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The Maine Public Broadcasting Network (abbreviated MPBN) is a television and radio broadcasting network located in the state of Mainemarker in the United Statesmarker. It is operated by the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation, which holds the licenses for all the PBS and NPR stations licensed in the state. MPBN has studios and offices in Portlandmarker, Lewistonmarker and Bangormarker.

MPBN's television network shows a block of PBS Kids, PBS, and PBS Kids GO! shows as well as many documentaries including nature programs and other science programs. MPBN's radio network airs news and talk programming from NPR, locally-producd news programming, jazz and classical music.

MPBN's television and radio signals reach virtually all of the populated portions of Maine, and adjoining parts of New Hampshiremarker, Massachusettsmarker and New Brunswickmarker. MPBN's television network is also carried on cable in most of New Brunswick.

History

What is now MPBN dates from the 1992 merger of WCBB-TV, the flagship PBS member station for most of southern Maine, with the original MPBN radio and television network operated by the University of Mainemarker.

On November 13 1961, WCBB-TV signed on from Lewistonmarker as the first educational television station in Maine. It was a combined venture of Colby Collegemarker, Bates Collegemarker, and Bowdoin Collegemarker. Two years later, WMEB-TV signed on from UMaine's campus in Oronomarker, near Bangormarker. Over the next decade, UMaine signed on three other stations across the state, as well as several translators. These stations formed the original MPBN television network. One of these stations was WMEA-TV in Biddefordmarker, near Portland; however, its over-the-air signal barely covered the northern portion of the market. WMEA was the flagship station for the now-defunct Maine Public Television Plus, a secondary PBS service launched in the mid-1990s. UMaine brought public radio to the state in 1970, when WMEH signed on from Bangor. Five other stations signed on over the next decade.

As part of the merger, all of the stations' licenses were transferred to a new community-owned entity, the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation. The television stations adopted the on-air name "Maine Public Television," but dropped this in favor of "Maine PBS" in 1998. The radio stations became known as "Maine Public Radio." In 2006, they reverted to the "MPBN" moniker.

Controversy

In the course of 24 months in 2000 and 2001, longtime classical music hosts Victor Hathaway, Virgil Bissett, Helen York and Dave Bunker left the station. Bissett retired, Bunker moved to southern Maine after his wife gained employment there. Despite Bunker's willingness to continue his popular morning music show from the Portland studios of MPBN, he was let go and Leitha Christie hired in his place. York resigned in protest.

The live Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoons, which had been a mainstay of classical music broadcasting for more than twenty years, was discontinued. Despite Maine Public Broadcasting's claims that the opera was being dropped due to lack of popularity among listeners, a citizens' protest forced the network to reinstate the Saturday afternoon opera after a few months.

In May 2005, Maine Public Broadcasting joined a few other PBS stations in showing the controversial "Sugartime!" episode of Postcards from Buster. The program is about a cartoon rabbit named Buster Baxter, who travels the country with his father and interacts with children from different cultures and in different family structures. PBS headquarters had pulled the episode from its national broadcast schedule after receiving a critical letter from newly-installed Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who was upset that Buster was visiting a Vermontmarker family headed by two women. WGBHmarker, the Boston-based PBS affiliate and original producer of the program, subsequently made the episode available to stations that still wished to air it on an individual basis.

Maine humorist Robert Skoglund, a.k.a. The Humble Farmer, host of a weekly jazz and humor program of the same name on MPBN since 1978, aired comments in 2003 pointed at the Republican administration under President George W. Bush. Without citing Bush by name, Skogland compared Bush to Adolf Hitler (and, in a later program, Mussolini). As a result, he was verbally admonished for violating the station's political neutrality guidelines which Skoglund signed and pledged to observe in 1992. Later, in violation of those 1992 guidelines, Skoglund submitted a pre-recorded program for broadcast on November 3, 2007, in which he read a letter on-air that advocated a "no" vote on a the controversial Taxpayer Bill of Rights referendum question due before Maine voters four days later. MPBN reacted to the latter by not airing the program, claiming that it also violated the station's political neutrality guidelines. Skoglund protested by going silent - limiting his vocal utterances during the program to one or two identifications of songs or musicians. After two weeks of Skoglund's silence, MPBN VP for Programming, Charles Beck, sent Skoglund a letter telling him that politicizing a program MPBN kept on the air for its jazz and humor content would lead to the show's cancellation if such attempts continued. MPBN then crafted written guidelines for every member of the on-air staff, asking each to indicate with a signature his or her acceptance of MPBN directives with regard to keeping politically charged content out of local entertainment programming and not using the public's airwaves to further their own personal political agendas. Skoglund, who had signed the 1992 guidelines, refused to sign the updated and tightened guidelines. He is quoted on a pro-Skoglund web site as having no recollection of the 1992 guidelines and attributes his removal from the air as being related to "get out the vote" calls he made on behalf of Democrats, which MPBN did not and does not object to.

