes, nearly half the station’s equipment – which Spier has allowed BIB to use on loan – goes with him.

“Kit has been BIB,” Johnson said.

Johnson presented the station’s needs to the city council’s finance committee Monday afternoon. Among the issues raised by chair Bill Knobloch and others was how the station’s capacity for community outreach complements the city’s web site. The committee will take up the issue in-depth at a special meeting next week.

Funds sought by BIB would cover purchase of four new digital cameras and a professional editing station. Several smaller editing stations are also sought, for use by community volunteers involved with the station.

Also, the 20-year-old BIB “readerboard” and programming computers would be replaced with contemporary equipment and software. By the end of the year, the station hopes to purchase and install a satellite downlink to bring in “relevant national programming” from non-profit sources.

Johnson said the organization has never received start-up funding or had stable operating revenue. BIB is eyeing some of the $246,000 in delinquent utility tax money recently disbursed to the city as part of the purchase by Comcast AT&T of the local Northland Cable television franchise.

City Finance Director Ralph Eells, though, said Monday that money has already been budgeted for other purposes.

BIB was formed for “educational and charitable purposes” in 1984, and was granted tax-exempt status two years later.

In 1996, it was designated the city’s official “PEG” station, offering a combination of public, educational and government programming. Under contract with the city, cablecast of Bainbridge Island City Council meetings began in 1997.

The station has operated in a scratch-built studio in the Commodore Center for the past year, with the space provided by the school district at no cost.

But the organization has tried to move beyond all-volunteer operations and into a new era of stable staffing and funding. Johnson signed on last year as the organization’s first full-time employee, while Scott Schultz – whose credits include programs for PBS and ESPN – was hired last month as production manager.

As a measure of the station’s value to the community, Johnson pointed to dramatic increases in programming.

A year ago, BIB offered an average of two hours, 45 minutes of original programming each week – mostly city council meetings. By last August, that was up to 4.1 hours per week; original programming has lately ballooned to more than eight hours per week.

A new business plan unveiled this week shows the station following the model of public television and other community PEG stations, bringing in sponsorships from local businesses.

“We need that,” Johnson said, “and we have high expectations for the community to participate.”

In fact, the organization hopes to raise another $35,000 in support from private sources before the end of the year.

The funding request comes as the city administration looks at ways to improve the quality of council broadcasts. Some have complained of the poor conditions for audio-visual work in the council chambers, including inconsistent overhead lighting.

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said this week she is proposing a $6,000 package of improvements, including equipment that would allow meetings to be shown live.

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