Tuesday , December 11, 2018

Telling Your Story

“If you do the math, WTVI celebrates 50 years of service to this region in 2015. And that really is what public television is all about…it’s about service and commitment to a region,” says Amy Burkett, WTVI’s general manager and host of the “Carolina Impact” program.


“I’ve been in television for nearly 25 years so far,” says Burkett. “I spent nine years in commercial television, I spent 14 years at a public television station in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I’ve been at WTVI for about 16 months serving as the station’s general manager. And these 16 months have really been a pivotal time.


Community Service


WTVI, virtual channel 42 (VHF digital channel 11) and cable channel 4,5 or 9 in the Charlotte region, is a PBS member television station owned by Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC). It is the only public television station in North Carolina not operated by UNC-TV, and is one of three PBS member stations serving the Charlotte television market.


WTVI was originally owned by the Mecklenberg County Board of Education, first signing on the air in August 1965 as an instructional television station with programming meant to be viewed in classrooms. The WTVI call letters stood for tele, vision and information.


In 1982, WTVI’s license was transferred to an agency created by the school system and the county—the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Broadcasting Authority—turning the station into a community-owned entity. Mecklenburg County covered the debt on WTVI’s digital broadcasting equipment and maintains the station’s studios, located on Commonwealth Avenue in Charlotte.


For over two decades WTVI served the community’s needs, but beginning in 2004, revenues began to decline. The station cut back on more well-known PBS programs in favor of “alternative” shows, but after several years it was in trouble. By mid-June 2011, its long-term operation was questionable.


“Of course, after the economy went south in 2008, the ensuing years were challenging for nearly every broadcaster, including WTVI,” acknowledges Burkett.


She explains, “There’s no doubt that we faced some challenges. In a nutshell, WTVI was having a hard time meeting its budget and would have gone dark in 2012 had Central Piedmont not stepped in and acquired the license.”


Approved by the Federal Communications Commission, the acquisition of WTVI was completed by July 2012. As a result, WTVI became an educational licensee for the second time in its history and, at the time, one of seven full-time PBS member stations to be operated by a community college.


“Afterward, the former general manager retired, and CPCC conducted a national search for a replacement,” continues Burkett. “That’s where I came in. I was chosen to take the station in a little bit of a different direction. In the 16 months that I’ve been in the Charlotte region, I’ve totally enjoyed immersing into this community, because public television is, once again, all about service to the community.”


WTVI has since brought back familiar PBS shows such as Downton Abbey, Nova and Nature to the schedule. Among its original shows and documentaries are Carolina Business Review, Carolina Impact, Off the Record, Charlotte Cooks, Job Ready, International Success, and Trail of History.


It reaches more than 1.1 million households in its 13-county service area in both North and South Carolina.


Showing and Doing


“We recently developed a tagline,” says Burkett, “‘We tell your stories, in your community, because we’re your WTVI PBS Charlotte.’ And while you can watch a multitude of cable and satellite channels, along with other public broadcasting stations, there is only one public television station serving this 13-county region, and that’s WTVI.”


“For example, Beverly Dorn-Steele, our director of educational services and community engagement, does a terrific amount of outreach including the literacy programs that she advocates and participates in—and that’s not happening at the other stations because they aren’t located here.


“In addition, we’ve enhanced the educational role of the station. Last year, we launched our STEM Awards to recognize terrific teens and teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, which is a great collaboration with CPCC and their STEM Program. They were the judges and we put on the program. We were able to recognize young people in 11 different categories, and that was an honor.


“We want to help young people see that there are a lot of jobs out there that go unfilled. In fact, last year, over 600,000 STEM jobs went unfilled because students didn’t have the technical training that an educational institution such as CPCC offers. WTVI is also working with CPCC to create an associate’s degree program in digital media studies.


“We also launched a news magazine show called “Carolina Impact” last year,” continues Burkett, “that tells the stories of this region on a weekly basis. Each week, we’re focusing on the issues, people and places that impact this region, and that’s once again all about service. So what we’ve developed over the last 16 months is a service-to-success model. The greater we serve this region, the more support we receive, and together, we’re all more successful.


“PBS stands for public broadcasting system, so it’s not a network,” Burkett is quick to point out. “Whereas a major network affiliate will broadcast network programming at certain times on certain days, we have more flexibility to broadcast programming on our schedule.


“The 150 or so independent PBS affiliates across the country carry Nature, Nova, Antiques Roadshow and Downton Abbey, for example, but we have some freedom as to when we can air these PBS programs. And we are careful to differentiate our programming so that you aren’t watching the same programs as on the other public stations in the area.


“Five nights a week, “Burkett says, “our programming is very different than the other two public broadcasting stations in the Carolinas.”


