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VPR Testimony To House Committee On Energy And Technology

The following is prepared testimony by Scott Finn, president and CEO of Vermont Public Radio, to the Vermont House Committee on Energy and Technology on Friday, June 5, 2020. The Committee is making recommendations regarding disbursement of the federal appropriation through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. VPR was invited to seek reimbursement for educational programming and broadcasting expenses incurred due to the pandemic.
Chair Briglin, Vice Chair Sibilia and members of the House Energy and Technology Committee,

Thank you for giving VPR the opportunity to request reimbursement for the costs incurred and expected during the coronavirus crisis.

Since March, Vermont Public Radio has devoted its statewide radio broadcast network and online resources to provide free educational services and access to crucial health and safety information. We have done so at a great additional cost, even as our members and underwriters face severe challenges, threatening our main sources of revenue.

We’ve done this because too many of Vermont’s schoolchildren do not have access to a reliable internet connection, putting them at a major disadvantage with their peers. VPR’s broadcasts are freely accessible to most Vermonters through a radio in their car or home. Our programming also can be accessed through smartphones and home computers, both streaming and on-demand as a podcast.

At the request of the Agency of Education, VPR joined Vermont PBS in providing educational programming via broadcast, and it is our intention to continue to do so at least through this calendar year. In fact, we have plans to provide even more educational programming in the fall, and to enrich it with curricula that are aligned with the standards Vermont teachers and students strive to meet.

The centerpiece of our educational programs is But Why?, our program and podcast for curious kids. But Why has increased its digital and broadcast impact. Digitally, between March 1 and May 31, But Why had 1,836,700 downloads from 629,000 people. They were in 202 countries around the world. Here in Vermont, 7,343 people downloaded 22,122 episodes of But Why!

But Why also expanded its programming to produce seven hour-long educational broadcasts in cooperation with the Vermont Agency of Education, aired every Friday at 1 p.m. - including interviews with Jim Green,NASA's Chief Scientist, and a kids’ press conference with Governor Phil Scott. VPR has also partnered with the Agency of Education on a virtual prom, and is planning a virtual statewide graduation.

We are also planning additional educational programming and matching curricula, including:

In addition to our educational programming, VPR will continue to provide critical direct access to public information, such as the state’s coronavirus press conferences, through both our online and broadcast networks.
All of this service depends on maintaining VPR’s statewide broadcast reliability, as well as its free digital access. To meet the growing demand for our services and ensure universal access, VPR is having to immediately make needed replacements and repairs to key equipment, especially our largest transmitter sites, 107.9 FM on Mount Mansfield. Our Bennington transmitter requires an HVAC replacement to prevent overheating, and our Montpelier transmitter faces a deadline to move to another location.

Finally, VPR has been required to invest in new equipment to allow employees to work and broadcast from home. And now, we are needing to create more studio space so hosts and producers can safely do their jobs.

Detailed below is a budget outlining our request. I welcome your questions, and thank you for this opportunity.

Sincerely,

Scott Finn
President and CEO, Vermont Public Radio

Mount Mansfield transmitter replacement: $222,000
Failing transmitter must be replaced immediately to ensure ability to cover our largest service area

Bennington Transmitter Site HVAC: $16,000
To address heat-related failures in equipment and outages

Montpelier Translators Relocation: $54,000
To meet deadline to move Montpelier translators to new location to maintain reliable coverage

Increased Streaming Capacity: $8,000
Adds ability to handle surge in online listeners due to coronavirus

Remote Computer and Recording Equipment: $12,000
Laptops to enable reporters, hosts, and support personnel to remotely broadcast and work on key programs

Add Live Control Room Capacity To Studio: $30,000
Adds ability to have programs hosted in a safely distanced environment

Personnel Support: $157,000
For increased workloads and hours of key personnel supporting new VPR workflows, such as 50 percent of Studio Broadcast Engineer's time support Covid-19 programming remote production.

Curriculum Specialist (Contract): $100,000
To create curriculum for broadcast and on-demand programming across several shows

But Why Executive Producer, Senior Producer, Assistant: $175,000
Increased costs to cover broadcasting episodes, repurposing existing episodes and other educational outreach

Brave Little State Programs/Curriculum: $50,000
Increased costs to cover new episodes, repurposing existing episodes and other educational outreach

Fairbanks Museum Astronomy Module: $50,000
Increased costs to cover new episodes, repurposing existing episodes and other educational outreach

Total: $874,000