The Maine Public Broadcasting Network (abbreviated MPBN) is a state network of public television and radio stations located in the state of Maine in the United States. It is operated by the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation, which holds the licenses for all the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) stations licensed in the state. MPBN has studios and offices in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor.

MPBN's television network shows a block of standard PBS programming, as well as many documentaries including nature programs and other science programs. MPBN's radio network airs news and talk programming from NPR, locally produced 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 Hampshire and Massachusetts and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. MPBN Television is also carried on cable television in most of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

History

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

On November 13, 1961, WCBB signed on from Lewiston as the first educational television station in Maine and the third in New England, after WGBH-TV in Boston and WENH-TV in Durham, New Hampshire. Licensed to Augusta, it was a joint venture of Colby College, Bates College, and Bowdoin College. Two years later, WMEB-TV began broadcasting from the University of Maine campus in Orono, near Bangor. Over the next decade, UMaine signed on three other stations across the state, as well as several translators. These stations formed the original MPBN network. One of them was WMEG-TV in Biddeford, near Portland (now WMEA-TV); however, it was (and still is) practically unviewable over the air in Portland itself and points north.

The University of Maine System brought public radio to the state in 1970, when WMEH signed on from Bangor. Five other stations signed on over the next decade.

The two groups merged on July 1, 1992 to form the community-licensed Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation. MPBN's Bangor stations, WMEB-TV and WMEH (FM), became the flagship stations. 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.

Following the merger, WMEA-TV became the flagship station for a secondary PBS service, Maine Public Television Plus; unlike the main network, this service expanded its over-the-air reach through the use of low-power repeaters—W39BQ in Lewiston, which signed on January 1, 1994, and W30BF in Bangor, which launched on April 16, 1994. Cuts in federal funding led to the elimination of MPT Plus on June 30, 1996; WMEA and W30BF then reverted to carrying the primary Maine Public Television service (though the latter station was sold in 1999 and is now JCTV affiliate WCKD-LP), while W39BQ eventually ceased operations.

Radio Programming

MPBN's radio service carries a mixed format of news and information from NPR, PRI, and other sources. It also carries a three-hour block of classical music on weekdays between 9 a.m.and 12 noon and some evening music programming, one of the few NPR members in New England to still have a significant classical music program. Local programming includes Maine Calling, an interactive radio program hosted primarily by Jennifer Rooks and produced by Jonathan Smith. Various guests, often from Maine, are invited to participate in the discussion and audience members are encouraged to participate through calling in or through other forms of media. Accompanying NPR's All Things Considered, is Maine Things Considered, Maine's only daily statewide news program.

Television Programming

MPBN's television service carries the basic PBS program schedule, along with a handful of local programs, such as "The Maine Experience" (a feature magazine series), "Maine Watch" (a weekly public-affairs program), and live coverage of the annual Maine state high-school basketball playoffs.

Controversies

Metropolitan Opera Cancellation

In 2000, 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 state network to reinstate the Saturday afternoon opera a few months later.

In the course of 24 months in 2000 and 2001, in what appeared to be a plan to significantly reduce local music programming, 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 "Sugartime!" Episode of Postcards from Buster

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 SecretaryMargaret Spellings, who was upset that Buster was visiting a Vermont family headed by two women. WGBH, 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.

