March 12, 2017 at 4:54 pm #173191
Funding and station management are at play too for Kentucky Public Radio affiliates part of this is University ownerships in some cases.
Times are hard at WMKY, Morehead State Public Radio, and you can hear it as the public-radio programming powerhouses vanish from the station.
“A Prairie Home Companion”? The funds for that are as gone as a Powdermilk biscuit after breakfast. “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me?” No money, no current events quiz show. “Car Talk”? A non-starter.
Other university-affiliated public radio stations in Kentucky are run on a fund drive to fund drive model, and the managers at stations such as WEKU at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond and WUKY at the University of Kentucky in Lexington say for a non-profit, that’s a good model: It keeps them hustling for new sources of funding and close to the changing needs of their listeners.
Basically, a public radio station with a university connection operates with a budget composed of money from the school, individual contributions, donations from businesses and grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The amounts of funding and funding sources vary.
But if stations such as WEKU and WUKY work on a budget shoestring — WUKY and WEKU both have annual budgets of $1.5 million each — for the much smaller WMKY that shoestring is more like a thread.
The cuts have been coming since 2008 at WMKY, but recent cuts have been small but deep: Two part-time staff members making only only $1800 a year were cut, staff members who worked 20 hours a week and earned $9,256 between them were cut, newspaper subscriptions were cut. The station even dropped its $110 annual membership in the Morehead-Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
WMKY Station Manager Paul Hitchcock said that the station receives support from its university, which is paying for its four full-time staff members.
He chafes at the idea that cuts can be made “on the pretense that we have other sources of funding,” he said.
But really, the long-term cuts have gone even deeper. Beginning in 2008, a $32,331 broadcast operations specialist and its $6,466 in benefits was eliminated.
The music and production direction job was eliminated in 2009, at a similar salary.
In 2011, the chief engineer position was eliminated, saving $57,668 plus $11,533 in benefits. Programming adjustments and personnel from 2014-2016 saved around $83,000.
Grant Alden of Morehead, one of the owners of CoffeeTree Books in Morehead, hosts a roots music broadcast on the Morehead station. Soon he will still be hosting it, but for free.
Losing a public radio voice in the region, Alden said, “is frightening to me. … There has to continue to be local programming or the area loses its vitality.”
A reduced or missing public radio presence is an obstacle to bringing educated, cosmopolitan people to town, he added.
“That is one more barrier to bringing someone to a small town in Eastern Kentucky,” Alden said.
For WNKU at Northern Kentucky University, the public radio presence is about to vanish. The school’s board of regents in February approved selling the public radio station to the Bible Broadcasting Corporation for $1.9 million.
The station remains on the air until the sale is approved by the Federal Communications Commission, but the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky independent music community feels that it has lost a radio pipeline for new artists.
NKU had spent $4.4 million over the last six years to keep the station running. CincyMusic, a group that promotes area artists, led the charge against the sale, arguing that the station gave many artists their first exposure to a broad audience. A commenter on CincyMusic’s Facebook page said the sale “killed our contemporary music scene.”
All Kentucky public radio stations have to get inventive with membership offerings to keep up with shifting consumer preferences. WUKY-91.3 FM offers memberships for your pet. WEKU-88.9 FM sells entire days of sponsorship to honor individuals and events. Want to donate your old car because you enjoy “Marketplace” or “The Moth Radio Hour”? These public radio stations can help you with that.
David Brinkley, director of educational telecommunications at Western Kentucky University, said the key to public radio success is to be minutely accountable to the listeners, and to give them what they want, be it “Prairie Home Companion” or classical music.
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