Transmitter shutdowns

In December 2008, due to the economic crisis and lack of governmental funding, MPBN announced plans on temporarily closing down WMED-TV and -FM in Calais, and WMEF FM in Fort Kent, for at least six months, beginning January 2009. In addition, MPBN's radio and television stations would leave the air for five hours each night, as an energy saving measure. However, many viewers and listeners complained to MPBN for their actions. Another concern is for MPBN's role as the state's primary carrier for the Emergency Alert System, which will be hampered during the times it is not on the air, as well as in areas where aerial service has been discontinued.

In part of the response from viewers and listeners in the affected regions, MPBN delayed their closures until February 28, 2009, at earliest. On February 12, 2009, MPBN officially rescinded plans to close down the transmitters, after responses from its viewers and listeners, as well as stakeholders, legislators, and Governor Baldacci.

Television stations

MPBN operates 5 full-power television stations:
Station City of license
(other cities served)
Channels
(Digital)
First air date Call letters’
meaning
ERP
(Digital)
HAAT
(Digital)
Facility ID Transmitter Coordinates
WCBB 10.1 Augustamarker
(Portlandmarker)
10 (VHF) November 13, 1961 Colbymarker
Batesmarker
Bowdoinmarker (original owners)

29.7 kW 304 m 39659
WMEB-TV 12.1 (flagship) Oronomarker
(Bangormarker)
9 (VHF) September 23, 1963 Maine
Educational
Broadcasting

15 kW 375 m 39648
WMEM-TV 10.1 Presque Islemarker 10 (VHF) February 17, 1964 Maine
Educational
M

14.5 kW 353 m 39662
WMED-TV 13.1 Calaismarker 10 (VHF) September 15, 1965 Maine
Educational
D

3.5 kW 134 m 39649
WMEA-TV1 26.1 Biddefordmarker (Portlandmarker) 45 (UHF) March 15, 1975 Maine
Educational
A

50 kW 231 m 39656
Notes:
  • 1. WMEA-TV used the callsign WMEG-TV from its 1975 sign-on until 1984.
  • 2. All main MPBN stations shut down their analog signals on January 11, 2009, over a month ahead of the original February 17 transition date, causing many of MPTN's viewers to lose the signal.


MPBN also operates 4 translator stations:
Station Analog Channel City
W04BH 4 Allagashmarker
W04BS 4 Bethelmarker
W03AM 3 Harrisonmarker
W04AY 4 St. Francismarker


MPBN's digital channels are multiplexed:Digital channels
Channel Programming
XX.1 Main MPBN programming
XX.2 MPBN HD


Radio stations

MPBN operates 7 radio transmitters:
Station Frequency Class City Founded Facility ID
WMEA 90.1 C Portlandmarker April 1974 39655
WMEP 90.5 B Camdenmarker February 4, 2002 92566
WMEW 91.3 A Watervillemarker August 30, 1984 39645
WMEH 90.9 B Bangormarker 1970 39650
WMED 89.7 C2 Calaismarker June 22, 1984 39646
WMEM 106.1 C Presque Islemarker 1978 39661
WMEF 106.5 C3 Fort Kentmarker September 15, 1994 39653


References

  1. Briefs on WCBB-MPBN merger from Current
  2. Looking back. (Lewiston) Sun-Journal, 2006-09-13
  3. 1963 in History
  4. Post to the Host from Prairie Home Companion and American Public Media
  5. MPBN: "Listeners React To MPBN Cutbacks", 12/19/2008.
  6. MPBN press release, "MPBN to Delay Planned Transmitters Closures in Fort Kent, Calais", 1/6/2009.
  7. MPBN press release: "MPBN Works to Avert Transmitter Shutdowns", 2/12/2009.
  8. Maine Today/Portland Press Herald: "MPBN going all digital early", 12/10/2008
  9. Growing pains: MPBN takes hit for digital TV switch, Eric Russell, Bangor Daily News, January 19, 2009
  10. Exact dates reflect the date on which the FCC issued a license for the station. The station will normally have been operating under program test authority for some months prior.
  11. File number BLED-20011113ABV.


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