KBIA raises more than $145,000 in face of potential cuts

Monday, March 14, 2011 | 9:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:07 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 14, 2011
Andrew Ellis takes a donation from a caller in Paris, Mo., on Thursday in the KBIA newsroom.

COLUMBIA — With potential federal budget cuts looming, many local broadcasting stations fear a significant impact on their bottom line. But the threat of decreased funding influenced some listeners of KBIA/91.3 FM to give more than ever before.

The local National Public Radio member station began its weeklong spring fund drive March 4. The drive ended eight hours early on March 11 because donations surpassed the station's fundraising goal of $145,000. It was the station's most successful spring drive yet, KBIA General Manager Mike Dunn said.

"There were people who did call and say, 'We're giving more money. We're afraid that you might lose some or all of your federal money,'" Dunn said. "People are just supportive of things they value."

Although the drive ended Friday, the station received about $2,000 in the mail Monday and will continue to receive checks for at least a week, Dunn said. He estimated the final count will total from $155,000 to $160,000.

The average donation during the drive was $110, and more than 1,000 listeners donated. The largest gift from a single donor was $2,400, Dunn said.

These donations come at an uneasy time in the public broadcasting world. Federal funding of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, the umbrella corporation that funds NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service, has been threatened for years, but Dunn said this time, the situation is dire.

On Feb. 19, the House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 1, that would cut federal CPB funds. It has yet to be put to vote in the Senate.

"It's never gotten to the point before that it has this time, where it's actually passed House," Dunn said. "It's much more serious this time than ever before."

The corporation was created through the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, with the support of President Lyndon Johnson, and had its first clash with government in 1971 when the Nixon administration claimed an anti-administration bias in its programming.

KBIA stands to lose $190,000 of its $1.2 million annual budget if the bill is passed. Two years ago, the station lost a stipend it received from the state, Dunn said. He said he is making plans in anticipation of a significant cut, but he does not feel comfortable releasing the plans before all of KBIA's staff members know the details. He knows the plans will not include cutting back on content.

"If we cut back on what people value the most, they're going to give less," he said. "We're going to do everything that we can to keep it there."

Washington, D.C., seems far away, but Brian Davis, underwriting coordinator for KOPN/89.5 FM, Mid-Missouri's community radio station, said the recent resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller has more to do with local stations than the average listener might think.

Schiller resigned in the wake of two incidents involving NPR employees. The first was last fall, when NPR news analyst Juan Williams was fired after making comments on Fox News Channel about being afraid of seeing passengers in "Muslim garb" when riding a plane. The second occurred March 8, when a video surfaced of NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation to the CEO) criticizing conservatives and questioning NPR's need for federal funding.

NPR's board decided Vivian Schiller could no longer effectively lead the organization in the light of these events, and she subsequently stepped down.

"This situation (with Vivian Schiller) has just become first and foremost in the minds of the people who already want to take away our funding," Davis said. "The fallout could be potentially absolutely disastrous."

This string of incidents gives further reason for conservative politicians to claim NPR and other stations funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting hold a liberal bias and should not receive federal funding, Davis said.

KOPN would lose the $66,000 it receives from the corporation annually if funding is cut. The station's yearly budget is $200,000, with listener donations and underwriting accounting for the remainder after federal funding. The station recently lost some federal funding when Columbia's population reached 100,000, Davis said.

"Unfortunately, the reality is there is no way to know exactly right now what is going to happen," Davis said. "The truth of the matter is (Schiller's resignation is) certainly not going to help our cause."

Davis said KOPN would fundraise to make up the $66,000 it will lose if the bill is passed. The station is developing a plan in case the cuts become a reality.

"We're trying to turn it into a positive," he said. "This is going to give us this opportunity to prove to people that we can do this."

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