April 10, 2003
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Budget report shows WYSO has a deficit of $250,000

WYSO’s third quarter budget shows that the local public radio station is currently facing a deficit of almost a quarter-million dollars.

While WYSO projected that the station would have a deficit, that number is much larger than projected.

The budget shows the station expected to have a deficit of nearly $64,500 by February 2003. Instead, the station had compiled a deficit of almost $245,900, $181,000 more than projected.

According to the current budget, which was presented at a recent meeting of the WYSO Resource Board, most of the deficit comes from less-than-anticipated support from members and underwriters.

While station management and Resource Board members in recent interviews expressed concern over the deficit, they linked the financial problems with the nation’s current economic recession and instability.

But a spokeswoman at National Public Radio said that nationwide most public radio stations are experiencing increased support from listeners.

“Any deficit is of concern,” said Antioch University Vice Chancellor Glenn Watts, who oversees the station and is a member of the Resource Board. “The decline in revenue is due to economic uncertainty, to people not feeling able to give” as much as previously.

WYSO General Manager Steve Spencer declined to comment for this article, saying that questions should be directed to Watts.

In a midyear report to the Antioch University Board of Trustees, Spencer wrote, “All acknowledge that the fundraising environment for not-for-profits nationwide has been significantly depressed for the past year, with some reports noting an aggregate decline in revenues of well over 20 percent. The public radio system’s experience is running parallel with that of other nonprofit fundraising. The troubled economy, coupled with significant uncertainty about prospects for its return to stability, is clearly at the core of this situation.”

However, employees of several area and regional public radio stations, contacted about their financial situation, responded that, while government funding was down, listener support is up.

“My guess is that people are relying more on public radio since Sept. 11,” said WOSU Marketing Director Don Scott. Overall membership at WOSU’s stations has increased, he said. “Our recent membership drives have done very well. They’ve all gone over their goal,” he said.

A recent membership drive at WMUB in Oxford also surpassed expectations, according to John Hingsbergen, the station’s Programming Director. “We’re happy with the growth we’ve had,” said Hingsbergen.

At WDPR in Dayton, Station Manager Georgie Woessner said that cuts in national and state funding has created a “critical time for public broadcasters.” However, she said, her station has seen “a little bit of growth” in recent membership drives.

The experience of WOSU and WMUB reflects a nationwide trend of public radio stations “weathering the downturn in the economy better than lots of not-for-profit organizations,” said Jenny Lawhorn, a member of National Public Radio’s Communications Department in Washington, D.C.

While funding from state universities and foundations is down, listener support has remained steady at most public radio stations, she said. “Listener support has been consistent and in some cases has increased,” perhaps because events such as the war on Iraq “drive people to public radio,” Lawhorn said.

However, WYSO’s third-quarter budget shows that a significantly less-than-projected amount of individual gifts and underwriter support is one of the main sources of the station’s budget shortfall.

While the 2002–03 budget anticipated $237,000 in gifts from individual, or memberships by the end of February, the actual figure is $165,600, a difference of nearly $71,400. And while income from underwriters was anticipated to be almost $220,700 by the end of February, the actual figure was nearly $161,900, or almost $58,800 below original budget projections.

The station did meet last fall’s on-air membership campaign goal of $160,000, according to Spencer’s report to the trustees. “WYSO had the experience of many public radio stations throughout the nation this past fall in that it reached its goal, but only just. Other stations fell short of their goals,” he said in the report.

The station’s deficit in the category of “gifts,” or membership pledges, reflects consistent monthly shortfalls in the gift budget line, according to the budget. Only in November 2002, when the pledge campaign ended, did revenue in the “gift” category surpass budget projections.

Likewise, revenues from underwriters have been less than expected every month but last September, November and December.

The budget deficit also reflects a larger-than-anticipated expense of almost $31,900 in salaries and wages.

The station posted a budget deficit of about $100,000 at the end of the 2001–02 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

Prior to that, according to the Resource Board president, Randy Daniel, the station’s budget had been balanced for the previous three years.

“Steve [Spencer] is the only station manager who ever balanced the budget in the past,” Daniel said.

Last year, Spencer made several controversial changes at the station, including cutting more than a third of the volunteer-hosted programs, including all of WYSO’s jazz programming and the long-running “Women in Music” show. In response to the cuts, and to what they perceive as lack of democratic decision-making by station management, a group of station supporters formed Keep WYSO Local, which has raised $40,000 in an alternative fund drive.

Controversy around the station continued throughout 2002 as former WYSO Resource Board member Char Miller raised concerns about what she saw as the board’s lack of power. Among her complaints was that the board, which in its bylaws is given oversight responsibility for the station, had not been shown a station budget in over a year. Last month Miller and another board member, Fay Ellis Jones, resigned from the board in protest to what they perceived as the board’s passive role. Rather than the Resource Board overseeing the station, Miller and Jones said, Watts and Spencer make decisions without consulting Resource Board members.

The controversy surrounding the station has not affected the current budget shortfall, Watts said.

However, Antioch University Chancellor Jim Craiglow said that the station’s controversial changes have probably had some effect on fundraising.

“I’m sure it’s an element, but it’s difficult to measure how deep the element is,” Craiglow said about the station controversy. “The deficit is far more traceable to the geopolitical and economic world we’re in at the moment.”

The budget problems can be linked to changes at the station and what some perceive as Spencer’s refusal to listen to the desires of a large community of WYSO supporters, said Lisa Goldberg of Keep WYSO Local.

“Over a year ago Spencer made broad and sweeping changes that he said would increase listeners and raise more money,” she said. “Those things haven’t happened. Perhaps it’s time for the station to re-examine those changes, and to consider whether the person they’ve chosen to manage the station is managing it well.”

Many in Keep WYSO Local would like to work with WYSO to help the station in its time of budget problems, said Goldberg. For instance, the group would consider turning over the money it has raised if WYSO management shows some willingness to compromise, she said.

“It’s obvious some changes need to take place at the station so it’s financially viable,” said Goldberg. “This is the time to resolve the issues with Keep WYSO Local rather than to dig in their heels.”

The station plans to address the $250,000 budget deficit with the upcoming spring fund drive, Watts said.

In his report to the trustees, Spencer said the drive, which starts April 21, would last 14 days rather than the usual 10, and that the station would also conduct an end-of-the-fiscal year fundraising campaign. He also cited a new plan to establish a major donors circle for the station, headed by Daniel, and plans to collaborate with other area stations.

—Diane Chiddister