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In 'the City by the Bay,' public TV pays its own way

Public television station KQED is almost hidden under a freeway ramp, but its broadcast beacon is shining with new luster.

Just two years ago the station was struggling financially, but today it's a thriving example of how to get along without federal largess.

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While dependence on Washington for annual budgets averages 27.3 percent nationally among public television stations, KQED currently receives only 14.8 percent of its funding from the federal government. Nationally, public TV stations average about 55 percent funding from all government sources (federal, state, local); the figure for the San -Francisco outlet is 15.7 percent.

Linda Cohen, director of development at KQED, says she knows of no other major public station that can cite figures so low.

Ms. Cohen explains that Reagan administration budget cutting has not yet affected allocations from the Public Broadcasting System, since funds are committed a year in advance. But significant cutbacks will be effective for the fiscal 1983 budget year beginning Oct. 1.

She expects KQED's federal allotment to drop by about 30 percent, from $1.3 million this year to $900,000. That $400,000 loss would not have much effect on the station's annual budget of about $20 million. Even so, says Ms. Cohen, it will probably be more than compensated for by increased membership giving and other measures the station management has taken to produce income.

Just how has the station achieved such a degree of independence from government funding? It stemmed from adversity, Ms. Cohen explains:

''A couple of years ago we got into some trouble. We had run for a couple of years with deficits - not anything anyone would consider horrendous for private industry, but a $100,000 deficit for a public broadcasting station seemed pretty bad to us.

''We didn't foresee any way to change that unless we became much more responsive to and involved in and dependent upon the local community. We spent a lot of time deciding wherein lay the future. The whole industry was going through major change - cable, direct satellite, etc. It became evident that the key for a local public station was its relationship to its local community. Therefore, the funds were going to have to come out of that community.''

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The station began a program to ''relate to our local base much more than before. . . . We have concentrated very, very heavily on our local audience, the needs of the community, and on our local funders.''

Thirty-two percent of KQED's fiscal 1982 budget is supplied by individual donations; the national average figure is 12 percent. Corporate funding for the station, says Ms. Cohen, is up 60 percent this year over the 1980 figure. Nationally, business and industry provide 10.3 percent of public TV funds; the KQED figure is 18.8 percent.

Local programming and local financial support are closely related, says Ms. Cohen. The fact that KQED is one of only five public TV stations with ''democratic'' government has little to do with it, she asserts. ''Members'' of KQED pay $35 a years ($15 for students and senior citizens). There are 140,000 local members, 7,000 of whom donate more than $100 a year.

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