WABE-TV cutting back on PBS content to save money, adding more local shows

Rival GPB’s WGTV will continue to be a full-time PBS station.
Jennifer Dorian, president and CEO of WABE, which plans to return to part-time PBS station status starting July 1. (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Jennifer Dorian, president and CEO of WABE, which plans to return to part-time PBS station status starting July 1. (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

WABE has decided to change its TV station on Channel 30 from full-time PBS status to part-time, a return that is expected to save the media organization at least $900,000 a year.

The change will happen at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, said Jennifer Dorian, chief executive officer of WABE, at the quarterly board meeting Thursday at Atlanta headquarters.

The station will still carry PBS children’s programing during the day, “BBC News” at 6 p.m. and “PBS News Hour” at 7 p.m. But WABE will be limited to airing just 25% of PBS programming during prime-time.

Dorian said about half of the $900,000 in savings will be reinvested into developing local shows or buying outside programs to help fill those open time slots. WABE has agreements to air concerts and shows from the Atlanta Opera, the Atlanta Ballet and improv comedy troupe Dad’s Garage, among others.

The station is also set to debut a new show next month, “My Money Mentors,” which features two financial experts helping people manage their finances. She said WABE is trying to syndicate it to PBS stations nationwide in the fall. Other original shows already airing on WABE are “Sounds Like ATL,” “Atlanta on Film” and “(re)Defining History.”

WABE has been a full-time PBS station since 2018, giving it full access to all first-run PBS content.

In 2018, then-WABE Chief Executive Officer Wonya Lucas wanted to better compete with Georgia Public Broadcasting’s TV station, which has provided full PBS programming for decades. “There’s room for both of us in the market,” Lucas said at the time. GPB and WABE currently access the same prime-time PBS programs and their primetime lineups sometimes overlap.

Dorian, who took over WABE in 2021, said she has met several times with GPB chief executive officer Bert Wesley Huffman, who took over from Teya Ryan a year ago. “We are friendly,” she said. “He’s been a great partner. We see our visions are complementary. GPB has the national PBS feed and we are Atlanta focused. Everyone wins. Consumers will get more variety.”

Huffman said he is “supportive of this new focus. Public service is the heart of GPB’s mission and, ultimately, this new arrangement extends service opportunities for both GPB and WABE.”

A spokesman for national PBS confirmed the board approved the move earlier this year.

Over the years GPB’s Channel 8 has beaten WABE’s station in the ratings in metro Atlanta. In fact, a vast majority of WABE’s users access its news and entertainment through its radio station, app and podcasts. The TV station has never been its primary revenue driver.

WABE’s finances are currently under pressure. Both underwriting and individual donations are trending below budget targets this year, dipping an estimated $1.2 million below projections for the fiscal year, the station’s chief financial officer Samuel Delaney said at the board meeting.

The nonprofit organization has reduced costs a comparable amount and there is still hope, Delaney said, that WABE can break even when the fiscal year ends June 30, with revenue and costs at about $18.7 million.