November 20, 2003


WYSO fundraiser falls short of $250,000 financial goal

After a two-week on-air fall fundraising drive, WYSO Public Radio fell significantly short of reaching its stated goal of $250,000.

According to a Nov. 10 press release from the station, WYSO received $193,000 during the drive.

In the release, WYSO’s general manager, Steve Spencer, also said that “Arbitron ratings show the station attracting record numbers of listeners.”

However, station management declined to share 2003 Arbitron figures with the News.

The most recent Arbitron figures obtained by the News, which cover 2002, indicate that, in the past, station officials have overstated WYSO’s listenership.

Although the station hasn’t met its fundraising goal this fall, the event was “another all-time record-breaking fundraiser,” Spencer said in the press release. WYSO radio hosts have said on-air that the station’s fundraising effort is still continuing.

The station’s last fundraiser, in April 2003, had as its goal $175,000, and the station raised $187,000, according to a May 7 press release. In that release, Yana Davis, the development director at WYSO, said that “when everything is said and done WYSO will probably close the Drive 45 books with over $200,000.”

Asked to comment on the fall fundraiser, Spencer, reached by phone, said that he had to go on the air and then hung up on this reporter. He did not return subsequent phone calls.

The WYSO Resource Board president, Randy Daniel, and the station’s program director, Tim Tattan, also declined to comment. Antioch University Vice Chancellor Glenn Watts, who oversees the station, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

In the Nov. 10 press release, Spencer said of the $250,000 goal, “This goal was always very ambitious, but we felt it was important to establish it as a benchmark because of the fiscal realities confronting public radio, especially increased costs associated with digital operations and the listener-hour, NPR program pricing model, which charges station’s fees based upon the numbers of hours their community spends listening.”

In the 2003–04 station budget, which was submitted last summer to the Antioch University Board of Trustees, Spencer projected that WYSO would raise a total of $470,000 in donations this year, about a $120,000 increase from the previous year.

Financial difficulties have dogged the station for the past year and a half. At the end of the 2002–03 fiscal year in June, the station faced an almost $100,000 deficit.

At the end of fiscal year 2001–02, the station was almost $80,000 in the red. The previous year, the station posted a $7,696 deficit.

Spencer and Watts have said that the station’s financial problems reflect the troubled economy and that most public radio stations face similar deficits. However, several area public radio stations contacted last summer stated that they were not anticipating deficits.

Controversy surrounding WYSO erupted in the spring of 2002 when Spencer abruptly canceled a significant number of volunteer-hosted programs and replaced some of them with nationally syndicated programs. At the time, Spencer and Watts said that the change was necessary to boost ratings. Soon after, a number of longtime volunteers left the station.

WYSO critics cite a link between the station’s subsequent financial difficulties and the program changes, due to the increased cost of the nationally syndicated programming and the lack of volunteer help.

Almost a year after his station shake-up, in his midyear report to the board of trustees in February 2003, Spencer said that the station was benefitting from increased listenership. “WYSO’s average weekly listenership continues to be at an all-time high,” he said, and “the two most critical indicators of radio station success have posted the most dramatic gains the station has ever seen.” Those indicators were AQH, or the average number of listeners per quarter hour, and TSL, the time spent listening.

However, the fall 2002 Arbitron ratings, which had recently come out, told a different story.

In the spring of 2002, during the initial WYSO controversy, listenership did indeed spike. While Arbitron figures in the fall of 2001 showed that WYSO had an average of 2,300 listeners per quarter hour, that number increased to 2,700 in the spring of 2002. While WYSO listeners averaged six hours a week listening in the fall of 2001, they listened to 7.4 hours weekly during the spring of 2002.

However, WYSO Arbitron numbers in the fall of 2002 had dropped by the time Spencer wrote his report to the trustees. The average number of listeners per quarter hour had fallen to 2,000, or below the fall 2001 level, and the time spent listening had dropped to 5.9 hours, again below the fall 2001 figure, according to 2002 Arbitron figures, which the News obtained.

The station’s cumulative figure of average number of listeners per week had fallen from 47,700 in the fall of 2001 to 44,400 in the fall of 2002, the 2002 figures show.

In the past, both Spencer and Watts have said that following program changes it takes about 18 months to two years for listenership to rise.

Asked to supply current Arbitron figures, Tattan said that Arbitron rules forbid him from doing so. Spencer did not respond to phone messages asking for the data.

— Diane Chiddister