When veteran newscaster Tom Morrison signs off for the last time this afternoon as anchor of TV30's "Live at 4" news, he'll bring to a close 20 years of regularly scheduled local news on the Tri-Valley's only community broadcast system.
Reminiscent of the last "Mary Tyler Moore" show years ago when Mary Richards, Ed Asner and Ted Knight tearfully turned out the lights at the fabled WJM newsroom for the last time--Morrison, TV30's news director Kevin Wing and their associates will do the same tonight as they leave their small Pleasanton production studio after the final "Live at 4" broadcast.
On the newscast, Morrison, who has broadcast the news since 1988, will be joined by his current co-anchor Melinda Meza, former co-anchor Michelle Soba and his long-time co-anchor Robin Fahr. Of the three, only Fahr will continue at the station as host of her own program, "Conversations."
Although other programs are being cut and five of the 12 full-time staff at TV30 are losing their jobs, the loss of the live news show and its staff are the most visible change viewers will notice as a result of a major expenditure cuts made earlier this month.
Faced with rising costs that have now topped the station's budget by a quarter-million-dollars two years in a row, the four mayors of the cities that control TV30's finances—--Jennifer Hosterman of Pleasanton, Janet Lockhart of Dublin, Marshall Kamena of Livermore and H. Abram Wilson of San Ramon—wrested control of the all-volunteer, independent board of directors last year to put a stop to run-away expenditures. Their action followed two years of hiring executive directors who deserve credit for bringing TV30 into the digital age with quality programming but who also spent far too much in making the improvements.
Twice—this year and last—the city councils of the four cities have had to dip into unbudgeted General Fund reserves to appropriate $250,000 to bail out the overspent station to meet the payroll and pay the bills. The mayors pledged to restore financial stability to the station and earlier this month adopted a $587,000 fiscal year budget that starts July 1, down from the estimated $880,193 that will be spent this fiscal year.
The new budget is balanced with expenditures equaling revenues, according to Joni Pattillo, assistant city manager of Dublin, whose city has oversight responsibilities for TV30 for this year and next under an agreement by the four cities to shift that duty every two years. Mayor Janet Lockhart of Dublin is also this year's board chairwoman, the city's Administrative Services Director Paul Rankin serves as treasurer of TV30 and Roger Bradley, the city's administrative analyst, has been named to manage the station following Kevin Wing's departure.
At the same time, the mayors created a new position for TV30—Business Manager/Executive Director—at a starting salary of $70,000-$80,000 annually. A search already is under way to fill this position.
The mayors also pledged to re-establish an independent, although city-approved and appointed board of directors and to consider reorganizing TV30 under a Joint Powers Agreement with the four cities in control. That could give TV30 more freedom in public fundraising and more commercial sponsorships.
The decision to shift the emphasis of TV30 programming back to its roots comes not only because of troubled finances but also after the mayors repeatedly objected to a news format that they felt had become partly irrelevant. In recent months, "Live at 4" has included weather and traffic updates and for a while a segment called "Buzz," that reported Hollywood and celebrity news.
Although the live weather and traffic reports were relevant at 4 p.m. when the live news show aired, the mayors said most viewers watched repeat broadcasts of the show later in the evening when those reports made no sense. They also objected to news reports from outside the Tri-Valley as well as programs that TV30 was purchasing from other public broadcast systems and then airing locally.
The new program format, which will be developed over the next few months, may make TV30 look more like the community broadcast station Darla Stevens founded in 1976 with public donations, hand-me-down video equipment and a largely all-volunteer team. Morrison joined TV30 in 1988 when the first live news show aired and for years his was the only live news being broadcast anywhere in the country among locally-operated community stations.
TV30 broadcasts on channels 30, with education and school board meetings shown on channel 28 and city council and city-related programs shown on channel 29. Those will continue.
The station receives approximately $430,000 each year from Comcast, which provides the channels free of charge under a license agreement with the four cities and a 50-cent fee it charges subscribers. Those fees are given to the cities and then passed through to TV30 to fund its operations. With that agreement expiring in several years and with the growing popularity of direct dish TV systems which do not carry TV30 programming, viewership has been static. A recent survey showed that few than half of those who could watch TV30 ever tune in.