Monday, February 27, 2006

So many pledge drives, so little money

When I was in L.A., I was looking forward to being able to listen to KCRW in its full FM stereo glory, outside the confines of my headphones or those shitty little speakers inside my laptop. Unfortunately, most of the time I was out there, they were running their pledge drive. Annoyed by the constant talking and pitches, I ended up reverting back to my laptop and listening to Commercial-free and pledge-drive free, WOXY was a perfect solution until, BAM!...they announced they were in financial trouble and becoming a "listener supported station." In serious need to raise some funds, WOXY has essentially been in non-stop pledge drive mode ever since. Now local indie station WLUW is in the middle of its pledge drive and I just heard that KEXP will be starting its drive on March 3rd. As annoying as they can be, pledge drives are a main source of income for most non-commercial stations and two or three weeks of fundraising pitches is certainly preferable to an entire year of commercial breaks. However, while all these stations provide great music and programming, I'm guessing most RFC readers out there are like me and simply can't effort to support every station's drive? So who should a local indie rocker on a limited budget support? KCRW and KEXP? These are easily the two best Internet stations nationwide in terms of both live programming and archived content. However, both also have significant local support in their communities via their FM signals and are backed by major organizations. KCRW has the advantage of also being an NPR affiliate and KEXP has been graciously funded over the years by the Experience Music Project. If you're a big fan of either station and have cash burning in your wallet, by all means donate away and you'll get some great pledge premiums in return. However, if your budget is tight, save your money. Trust me; these stations will be able to survive without your $50 pledge. WLUW? This would seem like the obvious choice because they're the local fledgling 100-watt community station. However, again I would have to recommend saving your money. WLUW isn't struggling financially because they're not raising enough money, they're struggling because their budget has been mismanaged. After Loyola decided to drop funding for the station, the station's two managers successfully lobbied that the only way that WLUW would be able to survive was to continue to employ them both on a full-time basis. Rather than waiting to see what the station could realistically bring in every year, and then offering full-time money to its management if enough funding became available, an extremely top-heavy budget was put in place, burdening the station with debt almost since day one. Not surprisingly, the station has continued to operate in the red ever since. You not giving WLUW $50 this week isn't going to cause it to go off the air, the deficit will just be picked up by management partner WBEZ. However, eventually they'll probably have to admit that the cost of two full-time employees is just too much for any 100-watt community station to sustain. Now here's a case where even your $10 pledge will make a difference. This Internet-only radio start-up spawned from the former alt-rock institution 97X (BAM!...The Future of Rock n' Roll!)is quite literally out of money and could very easily be off the air in a month or two. In an effort to stay afloat, the station is testing a subscription-based service that charges listeners $9.95 per month. In order to stay in business, they need to reach a level of 7000 subscribers, but as of today their pledge drive barometer graph shows barely a quarter of that reached. Similar to the criticism of WLUW's overreaching budget, one could also question whether a niche Internet radio station can really support a staff of three full-time DJs and a GM. Of course, it's also the live DJs that make stand-out from all of the other Internet radio stations out there and true fans of the station know that it really wouldn't be "WOXY" without Barb, Mike and Shiv on the air. March 6th has been slated as the "day of reckoning" for the station, at which time the management will evaluate how many subscribers they've reached and decide whether the new business plan is feasible. is a great station with a storied past and it would be a shame for it to just sputter away. If you want to help out a truly independent "mom-and-pop" institution dedicated to great music, this is were your donation should go.


Blogger Robyn Detterline said...

Thanks for this article. I've been listening to WLUW in the mornings and WOXY while at work and have been trying to decide who needs my money more. So this information has been very helpful, thanks.

2/27/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill V said...

I wish I had more time for "radio". I seem to catch WLUW a little in the car and just don't have time for the internet stations when I'm at home. I like all the ones you mentioned, WOXY being my favorite. I was led to believe that WOXY's mom n pop owners finally sold a couple of years ago. I remember reading a nice article about the whole thing, then hearing they were "internet only". WOXY was off the air for a while, and now they are asking for money? It seems ever since they changed owners they've had some problems, and must now be owned by some sort of company. So why would I give them money? I'll send something into WLUW just like I always do, reason number one being is they are local and hope they get stronger as they evolve.

2/28/2006 11:02:00 AM  
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