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Charlotte Observer: CPCC To Ask Public's Vision For WTVI

Charlotte's public television station can be expected to take on a new look as a result of its merger with Central Piedmont Community College, but it will come gradually. Local shows like "Trail of History," "Inside Jobs" and "Charlotte Cooks," already produced at CPCC's media center for its cable channel, are natural fits for WTVI (Channel 42) after the takeover in July. But before the college begins to consider new programming, it wants to hear from the community about what the station should look like. "We see this as an opportunity to create a new community television station," Jeff Lowrance, CPCC spokesman, said Wednesday. Focus groups and community meetings will probably be scheduled to hear ideas about what the station should be doing. County commissioners agreed late Tuesday to pay for transition costs and replacement of old equipment, clearing the way for the college to take over financially-troubled WTVI. Founded in 1965, the station faced the prospect of closing if commissioners would not cover transition costs. WTVI will continue to carry PBS programming and other local shows, Lowrance said. On Monday, two PBS executives - Joyce Herring, senior vice president for station services and Andrew Russell, senior vice president of strategy and research - came to Charlotte to talk to CPCC and WTVI about opportunities the college would have to contribute to the national system of public stations. WTVI's fiscal year ends June 30 and the college is hoping to have the federal broadcast license transferred by then. On July 1, the college would take over operations and begin to move its television production unit, which produces 10 franchise shows and programs cable channel 17, off its downtown campus to WTVI's studios off Commonwealth Avenue. CPCC offers some courses in videography and broadcast, including one in its drama department, and will be looking to expand that curriculum, college president Tony Zeiss told commissioners Tuesday night. WTVI's studios are expected to become a center for laboratory-type media courses. CPCC will become one of the few community colleges in the nation to operate a public TV station. Others include San Bernadino Community College in California, Brevard County Community College in Florida and Chicago Community Colleges. No decision has been made on how many jobs may be lost at WTVI after the takeover, but about a third of the station's budget goes to administrative costs. CPCC will absorb most of the administrative functions like bookkeeping and human resources. Commissioners approved $125,000 earmarked for severance and paying out accrued vacation time. WTVI has 16 fulltime and six part-time employees. Elsie Garner, WTVI's president, said that whatever money is left in the station's account will go to the college at the end of the fiscal year. WTVI's March fund-raising drive had raised $86,000 as of Wednesday toward a $100,000 goal with 10 days to go, she said. "We are delighted to preserve this license for the region," Garner said. "It would have been terribly embarrassing to be the 25th largest market in the country without its own PBS station. It is a community treasure."