Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Not Selling Out - It's Buying In: Underwriting for College Radio

I've mentioned before that I'm a big believer in that the only way a "college radio" station can be sure to prevent a sale of its FCC license (by its parent institution) is to be fiscally self-sufficient.   It's hard for an administration to claim they're saving money via a sale when you're not costing them any money in the first place.  And, by definition, if you're bringing money in the door, it means you've got support and ties to both the campus and local communities; things no administration discards lightly.

So, how does a station become fiscally self-sufficient?

There are two main, traditional avenues:  fundraising and underwriting.   Fundraising is about asking listeners to simply donate money to the station because they want to support it.   Underwriting is about asking businesses (and other organizations) to donate money in exchange for something of benefit to the business - usually an on-air mention.

I won't get into fundraising here, except to say that David Caban has put together a fabulous on-line guide for how to do on-line fundraising for WRUW in Cleveland.   It's specifically for WRUW but can easily be adapted.  In fact, it's definitely worth shamelessly copying it for your station.   I'll also mention that if you've never done it at your station, make sure you get buy-in from your campus' Alumni Relation Office, since they are also responsible for fundraising and usually take that responsibility very seriously.

Instead, I'll focus on underwriting, because while fundraising typically has so-so effectiveness for small stations in small markets...underwriting can actually work for almost any station.  Why the difference?  Read on to take a new look at "selling out"...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Protecting Your College Radio Station from a Sale

The past 18 months have not been kind to college radio. Their budgets battered by the Great Recession, we've seen colleges and universities experiencing a sea change in their attitudes towards their radio licenses.  Instead of being viewed as something that would never be sold, some are electing to sell with little to no public warning to the students or station staff, and sometimes even when a station was in good fiscal health and was a source of prestige for the college.

As of this writing, we've seen:  KUSF (University of San Francisco), KTRU (Rice University), WRVU (Vanderbilt Student Communications, at Vanderbilt University), WNAZ (Trevecca Nazarene University), WDUQ (Duquesne University), WLIU (Long Island University), and KCMP (St. Olaf College) just to name a few.   And that doesn't include several colleges who LMA'd (Local Management Agreement) their college station to another entity, effectively removing students or local involvement from the station in the process.

For years, many colleges have long looked at their student radio stations as, generally, something they'd simply rather not deal with: out of sight, out of mind.  That's understandable; it costs a lot to have a station, and it benefits a relatively small (if not tiny) percentage of the student body.  Compared to other student activities, college radio tends to be fiendishly expensive.  And unlike most other activities, a licensed station has the potential to incur substantial fiscal penalty (i.e. FCC fines) and the ability to potentially embarrass the college on a very public stage.

Regardless, for decades, most colleges kept their radio stations.  Now they're selling them.  What's changed?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cross Country in 21,000 Images!

The Beast!   (pic is near Thousand Palms, CA)
In August of 2011, my wife and I moved from Canandaigua NY (the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, near Rochester) to Santa Barbara CA.  We loaded everything into a 24-ft long Penske truck, put the Toyota on a trailer towed behind, and set off on a 3,072 mile journey that would entail five days of driving through a 100+ degree heat wave.

On a lark, I rigged up our laptop and a webcam on the dashboard of the truck, set to take a snapshot every 10 seconds.  Then I assembled all the pics into videos - one for each day - and added subtitles about where we were at most given points.

The end result is kinda interesting, especially in a time-lapse photography sense.  Check 'em out!

Day 1 - Canandaigua, NY to Effingham, IL: Winter, Winter, Winter and Construction
Day 2 - Effingham, IL to Lewisville (Dallas) TX: Why the Hell Didn't We Go Through Memphis?
Day 3 - Lewisville, TX to Van Horn, TX: It's Flat, and Empty, but the Steak is Delicious
Day 4 - Van Horn, TX to Glendale (Phoenix) AZ: Is it the Heat that Makes Pretty Sunsets?
Day 5 - Glendale, AZ to Santa Barbara, CA: Crossin' the Mojave

Map showing daily start/end points of the trip.
We spent a day in Lewisville resting and visiting my wife's parents, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Damn Good Fundraising Video

"Here & Now" host Robin Young
busking in Harvard Square T Stop
Public radio is, by and large, considered to be a "very serious" media outlet.  It's an image that most public radio outlets, and NPR et al, work hard to maintain.  It works very well for them; means people trust the content they hear.

But it ALSO means that when public radio decides to poke fun at itself, it can work really, really well.

Case in point: today a buddy of mine at WBUR posted this hilarious fundraising video to Youtube:
A WBUR Film - A Cautionary Tale.

In it, WBUR GM Charles Kravetz finds the numbers aren't adding up, so he dispatches Bob Oakes, David Boeri, Robin Young and Meghna Chakrabarti...all are well-known reporters or hosts...out to the streets to scrounge up some cash.  Oakes takes a "will report news for change" on the sidewalk approach, Chakrabarti runs the WBUR parking lot, Boeri sells some "quality merchandise" out of his coat, and poor Robin Young busks guitar...intentionally the middle of the Harvard Square subway stop (one of the busiest in the system). And some random listener recognized her, came over with a grin, and said "Robin, don't quit your day job," while dropping a dollar in the guitar case.   Ouch.

The whole thing is sheer genius!  It highlights some of their strongest local talent (well, Robin's national but she's certainly well-known locally, too) and does so in a way that takes well-known voices and makes them more accessible as people.   All while poking fun at the system in a way that both makes you laugh and makes you feel just a little sorry for them.

Even if nobody actually donates directly because of this video.  I feel pretty confident that this video is part of an overall amalgamation of reasons while someone...probably a lot of someones...will end up donating.

If your station hasn't done a video like this...why not?  You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.