See More Good Stuff, Really


Dorn-Steele, a 33-year veteran of WTVI, is accustomed to the spotlight as the host of WTVI’s “Ms. Beverly and Seemore Goodstuff.” But she’s also accustomed to lending her hand in the Charlotte community to provide passionate support for education.


Dorn-Steele explains, “I ended up here at WTVI quite by accident. I had applied to the school board in Charlotte, but my application got misfiled and sent to WTVI. So, they took a look at it and said, ‘Wow, she types over 120 words per minute!’ and called me up for an interview and I was hired as a receptionist.


“From there, I just worked my way up. I’ve learned everything from production to finance to promotions. Over time, I moved from the production side of things to the engagement and community outreach side of things.”


Burkette adds, “I like to call Beverly the queen of education. You know, she’s really entrenched and has spent the bulk of her time here in education and outreach.”


“One thing I like,” Dorn-Steele remarks, “is that, for me, every day is different. Some days, at least twice a week, I’ll be out in the community conducting workshops with childcare providers, educators and parents on how they can use the power of PBS kids programming in their curriculums. These workshops can range anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours in length.


“We also provide curriculum guides that center around specific themes. For example, we have a Curious George guide that deals with science, and we’ll conduct a workshop with science teachers that want to use Curious George in their curriculums. Also, all of our guides do meet the North Carolina CORE standard, so educators really embrace the use of public television.”


Dorn-Steele continues, “We also have adult programming and documentaries where we might have a preview screening and invite community members or a targeted organization. Then, we may have a dialogue or panel or special guest to engage the group to take action.


“This past summer we conducted the ‘Cyber Chase Summer Challenge,’ where kids around the country were challenged to come up with their own math games. WTVI worked with the Johnston YMCA, and they created three games, and two of those games came in first and second place in this national contest.”


“Our kids are smart in Charlotte!” remarks Burkett with obvious pride. “And they’re empowered to excel both locally and nationally because of their public media. As a result of the work that Beverly does here in the region, these kids were recognized nationally.


“Other television stations don’t have that kind of connection with people like we’re able to have here. In addition, Beverly worked with another young person who finished as a national finalist in the National Writer’s Contest.”


Beyond Public Broadcasting


Dorn-Steele and Burkett also discuss how they love the chance to connect with and empower Charlotte residents through their mission, which is to educate, inspire and entertain. They both believe the station goes above and beyond in its approach to providing such services.


Dorn-Steele says, “Another great example of the educational outreach that we’re involved in is the ‘Martha Speaks Reading Buddies’ project, where we partnered with one of the area’s lowest-ranking elementary schools to pair second and third graders with kindergarteners and first graders. ‘Martha Speaks’ is about a dog that swallows a can of alphabet soup, and when he speaks, he introduces a new vocabulary word.


“It just blew my mind, watching these kids after the show, especially on parents’ night. ‘Oh, I recognize that word. Do you want to hear me use it in a sentence?!’ It was phenomenal.”


Burkett follows up, “Community engagement is one of the things that powers public media, and we just love to be a part of it.”


Ultimately responsible for operations of the station, Burkett has an impressive array of experience on which to draw. “I have a background in a little bit of everything in television including programming, fundraising and production,” she says modestly.


She grew up a small Ohio town of fewer than 10,000 residents, with a passion for people and storytelling. “I couldn’t put it down,” she says. She attended Bowling Green State University and started right in the television news market with a goal of becoming a station manager someday.


“I learned how to do everything,” she remembers, including anchoring the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts.” She moved on to other positions in Greenville, N.C., and Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa., before ultimately landing in Charlotte. Along the way, she’s collected dozens of accolades and Emmys, plus a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.


“At WTVI, I also host our ‘Carolina Impact’ show while working on documentaries,” she says. Like Dorn-Steele, Burkett enjoys the variety of activities her job entails. “So, my day could start out with a budget meeting, I could go on a fundraising breakfast or luncheon, and follow it up by hosting an education summit,” she describes.


“I also serve as a board member on the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, so I’ve got a little bit of everything going on, but all of this allows me to get to know the Charlotte community and be a part of the fabric, which is what I love so much.”


WTVI also has significant offerings apart from public broadcasting. Burkett says, “Production services are a big part of what we do. People can hire their public television service for a commercial or for a video, for example.


“I don’t think anyone tells stories like your public television station,” touts Burkett with pride. “So, if you’re looking for something to put on your website to connect the dots, we’re available.


“We had the good fortune to partner with Charlotte Works and the Centralina Workforce Development Board last year to create some videos showing how STEM fields are important for young people. That was a great collaboration, producing stories that are posted on various websites that educate and inspire others as to where the jobs are for the future.


“We strive to provide unique, engaging, educational, and entertaining local programming. We also seek out unique talent within the Charlotte region. We want to tell the stories no one else is telling in a very in-depth, very informative, educational and engaging way.”


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Thank you, John Paul Galles