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PBS board elects local public television head

There's a new sheriff in the town--at least in the town where the national Public Broadcasting System board of directors meet. PBS announced the inclusion of an Idaho member to their board of directors last month. Peter Morrill, general manager of Idaho Public Television, has begun his three-year term on the PBS board and says he's quite excited about serving. "It's going to be a kick." Morrill has been working for IPTV since 1979, when he initially served as a director/videographer. In 1986, he took a couple years off to work for a PBS station at the University of Florida, but returned to Idaho and would later hold IPTV's reigns as executive director. Morrill, a respected pioneer for Idaho public television, has created such well-known programs as "Outdoor Idaho" and "Idaho Reports." Though Morrill will be an official member of the PBS board, he remains at the helm of IPTV as general manager, "I'm not going anywhere, just wearing one more hat," he says.

As an amateur still photographer and music lover in high school, Morrill later got television fever and has since let it break. "It's always something I've been interested in," he says. He received a degree in communication and moved on to pursue his broadcasting interests. But don't think years of working in television have drained his love of television. "It still fascinates me and gets me excited," Morrill says.

In the mid 1970s, only four television networks existed in Idaho, including public television, all with the same way of getting information out to viewers. With dramatic changes in technology since the '70s, Morrill says public television has truly benefited. "Technology plays very well into our educational service mission," he says. Morrill believes what lies ahead for public television is promising and technologically savvy, especially for IPTV, saying that for the last five years, IPTV has been deeply involved in statewide digital television conversion. Many improvements and upgrades in production capabilities have also enhanced what IPTV has to offer its audience, including more distribution options.

"Our viewers are using more and more different devices to consume what we do," Morrill says, adding that IPTV currently offers audio and video podcasts of many of their programs, including ones relating to the upcoming elections next month.

IPTV has a rich history since its inception in September 1965 when KUID channel 12 in Moscow signed on the air, thereby becoming the first public licensed educational television station in Idaho.

Anyone who watches public television knows that it depends strongly on the support of its viewers. Morrill says a large portion of IPTV's operating budget (62 percent) comes from nonprofit organization and corporation grants, individual contributions and gifts. IPTV also depends on the state to assist in making sure IPTV remains a statewide television system in order for viewers in more rural communities, such as Salmon, to partake of its programming. The rest of IPTV's funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Though IPTV has a long history of exemplary, well-received programming, it has had its moments of controversy. In 1999 and 2000, IPTV broadcast It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School, a documentary that chronicles how public and private schools deal with homosexual issues, specifically name-calling and other harassment. Another shown titled Our House documented the life of a child with gay parents. The reaction to the airing of these shows came with 2,500 members of the community contacting IPTV to express either their pleasure or disagreement with the shows. Morrill recalls that time as being one of the more difficult times in his tenure as IPTV general manager.

Controversy also engulfed IPTV following the broadcasting of two KUID-produced documentaries: Cedar Thief, about timber practices in northern Idaho, and Kellogg: The Best to You Each Morning, about lead exposure among children in the Silver Valley, collectively resulted in the Idaho Legislature eliminating all but $70,000 of public television funding. Lawmakers would later relent on condition that the state's three stations would operate as a statewide network with one general manager.

In accordance with tradition, IPTV continues its coverage of debates tonight, October 25, at 7 p.m. with Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates vying for office. It is one of seven statewide debates broadcast by IPTV, which end with debates for lieutenant governor on November 1 at 7 p.m.

Through it all, Morrill hopes to include aspects of Idaho and the West in the programming PBS does. "I have always been committed to the content of the programming that PBS is engaged in," he says. "I hope I can be someone [in the board] who knows how to produce television programs ... and expertise coming from a rural, Western television system, one that will reflect a Western work ethic and perspective."

Though being on the board only increases his workload, Morrill seems unflappable, continuing to relish in his respected occupation. "I get to come to work everyday," he says, "and work with some very dedicated talented professionals, and work with really committed volunteers all across Idaho to help push the public television mission."

For a complete list of programming, including Idaho Public Television's coverage of the Idaho candidate debates,

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