July 24, 2003


WYSO finishes fiscal year with almost $100,000 debt

While WYSO public radio significantly reduced its midyear deficit of $245,000, the station projects a shortfall of almost $100,000 for the 2002–2003 fiscal year, according to end-of-year budget figures submitted by station management to the Antioch University trustees. The station’s fiscal year ended June 30.

Concerns over the station’s fiscal health and its projected 2003–2004 budget contributed to the recent resignation of the WYSO Resource Board vice-president, according to two sources.

The 2002–2003 projected budget deficit, $110,689, compares with last year’s actual deficit of $79,719 and a $7,696 actual deficit two years ago, according to budget figures. Final budget figures for 2002–2003 are not yet computed, according to Antioch University Vice Chancellor Glenn Watts, who said end-of-year contributions would lower the projected deficit. According to a station source, the station raised $14,000 in a year-end campaign, which brings the deficit to about $96,000.

The 2002–2003 budget figures indicate that the station received about $200,000 less in revenues than in 2001–2002.

The station’s 2003–2004 budget, also submitted to the trustees in June, projects that the station will raise almost $200,000 more than the $750,000 it raised in the just-ended fiscal year, including large increases in gifts and underwriting. The station also projects in 2003–2004 an almost $50,000 increase in station expenses compared to this year’s budgeted expenses of $855,034. The projected expenses are about $167,000 more than the amount the station actually raised in the recently completed fiscal year.

In his June report to the Antioch University board of trustees, WYSO General Manager Steve Spencer cited costs of syndicated programming and salaries as the station’s two largest expense items.

“While WYSO could create a budget based upon the current level of revenues, such a budget would necessitate dramatic changes at the station. These changes would fundamentally reverse many of the advances WYSO has made over the past decade and would produce short-term solvency at the expense of long-term stability,” he wrote.

“Simply put, WYSO would likely need to cancel several programs, including ‘Marketplace’ and ‘The World,’ perhaps ‘World Cafe’ and the ‘BBC World Service.’ As well, the station would likely have to lay off staff members.”

Reached by telephone and asked to comment on the budget situation, Spencer stated he had another call and hung up on this reporter. He did not return subsequent repeated phone calls.

An extended spring fundraiser netted $187,000, according to a press release sent by Spencer. According to the budget report, the station’s fall fundraising campaign raised $154,458.

The press release quoted WYSO Resource Board President Randy Daniel as saying, “The public’s amazing support for WYSO’s Drive 45 campaign is a testament to the outstanding leadership and vision provided by Steve Spencer and the entire staff at WYSO . . . WYSO has never been more valued. WYSO’s significant growth in listenership and influence in the marketplace of ideas over the past five years is clear evidence that it is in touch with its community.”

However, some Resource Board members have raised concerns in the past few months over both the 2002–2003 budget shortfall and the increases in the projected budget, according to several people who have attended recent Resource Board meetings.

One of those raising concerns, according to meeting observers, was Chuck Vella, Resource Board vice-president, who recently resigned his position. Vella declined to comment on the reasons for his resignation for this article. “I can’t comment on that,” he said when reached by telephone. “It would be inappropriate.”

However, two persons close to Antioch, who asked not to be identified, stated that Vella said in their presence that he resigned partially due to his frustration over the station’s proposed budget and that he outlined his concerns in a letter of resignation sent several weeks ago. This week both Antioch Vice-Chancellor Glenn Watts and WYSO Resource Board President Daniel said they believed the letter is not a public document.

“I have no comment on that,” said Daniel, when asked if Vella resigned due to concerns over the station’s financial situation. Asked if Vella had expressed his concerns to Daniel in conversation, Daniel replied that conversations between the two were confidential.

In his report to the trustees, Spencer linked the station’s 2002–2003 deficit to the weak economy. Watts also stated that most public radio stations are currently running deficits due to the economy.

However, two out of three area public radio stations contacted reported that they do not forecast deficits for the 2002–2003 fiscal year. Cleve Callison, general manager of WMUB in Miami, Ohio, stated that fundraising has been up for that station in the past year and that he did not project a deficit, though the station did experience cuts in state funding, as did WYSO. Marketing Director Don Scott of WOSU in Columbus also stated that fundraising was up and that WOSU finished the year in the black. WDPR General Manager Georgie Woessner reported that that station will run a deficit, although she does not yet know how large.

In his report to the trustees, Spencer also cited as contributing to the deficit the effects of program changes which, he wrote “have impacted gift revenues. This has happened every time WYSO (or any public radio station) adjusts its schedule.”

In the winter of 2002, Spencer made significant programming changes at the station, replacing several long-running volunteer-hosted programs with syndicated programming. The move sparked protest from local and regional listeners, who formed Keep WYSO Local in response.

Regarding the deficit, Watts stated, “We have had good support from listeners, but haven’t had the kind of growth that we expected.”

While Watts stated that listenership is up at WYSO, he said it often takes several years for new listeners to contribute. According to WYSO Resource Board President Randy Daniel, the station is not allowed to release Arbitron figures which show actual listenership numbers.

Watts stated that he shares concerns about the station’s finances. “It’s a concern that revenue is not keeping up with expenses,” he stated.

Regarding the projected revenue increase of $198,663 in the 2003–2004 station budget, Watts stated, “That will be a difficult number to come up with. If the station doesn’t produce the revenue, then we’ll have to do things to drop expenses.”

The 2003–2004 budget projects total operating expenses of $904,727, compared to projected operating expenses in 2002–2003 of $855,034. The budget projects that the station will receive $935,500 in revenues in 2003–2004, compared with the projected anticipated income in 2002–2003 of $736,837.

A year ago, the station closed out its 2001–2002 fiscal year with revenues of $956,385. Expenses in that year totalled $1,046,090.

According to the budget, the station’s largest budget increase for the coming year is in the category of business operations, with a $39,405 increase, or more than 12 percent. That category includes the station’s purchase of syndicated programming, for which WYSO will pay $220,000 in the coming year, according to Spencer’s report to the trustees.

The station’s second largest expense category, after business operations, is salaries and wages. For 2003–2004, the station projects expenses of $323,696 compared to the 2002–2003 figure of $338,706. The drop relates to the station holding an on-air position vacant, according to Spencer’s report.

Station management projects that the station’s increased revenues in 2003–2004 will come from large increases in the categories of gifts, which includes membership pledges, and underwriting. The budget projects that the station will receive $470,000 in gifts, compared to the $349,426 that the station received this year. In 2001–2002, the station received $450,000 in gifts.

The 2003–2004 budget also projects a significant increase in contributions from underwriters, from $173,811 projected underwriting revenues this year to $275,000. According to the report, Spencer projects that the actual year-end budget revenues for underwriting in the 2002–2002 fiscal year will be $234,025.

The budget also projects that the station will receive $117,000 in federal grants, $40,000 in state grants and $33,500 in other income for the 2003–2004 fiscal year.

According to both Watts and Daniel, Spencer has been asked to create a “contingency” budget, based on lower revenue and expense levels, in the event that the station revenues do not match budget expectations. Daniel stated that the WYSO Resource Board will monitor station expenses.

—Diane Chiddister