You’ve heard this all before, but . . .

When people take the time and energy to call me directly to talk about the direction of the station or the choices we’re making or what they hear or don’t hear on the air, I appreciate that.  I really do. I’m not much of a “call up and complain” person at all so I always imagine that if you do that, you must really care about things. So, hat tip to you for caring that much about how this organization is run. And I say that with no facetiousness. None.

But I must say over the last two or three weeks, I’ve been surprised by the tone of the calls, the quick judgments, and the vehement, really visceral comments about changes we are beginning to make as we wind down our analog delivery of classical programming, a process that was started more than a year and a half ago, with every attempt made to keep the public informed. Some decisions that are part of that just happen in a way that prevents a public unveiling.

Our two small frequencies sold last week – a move absolutely necessitated by the pressure to make good on our commitments to the lender that provided capital for 94.1 more than three years ago. We were so pleased to receive a fair price from a local broadcaster, allowing us to act in good faith with a lender that has been very patient and accommodating to us.  And, coincidentally, although not planned that way, we eliminated a position that had moved from full-time to part-time and then as cash flow continued to present an ongoing challenge, and we all felt the uncertainty surrounding the sale of the stations, moved to a position elimination.

Those are not moves made without feeling or without regret.  We’ve been letting people go here for the entire two years that I’ve been on board – our staff is about half the size it was three years ago.  That takes its toll on everybody. I’d love to have somebody to pace the floor with me late at night if anyone wants to share the worry associated with letting people go, whatever the reason.  Some of you are in the same boat.

A lot of factors go into personnel issues and generally, I think of those things as confidential, protecting the privacy and choices of the employees who are affected and allowing them to share the information with the people they choose, in the way they choose.

WBNI has been an important cultural resource in this community, but the truth is, fewer and fewer people are tapping into it.  The programming has stayed much the same over many years and while it is beloved by stalwart friends, it has not drawn a new audience.  It comes down to choices – where will the limited resources that we have be directed?  Toward a station with a small, vocal, passionate, diminishing audience or toward the programming that is growing its audience each year? Maybe if we had started five years or so ago really ramping up classical programing to attract that new audience, we wouldn’t find our selves in this position. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.

I think it would be great if NIPR could fund a classical station, a news/information station, an adult alternative album station, and maybe a Latino station.  We would serve more of the community that way. We would make lots of people happy. We would stop some of the demoralizing complaints.  And we would go out of business. Quickly.

The pressures that we are feeling now are a result of a changing economy and a decision that was made with great enthusiasm and promising vision several years ago.  It was a time when there was a push all across the country for public radio stations to increase their footprint, buy new frequencies, and make a mark.  And here, it was pushed even more by unhappy listeners who wanted a classical signal that served them personally better than what was being offered.  I wasn’t here, so I try to not second guess, but in dealing day in and day out with unhappy people, I can certainly see how it would seem like the right thing to do.  Buy a stronger signal and give people what they want.  The plan was to pay the entire loan off in a very short period of time, but the capital campaign, while supported by some very generous gifts, fell far short of its goal, and the expenses associated with the signal exceeded expectations.

So here we are.

Guided by a board who feels as passionate about public radio as the most passionate listeners in the community, we’re hoping to continue to strengthen the operating side of the financials by building revenue and containing expenses. We have two expenses here, primarily, people and programs and cuts to either are a concern. At the same time we have to deal realistically with the capital difficulty 94.1 presents.

There is within this organization a constant discussion about direction and decision-making, about serving the public and being good fiscal stewards. No quick and easy answers, at least not from my chair.  If it looks different from your chair, I’d be happy to talk to you. I’d really rather have you do that than flame me – or my staff or colleagues – on Facebook or another blog. Or gather a group of protestors about a personnel decision. Or stop contributing, which only makes sense if you are going to totally stop listening, and even then, some people who don’t listen much at all contribute anyway, just because they like the idea of another voice. You know, nobody has to give, but when support is withheld, it just makes everything keep getting worse instead of better and the hard decisions just keep coming.

If we don’t serve the public, we’re not doing our job.  But the public is a big, diverse thing, with lots of needs, interests, and passions. I’d like to try to provide service to as much of that as possible. I’d like to keep as many people happy as possible.  I’d like to provide incomes, steady and dependable, for a good staff of hardworking people.  I’d like to answer my phone and have a civil conversation with anybody who cares about the totality of this organization.

You can call me.




Filed under Changes, Community, Programming

2 responses to “You’ve heard this all before, but . . .

  1. Just know there are many of us in this community who DO understand why difficult decisions had to be made, and certain actions taken, to create the possibility of sustainability and longevity.

    We not only support you, but truly acknowledge your relentless, however agile, fight to persevere.

    This cause (WBNI) required a true champion; you rose to the occasion. Our hats tip to you Joan.

  2. Renee Wright

    I’ve just started reading Alexander McCall Smith’s latest book in his series about Botswana’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency, and your comments made me think of something in the opening pages.

    “You cannot change people by screaming at them,” says Precious Ramotswe, head of the agency.

    I’m sure it must feel like a huge loss to many WBNI listeners to lose their music, but the facts remain what they are, and you’ve done a great job communicating the rationale behind the decisions.

    I’m sorry you had to take the brunt of the criticism, and I’m sure YOU were professional and sympathetic in listening.

    It almost reminds me of Wendy Robinson and the school board’s decision to close Elmhurst. She fielded a lot of criticism about the decision, even though the economics were incontrovertible.

    You’re right; it IS all about good stewardship. Having the courage to make the right decisions for the organization isn’t easy sometimes, and I think now is one of those times.

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