Sign with KPBS logo
Construction workers hang a sign with the new KPBS logo in 2019.

KPBS, San Diego’s Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio affiliate, is facing economic difficulty and resorting to employee layoffs and salary reductions amid COVID-19-related deficits in sponsorship and donation revenue.

Three jobs in the production, membership and development departments were recently eliminated among the 134-member staff. “No current news staff were laid off,” said Heather Milne Barger, KPBS director of communications. “The three eliminated positions were one-point-five union positions and one non-union position that was a director-management level position. Since the pandemic began, recruitments on four positions were cancelled and the decision was made not to backfill seven positions.”

Milne Barger told Times of San Diego that KPBS, facing a six-figure loss this fiscal year, already has shaved roughly $800,000 in expenses from its annual budget that can typically range between $20 million and $30 million in recent years, depending on revenue.

To no one’s surprise, she said morale is low at San Diego’s nonprofit public media outlet.

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“Understandably, moral is not good,” said Milne Barger. “These were difficult decisions and management has a lot of work to do moving forward.”

Tom Karlo, KPBS GM, said in a statement, “KPBS is not immune to what is happening to media organizations across the nation. Even though our audience numbers are up across TV, radio and digital, we have experienced a drop in key revenue areas including underwriting, membership and donor support. We are hopeful this will be a temporary change and that we will be able to weather the storm and bring back our staff to full-time.”

Since 2013, KPBS employees have been represented by the labor union SAG-AFTRA, which also represents public media professionals at KQED in San Francisco, KPCC in Pasadena and WNYC in New York.

Milne Barger said, “Representatives and designees of both the station and San Diego State University Research Foundation management have attended every single meeting that has been scheduled with the union and continue to meet with the union.”

KPBS has been publicly criticized for proceeding with a planned $3.2 million remodel of its media complex on the San Diego State University campus. Barger pushed back on the idea of pausing the building program to save jobs or avoid cuts in hours.

“KPBS has been long overdue in updating our facilities and technology,” she said. “We began the capital campaign five years ago as a quiet campaign. We were able to raise nearly the entire campaign amount prior to the pandemic, and finalized the project bidding process in 2019.

“Every one of our major donors signed gift and pledge agreements restricting the funds to the construction project. The capital campaign funds are completely separate from the operational fund. We are starting construction this summer and the money is already spent through SDSU on the construction company and the architect. What we would lose by stopping this project this late in the game is far greater than what we would gain, and would not help our finances at all.”

Earlier this year, NPR announced it was cutting executive pay by 10-to-25 percent while facing a budget shortfall of up to $53 million over the new two years. That calculation included an estimated sponsorship shortfall of $12 million to $15 million.

Milne Barger said additional staff reductions at KPBS are possible in the future, including pay cuts of up to 10 percent for senior managers.

Baseball Announcers Not Expected To Travel This Season, Will Call Games Remotely

When Major League Baseball resumes its coronavirus-shortened, 60-game 2020 season in late July, it’s likely that game-day TV and radio broadcasters will not travel to other cities for away games.

Padres announcers Don Orsillo (left) and Mark Grant
Padres announcers Don Orsillo (left) and Mark Grant

While home-game broadcasts this season are expected to air from a home team’s ballpark, just like any typical season, MLB sources have confirmed reports from multiple news outlets that teams are planning for play-by-play announcers to call road games remotely from either a local broadcast studio or home ballpark. So, games will be played with no fans in the stands and nobody in the visitors’ broadcast booth.

The location for broadcasters to call away games will be decided by ballclub officials or a regional sports network, sources told the Times of San Diego. Also, one centralized feed will be sent from the home broadcaster for away announcers to use as their guide.

The no-travel rule is based on health and safety protocols. Officials believe reducing the size of a team’s traveling party and limiting the number of people in a ballpark will lower the risk for spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Craig Hughner, San Diego Padres’ director of communications, declined to comment on the likelihood of Padres announcers calling road games without leaving San Diego and referred questions to MLB’s broadcasting department.

Ileana Peña, senior director of communications with MLB, responded to the Times of San Diego via e-mail: “We are firming up our protocols for gameday broadcasts for both home and road teams and can share when they are finalized.”

It’s possible that baseball game broadcasts this season also will include the addition of sounds effects fans are accustomed to hearing inside the stadium, including the roar of the crowd to enhance the listener experience.

Announcing an away baseball game from inside a studio using sound effects rather than in-person at a ballpark in other city was a regular practice a generation ago when play-by-play details were transmitted over Western Union teletype.

