KZMU Community Radio is an island of hyper-local news and personality-driven musical programming in a sea of nationally syndicated “Car Talk” reruns and “A Prairie Home Companion” skits.
In the past, the two different faces of public radio have been able to rely on grants from the federally funded, private nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But KZMU is facing an impending loss of that money – which currently accounts for about half of its annual operating budget – partly because public radio stations in Salt Lake City and Logan are now broadcasting in Grand County.
To make up for the projected $70,000 hit to its budget, the volunteer-driven station at 90.1 FM is preparing to hold a funding strategy session ahead of its upcoming fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Apart from the loss of its main grant, the station faces other uncertainties about funding.
KZMU General Manager Marty Durlin, who has been on the job since April, said the station is in the dark as to whether it will receive an additional Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant for $20,000.
“I can’t say whether or not we will get it,”she told the Moab Sun News.
Durlin said she has reached out to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for some answers, but hasn’t received any to date.
“I have left messages to talk with somebody,” she said. “No one’s responding to me.”
Corporation for Public Broadcasting Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Letitia King said the station no longer qualifies for continued funding through the Radio Community Service Grant program because it does not meet its revised eligibility criteria.
Under the new criteria, radio stations like KZMU — classified by kilowatt power, coverage area and potential listenership — need to raise $175,000 a year in non-federal financial support by 2016. That number increases to $300,000 a year by 2018.
King said that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting worked with KZMU to try to address its grant eligibility problem, but added that the two entities have not come up with a solution to date.
“Naturally, if KZMU can demonstrate the ability to meet the eligibility criteria, they would be welcome to apply again,” she said. “The door remains open to them.”
It takes about $140,000 a year to run the station. To help cover its costs, KZMU typically holds two “Radiothon” fundraising events each year, which raise a combined total of $40,000 to $50,000, on average, according to Durlin.
Listener-supported fundraisers are extremely helpful to a point, although Durlin said the station can only turn to so many locals – many of whom work at relatively low-paying jobs in the tourist industry.
“The one really difficult thing for KZMU is that it has to depend on a really small population base, and the tourist money just hasn’t come our way,” she said.
KZMU could conceivably cut its services to the bare minimum, Durlin said, but that would come at a cost to the station’s audience.
“If we shrink back, we could try to get by on $70,000 a year, but we couldn’t fulfill our mission as a community radio station,” she said.
On the plus side, former station manager Jeff Flanders and KZMU’s trustees set aside some rainy-day funds, although Durlin is reluctant to touch that funding.
“Wisely, Jeff and the board put money away,” she said. “But that should stay in the reserves, because something could always happen at a radio station that you’ll need that nest egg for.”
This summer, for instance, the station was struck by lightning, and it had to replace its damaged equipment immediately in order to stay on the air.
To raise more revenue, the station is launching a new recreation-themed program with the hope that it can bring in money from other sources. It also plans to reach out to businesses to underwrite programming on the station, and it’s increasing its underwriting costs from the current rates of $4 and $5 per spot.
“We’re doubling that to $10, which is still quite a deal,” she said.
Over the years, Durlin said that many local businesses have come to KZMU’s aid, including the Rave’N Image, Wildland Scapes, Wells Fargo Bank, Eddie McStiff’s and Eklecticafe, among others.
Needless to say, donations from listeners and businesses are always welcome.
“Anybody can donate to us at any time,” Durlin said. “It’s tax-deductible, and we would welcome your gift or bequest.”
KZMU loses “sole source” status
In addition to its findings that KZMU does not meet it revised fundraising requirements, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting determined that KZMU is no longer a “sole service” provider, meaning that other public radio stations now have a presence in Moab.
But Durlin said those out-of-area broadcasters don’t provide the same kinds of services, training or programming that KZMU’s listeners have come to expect since the station hit Moab’s airwaves in 1992.
“The other public radio stations that have come in are from Salt Lake and Logan, and they’re not dealing with the Moab City Council primary race,” she said. “They don’t have a focus on the infrastructure of Moab, and whether we can withstand the burden of tourism – what Edward Abbey called ‘industrial tourism.’ A community radio station is here to do that sort of thing.”
Rave’N Image owner and KZMU supporter Sarah Barstow said that she listens to some nationally syndicated programs on other public radio stations – especially the ones she grew up with. However, she appreciates the sense of local identity she gets when she tunes into KZMU.
“I love the diversity of the programming,” she said. “It’s just a great representation of the diverse community we live in.”
Barstow said she loves the fact that she might run into a volunteer KZMU DJ at City Market, or find out that a DJ lives nearby.
“It feels like it’s for us,” she said. “It’s not coming from somewhere else.”
She said she savors the feeling she gets when she tunes into a KZMU program at random.
“Every once in a while, I’ll hear this radio show, and say, ‘Who is this person? I should be hanging out with them,’” she said. “You don’t get that same feeling with other (stations).”
King said the CPB’s grant program is structured to support sustainable broadcast services for Americans, noting that more than 70 percent of that funding goes to well over 1,400 locally owned public radio and television stations.
“CPB supports ‘small’ stations across the country — in fact, they represent nearly 25 percent of all public radio stations in the (community service grant) program,” she said.
But as a steward of federal funding, she said, it has finite resources to foster a healthy public media system that is a universal service.
For more information about KZMU, visit its website at kzmu.org.
Federal grant to disappear in October
If we shrink back, we could try to get by on $70,000 a year, but we couldn’t fulfill our mission as a community radio station.
The online version of this article has been revised to include comments from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which could not be reached by press time this week.