The Corporation for Public Broadcasting plans to cut off our funding unless we can meet their goals to either raise an additional $200,000 annually or double our listenership. CPB funding is a big plus for the station. While we don’t want the CPB tail to wag the KBOO dog, this isn’t really about CPB.
KBOO listenership and membership have been dropping—dropping faster other stations’. Because of this, we have budgeted our first deficit in nine years. This represents not only a funding issue but a question of how to serve our mission effectively. After a long series of board and staff meetings, our board set goals to improve programming, fundraising, decision-making and strategic planning. Whatever CPB says, our board has directed us to make the programming and schedule better and raise more money while maintaining our core values of community, diversity, progressive perspectives, creativity, emotional maturity and leadership in the community.
Last month, we had a meeting for all volunteers to review our situation, goals, objectives and core values and to ask what we can each do to improve our situation. This month, on January 26th, we are having a public meeting. In February, we will post the first set of surveys to get feedback from members, listeners and volunteers. This summer, we’ll have a station assessment from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (the last station assessment, 10 years ago, created the Membership Coordinator position.), and some type of programming retreat.
The easy way to make more money is to go to a single format like jazz, classical or NPR. In our case, one formula would be roots music: folk, bluegrass, country, singer-songwriter, blues—and probably some Grateful Dead. This would be a variation of “Triple-A” format (Adult Album Alternative) or “American” format. While these genres have been and continue to be important for our station, a wholesale change to just this type of music would not meet our mission and values criteria. There are versions of AAA that include world music. Another possible format would be news & talk from six to six weekdays. Most likely though, none of the “canned” formats work well for us.
This is where leadership comes in. If we want to find an alternative format for a diverse urban station, we’re going to have to build it ourselves. In my conversations with Carol Pierson at NFCB, there isn’t a new model out there (although there are a number of community stations that could give us some advice on where to improve). We have many unique strengths such as long-format interviews, shows that mix music and politics or music and other cultural interests, and programs that are by-and-for one community but reach listeners in other communities.
Many KBOO programs offer compelling radio, and I have asked our programming staff to determine what these shows are and use them as standards for what works. Some of the hardest work will be figuring out a more listener-friendly schedule. We have to ask a lot of creative questions like how do we want to approach our morning and evening news broadcasts (looking at our resources and who we’re competing with)? What’s the best slot for shows like Democracy Now!? How can we make blocks and strips listenable?
As Carol pointed out in her NFCB letter, the short-term answer is to do some emergency fund-raising, but in the long term, we have to have more listeners. To that end, we are posting for a lapsed-member recruiter, starting a major-donor work group and increasing underwriting rates, holding a one-day mini-drive and sending more reminder letters.
Some people have asked if we can’t just cut back and live within our means (which would mean staff layoffs of several positions). The problem is that we can’t go back because the world has changed around us. In the old days, people listened to commercial radio, or they listened to us. Now, there are lots of choices, and people are voting with their ears and their wallets. Not only do we have mp3 players, the web, satellite radio and Air America, but we see KMHD adding folk music and Doug Fir broadcasts and OPB adding live local bands.
I hope that every person who reads this letter will read “Strategic Planning and Programing Materials” if you haven’t already. That’s the place to get a lot more depth on our overall situation, board goals, departmental objectives, core values (a work in progress).
Some financial details: Last year we received $119,000 from CPB. This year it will be $25,000. Next year they’re proposing $0. In addition, they’ll quit paying our music licensing fees which we believe to be at least $5,000-$10,000. Ironically, becoming “financially independent” of CPB would likely requalify us for CPB support!
We have a stellar staff, a hard-working and supportive board, and probably the best volunteer pool we’ve ever had. We’ll have lots of input, and I know we’ll have vigorous debate, but this is also our chance to unite around the station and our mission make a positive difference in the world!
Arthur W. Davis