Before 1946, nearly all road MLB game broadcasts relied on Western Union in what was called “re-creations.” Minor league teams continued to use re-creations long after MLB teams abandoned them in the 1950s, according to “Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio,” a book by James Walker.

While Western Union had a monopoly of commercial telegraph service from 1851 to 1979, Walker said its charges for game information were fairly reasonable compared to AT&T voice line costs.

In San Diego, when the minor league Padres team played in the Pacific Coast League, prior to becoming a MLB team in 1969, most away games were called by TV sportscaster Al Coupee for several seasons.

Decades before Ronald Reagan was sworn in as America’s 40th president, he called hundreds of Chicago Cubs baseball games for WHO Radio while sitting in a studio in Des Moines, Iowa. In one famous instance, Reagan was forced to improvise during a Cubs-Cardinals game when his feed was lost. Not wanting to reveal to his audience what had occurred, he decided to stall for time by giving bogus accounts of foul ball after foul ball until the feed returned.

In his biography, Reagan wrote that while actually Augie Galan popped out on the first pitch, “Not in my game he didn’t. He popped out after practically making a career of foul balls.”

Big Bay Boom
Fireworks light up the downtown San Diego waterfront. Photo by Charlie Neuman and courtesy of the Port of San Diego

No fireworks? KSWB Fox 5 Will Air ‘Big Bay Boom’ Special on July 4th

If you miss attending outdoor fireworks on the Fourth of July, there’s always television.

KSWB-TV Fox 5 San Diego will fill a void starting at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, by airing “Big Bay Boom,” a one-hour, pre-recorded special featuring highlights of previous fireworks displays held on San Diego Bay.

This year’s popular fireworks show on the water would have been the 20th annual. It was cancelled in May because of state restrictions against large gatherings due to the coronavirus. The annual event typically draws an estimated crowd of 500,000 people.

The Fox 5 telecast, hosted by news anchors Kathleen Bade and Raoul Martinez, also will air on three other California TV stations owned by Nexstar Media Group. They include KTLA in Los Angeles, KRON in San Francisco and KTXL in Sacramento. However, the show is San Diego-centric featuring only Fox 5 talent and shot on location around San Diego County.

“Fox 5 is proud to partner with the Port of San Diego and televise this special edition of the Big Bay Boom across the state of California and showcase why San Diego is still, America’s Finest City,” said Scott Heath, Fox 5 VP and GM. “We’re happy to continue this long-standing tradition and help raise money for the Armed Services YMCA, while allowing viewers to enjoy fireworks from the safety of their homes.”

The first half-hour of the Big Bay Boom special will feature a salute to heroes with Bade and Martinez paying tribute to the many individuals who make America special. Also discussed will be how the Big Bay Boom has become the biggest fireworks show west of the Mississippi with a revisit of the 2012 so-called “Big Bay Bust,” when a computer glitch resulted in 7,000 fireworks launching in a 30-second period.

The second half-hour of the show will include a special national anthem performance from the iconic Star of India at the San Diego Maritime Museum followed by a showcase an extended encores from past Big Bay Boom 4th of July firework shows.

“The Big Bay Boom is the perfect platform to demonstrate how Fox 5 continues to adapt in an ever-changing landscape, seeking out opportunities to create original, local content for viewers and users in San Diego and throughout the state of California,” said Rich Goldner, news director at Fox 5 San Diego.

Report: Advertisers to Return in 3Q, Restart Rather Than Rebound

As the world reopens after the COVID-19 lockdown, advertisers will return to the marketplace with new strategies and high expectations in the third quarter and for the remainder of 2020, according to research firm Advertiser Perceptions. Advertisers are expecting to launch more new products in 2020 as they treat Q3 as a restart, rather than a rebound, said the firm that specializes in research-based business intelligence for the advertising, marketing and ad technology industries.

“The second half of 2020 will be a more dynamic advertising market than we’ve seen in many years,” said Justin Fromm, EVP of business intelligence at Advertiser Perceptions in a statement. “Advertisers are restarting in a crowded space with lots of moving parts, product launches, an election, and competitors trying to make up for lost time.”

Advertiser Perceptions conducted a survey in late May of 151 advertisers, consisting of 34 percent marketers and 66 percent agency executives.

The survey said about 90 percent of advertisers who had product launches scheduled for this year plan to execute them in the second half and more than half of advertisers plan to enhance Q3 spending, with 28 percent accelerating spending before the arrival of July.

The survey results were reported by Inside Radio, a broadcast news trade publication.

Rick Griffin
Rick Griffin

Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.