CHARLESTON – West Virginia Public Broadcasting – the organization tasked with “telling the story of West Virginia” – faces many challenges, but the leaders of the organization and the state council that oversees it have intention to face them headlong.
Butch Antolini, the new acting executive director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, likened the organization to an “octopus” when he briefed the eight members of the Educational Broadcasting Authority during its quarterly meeting Wednesday morning at the Culture Center in Charleston. The EBA hired Antolini in October.
âThe operation is multi-faceted,â Antolini said after spending six weeks getting to know WVPB employees and inspecting multiple offices across the state. âI worked to wrap my arms around this octopus if you will. And I am excited about the opportunity.
Antolini is the former director of communications for Governor Jim Justice and served former Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick in a similar role. Before turning to government communications, Antolini was Managing Director and Executive Director of Beckley Newspapers, publishers of the Beckley Register-Herald. He also has a long history as the head of newsrooms across the state.
Antolini, in an interview after Wednesday’s meeting, said his past experience in government and news was helpful in his new role, but that he continues to learn everything WVPB does.
âIt’s a big job, and it’s a challenge, because there are so many different facets of the operation that you have to learn,â he said.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting consists of three TV stations and 12 FM radio stations, as well as several digital channels available on most cable networks. WVPB has been a mainstay of the state for over 50 years.
WVPB features an award-winning news division; popular programs, such as West Virginia Morning, Appalachia Today, Us and Them, and The Legislature Today; the internationally renowned live music program Mountain Stage, with new host Kathy Mattea; and numerous radio, television and documentary shows.
Its main objective is educational programming, which it carries out in cooperation with the State Ministry of Education and the Higher Education Policy Commission. This includes Education Station, a video program that helps supplement regular coursework for students; the program Read for recording; and documentaries, such as a recent report on the Communities at School program.
Antolini said he wanted WVPB to focus more on its core educational mission, including bringing back the Homework Hotline, a service that helps students answer questions about homework. The program was discontinued over a decade ago.
âI can tell you today that we are exploring re-establishing this program, and we will speak with our partners at the West Virginia Department of Education to get it on the fast track,â Antolini said. âWhile the COVID-19 pandemic has taught school children one thing, it has made it clear that we need to effectively connect with our school children and help them in any way we can. Helping them with their homework is a great way to accomplish this goal.
To achieve this goal, WVPB urgently needs to recruit staff. Antolini said there were 10 vacant positions at WVPB, including a director of education. As of Wednesday, there is only one part-time staff member in the education division. Some of the other vacancies include Digital Content Director and Webmaster, State Journalist and Chief Engineer positions.
Current Chief Engineer David McClanahan is retiring after working for WVPB since 2013. Antolini said one of the main issues WVPB faces is the age of its towers and tower equipment throughout. the state. Not only do the towers help transmit radio and television signals, but the towers also serve national and local emergency services.
âWe have made many important improvements, but there is still a lot of work to be done,â said Antolini. âYou also have to figure out how you are going to maintain the buildings and the security around the sites and just general maintenance. We have a lot of work to do in this area.
The Federal Communications Commission reimburses WVPB for improvements to the towers. The EBA could also see part of the state’s share of the $ 1.9 trillion US bailout and the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure investment and jobs act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF). Both bills include funding for broadband infrastructure projects, including fixed wireless connectivity.
“We will definitely look at where we can get the funds to help us do that, because it is essential,” said Antolini.
Although independent, the WVPB receives the majority of its funding – 37% – from state taxpayers through the general revenue budget. Another 26% of WVPB’s funding comes from fundraising.
To this end, WVPB is supported by two groups: the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation and the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The foundation handles major donations, grants and awards, while the Friends of the WVPB handles annual membership donations. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting also provides grants to WVPB, as well as other federal sources and private philanthropy.
âThere’s a lot of relationship building with that,â Antolini said. âYou can see one, but you usually don’t see two that help support what we’re doing. “
The ABE is the board of directors made up of members appointed by the governor and non-voting members, such as public education and higher education officials. Five of the eight members of the Educational Broadcasting Authority have been appointed in the past six months by the courts.
New appointees include Huntington attorney Stephen Taylor Hood, former Beckley Register-Herald editor Frank D. Wood, lobbyist and broadcaster Tom Susman, Charleston lobbyist Danielle Waltz and Republican political consultant Greg Thomas. The appointment of Thomas and Waltz over the summer has sparked the most controversy, especially among Democratic lawmakers.
Waltz is a long-time lawyer for the new Intermediate Court of Appeals, long sought after by the West Virginia and US Chamber of Commerce groups she lobbies for, according to the Virginia Ethics Commission- Western. Waltz is also lobbying for EdChoice, a pro-charter school group. West Virginia expanded its public charter school pilot project in the last legislative session, with the first charter schools approved last month and slated to start next year.
Thomas, also a registered lobbyist, has advised several state and federal lawmakers during their re-election campaigns, as well as the Republican caucus in the state Senate. Thomas used his social media to criticize reporting, including by WVPB, something Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin D-Greenbrier asked him during his confirmation hearing on June 24.
“I look at your social networks and I don’t think you like them very much,” Baldwin told Thomas during questioning, citing examples of Thomas’ social networks. âWhy do you want to be part of the EBA if you can’t stand the media? “
âTaxpayers have the right to have a voice on the board of something that uses taxpayers’ money,â Thomas replied. âHe certainly has a mission that is important, and I can’t wait to learn more about what they do and how they do it. Hope we can improve it.
The EBA’s hiring of Antolini has also come under criticism in some quarters. Antolini replaces Chuck Roberts as executive director of WVPB after Roberts was sacked by the EBA in October. Roberts, who came from the production division of WVPB, was promoted from chief operating officer to executive director at the end of 2018, replacing Scott Finn, who left to run the Vermont public broadcaster.
Antolini served as Director of Communications for most of Justice’s first term, although most of the Director of Communications duties began to fall to current Director of Communications Jordan Damron in 2018 and 2019. Antolini has worked behind the scenes. from the communications center of the executive branch to the headquarters of the Ministry of Commerce in Building 3 on the grounds of the Capitol Complex. He left that role in March of this year.
The hub provides press release writing, video production and other promotional materials for state agencies. Between 2018 and 2020, Antolini’s salary increased 7.6%, from $ 101,195 to $ 108,910.
âWe had set up a communication center there through the governor’s office, and I was transferred to building 3, where I worked on different projects for the Ministry of Transport and for the Ministry of Commerce,â Antolini said. . âThere were a lot of videos going on and then various versions coming out every now and then. “
Bill File, the president of the EBA, praised Antolini at Wednesday’s meeting.
âThank you for accepting this challenge,â File said. âI think you are off to a good start and we really appreciate the effort you put in. “
As for the future, Antolini would like to drop the interim in his title, intending to apply for the post of Executive Director when the EBA announces the opening.
âIf the good Lord bless me with health, I would love to be at West Virginia Public Broadcasting for the next decade and see what happens after that,â Antolini said. âIf I’m there for a decade I’m obviously doing the job right. “
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]