Meet Your Mission
Fighting the Good Fight
BY TOM HURLEY
When Patty Starkey of KSPS in Spokane looked into a camera and implored
viewers to phone in a pledge 25 years ago, she was asking for a little extra “pin” money for station projects. By 1980, KSPS, and more than 300 other PBS stations, had attracted more than a million individual contributors and support from major corporations. Little did she realize that by 2006
individual contributions would be her station’s largest source of funding.
Public television was in its infancy and had a huge mission to fulfill — to provide the informational, educational, cultural and innovative programming that commercial networks wouldn’t. Born in the last days of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” the grand plan for public television in 1967 called for generous government funding and the old-fashioned notion of strong, local broadcasting stations.
Now the chief development officer of KSPS, Starkey still is responsible for bringing educational television to viewers in eastern Washington, but in vastly different political and media landscapes.
On a seemingly regular cycle from the late ’60s on, public television has run afoul of most GOP administrations that have accused PBS and its stations of left-leaning editorial content. Richard Nixon drew first blood when he threatened to pull all federal funding when PBS aired the Watergate Hearings. In his first State of the Union speech, Ronald Reagan said that citizens, rather than government, should fund the arts, including public television. In the ’90s Senate Majority Leader Newt Gingrich suggested that public television was unnecessary with the proliferation of new cable channels.
Yet polls conducted by groups of all political persuasions continually give public television high marks for balanced programming. The most recent Roper study says that Americans view public television as the nation’s most trusted institution.
Still, Starkey worries that the hundreds of cable channels available to her viewers are swamping her innovative programs.