Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's perceived attack on Big Bird was quite the topic of conversation nationwide Thursday, as well as in the WQPT offices in Moline.
"It's something that's part of your childhood. He's so iconic, of course you're going to react," WQPT interim general manager and chief development officer Jamie Lange said of the 8-foot-tall yellow feathered friend from "Sesame Street."
If the Quad-Cities PBS station lost its federal funding, that would be half its $1.2 million annual budget, she said.
"It is a huge impact for us," Ms. Lange said of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting support. Eliminating that funding would hurt WQPT more than many stations in larger cities, since it represents a larger share of the local budget, she said.
"It helps stations provide seed money for projects. All the local things that make us different from New York public TV or Wisconsin public TV would be eliminated first," Ms. Lange said. "Our goal is to have a local program every night on WQPT, and we've made huge strides."
In Wednesday's presidential debate, Mr. Romney said he would defund public broadcasting to help bring down the deficit, but added that he liked Big Bird. Social networks immediately responded, with participants posting spoof photos of Big Bird and other "Sesame Street" characters on Facebook and setting up parody Big Bird Twitter accounts.
Federal funding elimination, on top of state and federal reductions in recent years, especially would be crushing since local fundraising efforts and WQPT membership have been declining, Ms. Lange said. "To lose 50 percent all at once, we really would have to come up with a new funding source or we would be out of business."
The station is owned by Western Illinois University, but the school doesn't help fund its operating expenses. WIU does provide in-kind services such as office space and furnishings, payroll and human resources staffing, Ms. Lange said. WQPT has about 3,400 members, down from 4,000 in recent years.
"It doesn't occur to people. They take public TV for granted," Ms. Lange said. There are about 309,000 households in the Q-C station's viewing area. "If everybody gave us a dollar a year, that'd be a good step in the right direction," she said.
Federal support of PBS is $444 million this fiscal year -- roughly $1.35 for every U.S. citizen -- representing less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget. In an official statement Thursday, PBS said Mr. Romney "does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation."
"Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation's debt. Yet the loss to the American public would be devastating," it said.
In 2011, a national survey by the bipartisan research firms of Hart Research and American Viewpoint found that more than two-thirds of American voters oppose eliminating government funding of public broadcasting, with people across the political spectrum against such a cut.
Earlier this year, a Harris Interactive poll found Americans consider PBS the most trusted public institution and the second most valuable use of public funds, behind only national defense, for the ninth consecutive year.