KRCL: Party People 

KRCL 90.9 looks at soirees to raise funds.

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It was a difficult legacy to match: KRCL 90.9 FM general manager Donna Land Maldanado, who retired in 2009, had served the station for 30 years. Her replacement, Amy McDonald, spent just a year at the helm and departed in November. Seemingly spurred by the turnover—and perhaps political moves in the nation’s capitol to cut funding for public broadcasting—rumors have sprung up about the KRCL’s health and finances, but senior staff say the station is as healthy as ever.

Station representatives declined to comment on McDonald’s departure. McDonald could not be reached for comment. The position will be filled after a candidate search, which may takes months.

But aside from that, it’s all good, say interim general managers Ryan Tronier and Amy Dwyer—whatever rumors people might hear.

In June 2010, the station marked its highest-ever monthly ratings at 69,000 listeners. While that was something of an outlier—average numbers are just below 50,000—all four of the months for which the station had the highest listenership have occurred during the two years since the controversial switch to a professional staff of disc jockeys and less-varied programming during prime daytime hours [see “Dead Air,” Jan 30, 2008, City Weekly].

Additionally, they say, they’re focusing more efforts on fundraising through events like the Dec. 3 Polar Jubilee, which was inspired by the success of the station’s 30th-anniversary party in 2009. “[The Polar Jubilee] will become our signature event each year,” says Tronier, who also serves as program director.

“Do we have financial problems? No,” he says. “But we do have financial need.”

For example, congressional Republicans tried but failed to block funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the overseer of all public radio stations, in November. KRCL receives about 80 percent of its funding from local donations and some government funding, but the CPB also provides licensing rights to play copyrighted songs on KRCL, a huge cost savings.

Days before the Republican effort, even President Obama’s bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed cutting funding for public broadcasting. Eliminating federal funding for public broadcasting would amount to just one quarter of 1 percent of the $200 billion budget-cutting plan presented by the commission. Such a cut—$500 million per year—would impact public radio stations, including local KUER 90.1 FM and KCPW 88.3 FM, as well as television stations KUED 7 and KBYU 11, and others.

But that’s hardly new. Since at least the 1980s, Congress has threatened to eliminate funding for public broadcasting. Some have speculated that keeping that threat alive is one of the best funding mechanisms for public stations.

Contingency planning for a day without the CPB, Dwyer says, looks the same as what KRCL is doing anyway—trying to increase donations from community listeners. “We are built on $30, $20 and $10 donations,” she says. “It’s optimal to focus on community funding in the first place, so we’re trying to put energy there.”

That’s where the special events come in. Almost like the quintessential National Public Radio tote bag that donors receive as a thank you, a gala event gives a donor something tangible. But unlike the tote bag, it enables the station to connect with listeners, remind them of the station’s value and hit them up for more money. “It’s an efficient way to do many things at once,” Dwyer says.

As for the controversy over 2008’s shift, Tronier says there are some who still hold a grudge against the station. Those changes were prompted by a threat from CPB to either raise listenership and fundraising or lose their grant. More than two years later, the station’s leadership says the changes were appropriate.

“In 2005, CPB had a point. We didn’t have enough listeners,” says Tronier of the days when KRCL pulled the ears of about 25,000 per month. “And we weren’t raising the money we had to. There was a necessity for KRCL to do more and do more for our listeners.”

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