First published in The Emporia Gazette on October 11, 2005
Kansas Public Radio - Broadcasting Hall - University of Kansas Campus
by Cheryl Unruh
Would you pay for something you can get for free?
Thousands of Kansans are happy to do just that.
When Kansas Public Radio’s on-air pledge drive begins Friday, scores of listeners will call in with financial support.
For starters, I should mention that I have a personal interest in KPR; they’ve broadcast a few of my essays. While this gives my writing some nice exposure, they don’t pay me—although I did snag two KPR coffee mugs.
So I’ve become acquainted with some of the KPR staff at this Lawrence radio station and, always curious about life behind the scenes, I wondered just how they viewed pledge week.
“It’s difficult. It’s not easy to do and it’s not easy for the listeners, I mean, because I’m a listener too,” said Bob McWilliams, host of “Trail Mix” and “Jazz in the Night.”
“But I also don’t feel any reason to apologize for going directly to listeners
and just explaining the
Old radios on display at the KPR studio.
financial realities—which is, that a very significant part of our budget, I think it’s in the neighborhood of 35 percent … comes from individual listeners,” McWilliams said.
I spoke with staffers after Hurricane Katrina hit (and before Hurricane Rita) and they were well aware that raising funds may be difficult when others have vital and enormous needs.
“We don’t know—is Hurricane Katrina going to affect this drive? Are people going to be ‘gived out,’ or are people just feeling generous and it could go the other way? You never know,” said Janet Campbell, general manager.
Sheri Hamilton, external affairs director, said, “There was a drive probably five years ago when we did not make our goal.”
“We had to make cuts in several places and walk away from it … but I think then the next drive was all the better.” Hamilton said.
During programming breaks, staffers and on-air guests make appeals to
“I wish it were just as easy as (saying) ‘OK, time to give money,’” said Cordelia Brown, classical music announcer.
“Sometimes you can have something all worked out and say it and the phones don’t ring at all, and sometimes you can say something just so dumb and the phones light up and people give money,” Brown said.
“But we just try to find an angle to motivate someone to pick up the phone and call. And of course, that angle has to be about our programming.” Campbell said.
And programming isn’t cheap.
To obtain news broadcasts from National Public Radio, KPR’s program director Darrell Brogdon told me they pay “in the neighborhood of $200,000” per year -- in addition to an NPR affiliation fee.
Brogdon said “Car Talk” costs “$20,000, give or take.” Other shows such as “A Prairie Home Companion” come with separate affiliation and acquisition fees.
“You have to do (pledge drives) or you will not survive. Or at least you won’t be able to provide programming at the level that your listeners expect and that’s what it’s all about,” Brogdon said.
Because many KPR employees have worked there 10-20 years or more, I asked Campbell if pledge drives get easier over time.
“No, I think it gets harder. It’s harder to stay fresh” she said.
But, Hamilton told me that fund drives run
smoothly because they have developed
a strong base of volunteers and on-air guests,
and have relationships with local restaurants
that donate meals.
Rachel Hunter, classical music announcer, said, “We really believe in this product. We’re here because we think what we do is important.”
“The gratifying part is that always many, many, many people call and say that this is a service worth supporting.” McWilliams said.
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Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh
Kansas Public Radio
11120 West 11th St.
Lawrence, Kansas 66044