WQEX-TV is gasping for air time

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

If it means putting up with more pledge breaks, then it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for resuscitating Pittsburgh's poor little stepchild of public broadcasting.

Pittsburgh Educational Television last week mounted its latest offensive for the continued existence of WQEX-TV. The community group unveiled a business plan for operating Channel 16 should it successfully wrest control of its federal license from WQEX's parent, WQED-TV.

WQEX has operated more as a concept than a station since 1997, when WQED began simulcasting its own programming on the channel. WQED is attempting to get WQEX's license changed from educational to commercial, so its stepchild can be sold for $20 million to Texas broadcaster and Pittsburgh native Diane Sutter.

PET estimates reactivating WQEX would cost $2 million, with another $1.2 million needed to operate it during the first year. The organization thinks the $3.2 million could be raised through donations, a position I frankly find unrealistic.

But according to international standards first established at a Geneva summit in 1969, metro columnists must include tangible elements of objectivity or fairness at least once every seventh column.

Gosh darn it, I haven't done that in the past six columns. And since those standards recently were reaffirmed at a columnist conference in Malta, we will now hear from someone who believes a resurrected WQEX could be financially viable.

"Nobody said it would be easy, but it's not impossible. It's been done before in other cities," asserted Robert Bellamy, a Duquesne University communications professor.

He suggested the money to revive WQEX could come from a variety of sources, including the federal and state governments, private foundations and even independent filmmakers. But WQEX would be competing with WQED for much of this money.

And, of course, WQED would have the edge when it comes to pledge breaks - the annoying programming interruptions in which viewers who lack the ambition to change the channel are relentlessly bombarded with donation requests.

WQED can barter such souvenirs as Mr. Rogers slipper deodorizers or Sesame Street Elmo electrolysis kits for significant donations. Lacking these items from the PBS marquee players, WQEX pledge breaks likely would come up lacking.

("Learned people, without your financial support, we wouldn't be able to air this riveting documentary you've been watching on the language challenges facing migrant farm workers. Without your assistance, programs such as "Lingo de Gringos" would not find the audience they so richly deserve.

"That's why we're asking you to contribute, and that's why we're making it worth your while if you do. For a pledge of just $100, you'll receive this nifty Falun Gong coffee mug. Make it $200 and we'll include this special comic book commemorating the history of the California labor movement. You'll be the envy of your friends with this baby.")

With hundreds of viewing options in today's cable and satellite universe, it seems unwise to try to raise millions for a channel that couldn't offer much more than what is already available.

Except for more of those interminable pledge breaks.

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