The Humble Farmer

Maine humorist Robert Skoglund, a.k.a. The Humble Farmer was host of a weekly jazz and humor program of the same name on MPBN starting in 1978. The show was canceled in 2007 after a series of disagreements over whether some of Skoglund's comments were in violation of the station's policy of neutrality on political issues. In 2003, in what is known as the War Rant, Skoglund spoke about a "weasely-faced war monger from way down south who didn't even get most of the popular vote," identifying the person as the author of Mein Kampf. In 2006, he read passages from Encyclopedia Britannica about Fascism under Mussolini. MPBN management regarded these to be veiled comparisons to George W. Bush and admonished Skoglund to refrain from political commentary. On November 3, 2006 Skoglund submitted a prerecorded program in which he read a letter from a Maryland listener who described the effects of tax cuts in that state. MPBN regarded this as advocating a position on Maine's upcoming Taxpayer Bill of Rights referendum question and chose to not air the program. MPBN VP for Programming, Charles Beck, then sent Skoglund a letter outlining guidelines and warning him that further comments perceived as political would lead to the show's cancellation. Arguing that the strict guidelines were setting him up to fail, Skoglund discontinued all commentaries, speaking only to identify songs and musicians. In 2007, MPBN required on-air staff to sign a revised policy agreement on political neutrality. Skoglund refused to sign and his program was cut June 13, 2007.

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 then-Governor John Baldacci.

Appropriateness of state funding

In 2012, GovernorPaul LePage proposed eliminating all state funding for MPBN from the budget, referring to such aid as "corporate welfare". The Republican-controlled Legislature rejected this proposal and instead passed a budget directing MPBN funding be changed to a fee-for-service model instead of a general appropriation over the next five years.

Television stations

MPBN operates 5 full-power television stations:

StationCity of license
(other cities served)
Channels
(Digital)
First air dateCall letters'
meaning
ERP
(Digital)
HAAT
(Digital)
Facility IDTransmitter Coordinates
WCBBAugusta
(Lewiston, Portland)
10 (VHF)November 13, 1961Colby
Bates
Bowdoin (original owners)
29.7 kW304 m39659
WMEB-TV (flagship)Orono
(Bangor)
12 (VHF)September 23, 1963Maine
Educational
Bangor
15 kW375 m39648
WMEM-TVPresque Isle10 (VHF)February 17, 1964Maine
Educational
M
14.5 kW353 m39662
WMED-TVCalais13 (VHF)September 15, 1965Maine
EDucational
3.5 kW134 m39649
WMEA-TV1Biddeford (Portland)26 (UHF)March 15, 1975Maine
EducAtional
50 kW231 m39656

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 MPBN's viewers to lose the signal.

MPBN also operates 3 translator stations:

StationAnalog ChannelCity
W04BS-D4Bethel
W03AM-D3Harrison
W05DD-D5St. Francis

Digital television

MPBN's digital channels are multiplexed:

Digital channels
ChannelProgramming
XX.1Main MPBN programming / PBS
XX.2Create
XX.3MPBN World
XX.4Timeshifted SD version of .1 subchannel (3 hour delay simulcast)

On October 27, 2010 MPBN added PBS World programming to its .3 subchannel and in late 2014 replaced its SD feed on its .2 subchannel with Create. Both had been offered for several years on Time Warner Cable, which is available to a large number of subscribers throughout Maine. For the 2013 & 2014 Maine Legislature sessions, Maine Capitol Connection was on the .4 subchannel, replacing the 3 hour timeshifted programming.

Radio stations

MPBN operates 8 radio transmitters and 3 translators. 7 transmitters broadcast an FM signal and HD1 and HD2 channels. FM on those 7 channels and HD1 is Maine Public Radio programming. HD2, WFYB-FM and the three translators are dedicated to Maine Public Classical which contains a large amount of Classical 24 and other classical and music programming.


StationFrequencyClassCityFoundedFacility ID
WMEA90.1 FMCPortlandApril 197439655
WMEP90.5 FMBCamdenFebruary 4, 200292566
WMEW91.3 FMAWatervilleAugust 30, 198439645
WMEH90.9 FMBBangor197039650
WMED89.7 FMC2CalaisJune 22, 198439646
WMEM106.1 FMCPresque Isle197839661
WMEF106.5 FMC3Fort KentSeptember 15, 199439653
WFYB91.5 FMC3Fryeburg2016174153
W291CO106.1 FMDBangor2015139337
W259BY99.7 FMDWaterville2015142052
W281AC104.1 FMDPortland201687718