Self-Sufficiency: Part 2
According to Current.org, CPB management recently told its board that up to a fifth of all public stations – radio and TV -- were financially fragile. Management told the CPB board that the financial impact of the economic downturn could be a single year loss of $418 million in FY 09, with $126 million of that coming on the public radio side.
From what we’ve heard, CPB’s numbers are really rough. They are based on conversations with stations not formal research, so its hard to know how accurate they might be. That said, I would believe that a lot of PTV stations are in financial trouble. Who hasn’t seen that coming for years?
This blog is about public radio though, so we will focus on that from here on out.
Four years ago CPB published a report, “Having It All”, on the financial state of public radio stations. That report said 45% of all radio licensees were running at an operating loss. It wasn't a 1 year trend either. Public radio stations were generating less net operating revenue in 2003 than they did in 1999 even though gross operating revenue was up $180,000,000.
One of the key findings in the "Having It All" report was that station spending, not fundraising alone, was contributing to the problem. There were many excellent recommendations in the report, none of which have been acted on.
Asking the government to help financially strapped stations this year might be the only way to keep those stations from going dark or losing their local identity, as is happening to WMUB in Ohio. But becoming more reliant on subsidies is not a long-term solution.
In order to survive in a new media marketplace and a changed economy, public radio stations need to become less reliant on subsidies. They must become more self-sufficient.
Right now, CPB has a chance for a make good after dropping the ball on the “Having It All” recommendations. It can develop incentive programs that encourage stations to operate in such a way the their core services, national and local, will not be threatened by a sudden loss of subsidies. Any new federal money a station receives should come with that requirement. Anything less is a disservice to the station, its listeners, the community of license, and the taxpayers who are footing the bill.
COMING UP THIS WEEK: Why asking for more money from the feds could be bad for healthy stations and membership fundraising programs around the country. And, tapping unrealized membership growth potential in public radio.