01/13/14 — County radio broadcast urged

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County radio broadcast urged

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 13, 2014 1:46 PM

Wayne County should continue paying a local radio station to air county commissioners' meetings because some residents still lack a computer or cable TV necessary to watch county-generated broadcasts of the sessions.

That is the argument Commissioners Steve Keen, Ray Mayo and Bill Pate put forth last week to lobby fellow commissioners to take another look at the county's contract with WGBR that expired Dec. 31.

Mayo's motion to table the issue until the board's Jan. 21 meeting to allow time to attempt to negotiate pricing at the level the county was paying, or less, was unanimously approved.

Commissioners devoted about 30 minutes of their Tuesday meeting to the contract after Barbara Arntsen, the county's public information officer, recommended that it not be renewed.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery said he supported the recommendation, and that any savings could be used to offset some other costs.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said the radio station has the same opportunity as the newspaper to send a reporter to cover the board meetings.

"The six-month contract was for just airing board meetings," Ms. Arntsen said. "Public affairs provides technical support for the meetings, the station simply provides airtime. The cost was around $950 a month or about $4,875 for the six months.

"No other government entity is spending thousands of dollars to air meetings on a radio station, and we believe the time has come to end the practice for Wayne County."

She noted that the station aired only the portion of the meetings between 9 a.m. and noon even though most of the board meetings over the past year have lasted well into the afternoon. It did not air the 8 a.m. agenda briefing, nor any special meetings or work sessions, she said.

Mayo said several farmers have told him they listen to the meetings while on their tractors working in the field. People who sell farm implements listen as well when they are in the county, he said.

Also, people at work who do not have an additional computer on which to watch the meeting can listen in on radio, he said.

WGBR is part of a large well-established company, with "huge assets" and "can get the job done," Keen said.

He agreed with Mayo that farmers out working in the field have a "right to hear" the meetings.

"I think it would be a disservice to the agriculture in this county to have them not to be able to listen to the business of this county on the radio," he said.

Pate said that while the meetings are televised that the county still has many people who do not have computers and access to broadband Internet.

"I think this has been an invaluable service to those people who don't have a laptop, or tablet or iPad," he said. "I am thinking that we still need to continue this coverage."

Another issue is the lack of cable television coverage in the northern part of the county, Mayo said. Chairman Wayne Aycock said he lives in the "northern end" and receives cable TV.

"We have pretty good coverage over the county now," he said.

Mayo said he had cable TV in Pikeville, but areas near Fremont, Eureka and along N.C. 222 do not.

"Back when we went through the budget process in June we were paying WGBR, over the last five or six years, around $35,000 (annually) and we cut it to $20,000," Ms. Arntsen said. "That meant a renegotiation of what they were supplying for us."

Keen said station manager Bill Johnston had approached him at a local pharmacy and that they talked about the station. Keen said he told Johnston he felt that the contract was too high and needed to be adjusted.

Johnston met with Ms. Arntsen and came up with the cost for six months at a reduced price, he said.

The contract did not include all of the things the county had before, and it was decided to review the contract at the end of six months to determine whether it would continue, she said.

Ms. Arntsen said one reason for the review is that she knew the county would be streaming the meetings live on the Internet. The meetings also are available on the website and YouTube after they are over, she said.

Also, the radio interviews that often took place in mid-morning were "streamlined" to include only early morning interviews since the station was broadcasting more network programing later in the morning.

The station did give some additional 30- and 60-second spots throughout the day.

"We believe the county can get enough spot coverage through public service announcements which do not cost anything," she said.

At the same time the county now operates a television station and can produce and air interviews, meetings and informational spots, she said.