TOPEKA – Kansas Public Radio’s pledge drive took on an added sense of urgency Tuesday.
On-air staff of the National Public Radio affiliate at the University of Kansas in Lawrence told listeners that KU is cutting $100,000 from KPR’s fiscal year 2018 budget, which begins July 1. That is in addition to the $100,000 cut the station is dealing with from its current fiscal year 2017 budget.
“We’re trying to grapple with that right now,” J. Schafer, KPR’s news director, said during Tuesday morning’s “Campaign for Excellence” pledge drive. “This is by far the largest budget cut in this station’s 65-year history.”
According to information provided by KPR, the $200,000 total permanent reduction in “direct university cash support” from KU represents a 41 percent reduction in aid they receive from the university.
Dan Skinner, KPR’s general manager, said he couldn’t be specific yet as to how the reductions will affect staffing at the public radio station.
“A cut of this magnitude inevitably will have a negative impact on our entire operation and staffing decisions as we move forward,” he said.
Skinner said the station, which began airing programming in 1952, has a “record-high” 116,000 weekly listeners and 21 full- and part-time employees. He said the station’s staff is still “in the planning stages” of how to deal with the cuts, including not filling positions and delaying or canceling some expenditures.
“We’re trying to be as proactive as possible,” Skinner said. “The positive thing about this is that we have our listeners. There’s great potential there to close the gap we have” in funding. He said Tuesday’s pledge drive netted $35,600, an increase of $10,000 from the drive’s goal.
According to KPR’s fiscal year 2016 financial report, the station received $1,142,097 in 2015 from the University of Kansas and then $1,032,516 in 2016, a decrease of $109,581. The public radio station has several funding sources, including corporate and private donations, grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and memberships and subscriptions. The total revenue for 2015 was $3,013,691, while it was $2,976,181 in 2016, according to the annual report.
The budget cuts weren’t completely unexpected, Skinner said, adding that he was told there was “a high probability” the second round of $100,000 in reductions was likely a reality given the cuts to state aid to Kansas regents universities, including KU.
“We were aware that the budget cuts were coming this fiscal year,” he said, “but the second $100,000 was just confirmed recently.”
Skinner also is general manager for the Kansas Audio Reader Network, housed in the same building as KPR. The radio reading service for the blind and visually impaired is also getting a $100,000 cut from KU beginning in July on top of its $100,00 reduction this year. The reading service employs nine staff members, 450 volunteers and is more dependent on funding from KU, Skinner said, relying on direct mail campaigns and fundraising events.
“We don’t have the same access (to funding) like we do for KPR,” he said, adding that 7,000 to 8,000 people use the reading service in Kansas and Missouri for information to materials they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
The Kansas Audio Reader Network was created in 1971 and is reportedly the second oldest radio reading service for the blind, according to the network’s website.
Skinner wasn’t able to say how the cuts will affect staff at the audio reader network.
Despite news of the budget cuts, Skinner remained upbeat on Tuesday.
“We have loyal supporters,” he said. “We’ll deal with this challenge and move forward.”