Big decisions helped by your input
by Susan Sheldon, Listener Sponsor Liaison
What do you, our listeners, want to hear on WORT that you’re not getting from other media? That’s a question we focus on when we make decisions about what to broadcast on WORT. But we also have to weigh those decisions against programming costs.
In April, the WORT board decided that our local news show, In Our Backyard, should expand its air time by an extra half hour, from 6 to 7pm, Monday-Thursday. The crew of 30 news volunteers were turning out consistent daily coverage of local news events (including the Tony Robinson tragedy, Black Lives Matter, and the Madison mayoral contest) with perspectives and voices not heard elsewhere. This decision was in line with our mission to facilitate community expression, with particular attention given to those underrepresented in traditional media.
This change meant a half-hour cut to our BBC news coverage (the 6–6:30pm time slot), leaving an hour of coverage from 5 to 6pm, and our BBC headline service, 5-minute snapshots of up-to-date world news, throughout the day.
Although we were cutting almost one third of our BBC coverage, this did not lessen the cost of the service. The BBC is our biggest programming cost at over $28,000 a year, but the sole American distributor, American Public Media, does not offer an a la carte choice of programming. The only choice they offer is either the entire package or the headline service alone, which is $6600 a year.
Looking at Costs
The board and staff also began looking at our budget for this fiscal year (July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016) in April. We saw that our current projections led to a substantial deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. That gave us choices: increase our income, decrease our expenses, or a combination, which is what the WORT board and staff elected to do. Because we know that you prefer to hear news and music when you tune in, we chose NOT to increase the number of pledge drives or the number of days spent asking for your support.
To potentially increase our income, we will reach out to “lapsed” donors, ask businesses who share WORT’s values to sponsor WORT events, increase the number of donors who give through our monthly donation program, and make donors aware of Employee Matching Donation programs in the workplace, as well as other initiatives.
In addition, we looked at our expenses. As we note during pledge drives, WORT runs pretty close to the bone. We have seven full-time and five part-time paid staff. Other costs include tower rental, utilities, telephone, building maintenance, equipment repair and replacement, printing costs, credit card fees, satellite access, and programming costs.
Most of these expenses are fixed and non-negotiable. The exceptions are staff salaries, staff benefits, and our programming costs.
WORT staff decided to forgo any raises as well as a cost of living increase for this fiscal year and to increase our contribution to our health care plan. We also eliminated one part-time position, and changed one position from full time to part time. This didn’t close the gap, so we turned to our programming costs.
Most WORT shows are produced and hosted by WORT volunteers. The fixed costs that make up our station overhead represent one of the costs of the shows; the other is the staff cost to support, train, and coordinate the volunteers. In addition
to WORT-produced shows we broadcast a few syndicated shows and pay for services that enable us to download other shows:
- Democracy Now!: $2000/year
- Workers Independent News: $1040/year
- Women’s International News Gathering Service: $300/year
- Public Radio Exchange Subscription (allows us to download shows from other community radio stations as well as share our shows): $421/year
Although Democracy Now! runs from 1 to 2pm, a time that many listeners cannot listen to it, it is more popular than the BBC as measured by the number and amount of pledge donations and the number of donors who mention it as one of their favorite shows.
We wanted to know what you valued, disliked, wanted to hear more of, and wanted to hear less of on WORT. In June, we began surveying people at summer events, as well as posting a survey on wortfm.org and running short segments on the air asking listeners to take the online survey. We also mailed the survey to those who requested it.
By early August we had received over 700 completed surveys. Our plan is to make this part of our annual evaluation of how well we are performing our mission to you, our listeners, but this time we were also paying particular attention to your responses to questions about news. Answers indicated you wanted to hear more local news, but other results were mixed.
We followed up the summer survey with an online news survey in mid-August, publicized by announcements during and after Democracy Now! and the BBC News Hour. The only clear result we got from this survey was that you did not want us to drop the BBC Headlines.
Changes and New Programs
Taking all of this information, the WORT Board met on September 15 and voted for the following changes to be made to the WORT schedule, effective October 5:
We are eliminating the BBC News Hour and News Room. It is available online at 3pm (changing with Daylight Savings Time) at www.bbc.co.uk/worldserviceradio. BBC coverage is available on Wisconsin Public Radio from 11:30pm to 6:00am weekdays, and weekends from 11pm to 6am.
We are keeping BBC news headlines during the morning classical shows, as well as at the top of news shows. Keeping the headlines also allows us to provide extended BBC coverage of breaking events.
We are moving Democracy Now! to the 5 to 6pm time slot, Monday–Thursday. It will continue to air from 4:30 to 5:30pm on Fridays.
We are introducing a new, free syndicated show in the 1 to 2pm, Monday–Thursday time slot: Letters & Politics, from community radio station KPFA in Berkeley, CA. It explores today’s major global and national news stories through interviews with guests who know the history of the topics, often authors and journalists. It gives context to the 3 minute sound bites you hear from most media and helps answer Why? and not merely What?
Our local news show, In Our Backyard, will expand to 6–7pm, Monday–Thursday. We now have over 40 local news volunteers to handle the expanded coverage, but we are always interested in increasing the number and expanding the contributing perspectives of volunteers. For more on being a news volunteer, contact Molly Stentz at 608-256-2001, ext. 586, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The result of our programming changes, budget cuts, and increased forecast income reduced our projected budget deficit for this year from $37,000 to less than $5,000.
We hope you enjoy the changes in WORT’s news programming. The WORT Board is composed of elected representatives of our listener sponsors and volunteers and is tasked with making the hard decisions about budgeting while representing the interests of you, our listeners. Thank you to everyone who filled out a survey and to our wonderful and talented news volunteers.