Listener Supported Radio Strong In Struggling Economy

By: Cayle Thompson Email
By: Cayle Thompson Email

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With the recent economic downturn, it's no surprise many advertisers are cutting back. And when that happens, media outlets are among the first to feel the pangs of a recession.

But two area member-supported radio stations say listeners are helping keep them afloat in tough times.

KHCC-FM 90.1 in Hutchinson and KMUW-FM 89.1 in Wichita are public radio stations funded primarily through listener donations.

"They're why we're on the air," says Denise Irwin, KMUW Director of Development.

Approximately 33% of KMUW's budget is based on listener donations. For KHCC, the rate is closer to 50 percent.

Both stations say the current economy hasn't stopped listeners from contributing during the Fall and Spring fundraisers. KMUW raised $200,000 during its most recent drive, and hopes to raise another $200,000 in April.

KHCC is in the midst of its Spring fundraiser, and hopes to hit a May 1st goal of $280,000 with the help of listeners. Sharon Webb, KHCC Director of Development, says the station is already halfway to the goal.

"What we hear from our members is they don't want to see us go," says Webb.

Both stations use pledges from the public to pay for programming, such as NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. KHCC also uses funds to pay for the cost of classical music, and KMUW for its blues and jazz repertoire.

Although signals from both stations overlap, Webb says there's no competition for listeners.

"We feel it's helpful to have another public radio station because it educates the public as to what's available," Webb says.

Irwin agrees, saying two stations are better than one when it comes to reaching listeners. Irwin also says both stations are different enough to attract different audiences.

"We complement each other... because we have these different missions," Irwin says.

But there are still financial concerns. Outside of listener support, KMUW and KHCC receive government grants and additional funding from local companies. As the economy constricts, there's a risk those finances could also shrink.

"As good stewards... we have to prepare for that," Irwin says, adding KMUW is looking for ways to trim costs that would not be noticed by listeners and would not affect station employees.

Webb says KHCC, available to 1-million listeners as part of the Radio Kansas network, typically reaches an audience of about 60,000.

Irwin says KMUW has a smaller coverage area, and reaches a weekly audience of about 40,000.

Both stations report, on average, one in ten listeners is an active member of the station, and donates during the Spring and Fall fundraisers.

For more information on KMUW and KHCC, click on websites posted below 'Related Links' at the bottom of this article.

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