CPB Board sets audience criteria for radio grants

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With no vocal opposition to a CPB task force’s proposal to add audience size to the criteria for radio station grants, the CPB Board unanimously approved the policy Jan. 22.

Endorsing the proposal will “send a strong message to stations on the edge that they must try harder,” said task force member Mike Lazar, g.m. of WNIU/WNIJ, DeKalb, Ill., before the board vote.

Another task force member, Tom Thomas of the Station Resource Group, estimated
that one in six stations will have to improve its audience service to meet
the new requirements, which take effect in 1998. “The overall majority of
stations that now enjoy the support of the corporation will be doing so in
three, four and five years out.”

later article
Among NFCB-member community radio stations,
few will have to scramble to meet new grant criteria

Excerpted from an article
in Current, Feb. 26, 1996
By Jacqueline Conciatore

San Francisco–CPB’s new performance criteria for radio station grantees will not affect the community radio sector significantly–a total of four community stations are in danger of losing grant standing.

Two of the threatened stations are likely to accelerate their fundraising enough to be eligible before the new requirements kick in for fiscal 1998, the president of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters told members during the NFCB conference in San Francisco last week.

Though NFCB President Lynn Chadwick didn’t name the stations, which are all in larger markets, sources revealed they are: KBOO, Portland; KDHX, St. Louis; KFAI, Minneapolis, and Pacifica station KPFK, Los Angeles.

Many of the same things they’ll be doing to meet the new criteria will also be required of about 30 other public radio stations that would fall short of the minimum grant criteria if the standards were going into effect today. About 90 percent of today’s grantees can already meet those standards, according to a report from CPB’s Public Radio Issues and Policy Task Force, which designed the new grant standards.

The recently approved performance standards require grantees to meet specified Average Quarter Hour (AQH) audience ratings or levels of community financial support, proportionate to their coverage populations. CPB will use Areapop methodology to estimate population in a signal area.

Stations in large urban centers with their crowded radio markets have a tougher time meeting the standards. KPFK in Los Angeles has an Areapop of almost 14 million, according to station manager Mark Chubb, and so would have to raise $1.2 million to meet the minority service standard. That’s $290,000 beyond the $930,000 it raised last year. As for the AQH standard, “We’re not even in shouting distance,” he says. “Under listener support, we may make it, but the pace at which it has to be done is unnatural.” Chubb questions the accuracy of the Areapop measure. “I don’t think the antenna covers what they say it does,” he says. “We’re in the top one or two [stations] west of the Mississippi in terms of what they say we reach.”

Like the other four Pacifica stations, KPFK recently made program changes to build audience. Its most recent fund drive earned $405,000, or $115,000 beyond the goal, Chubb says. But listeners already give fairly sizable gifts, and Pacifica takes no corporate support, so it will be quite difficult to hit the mark, he believes. If KPFK loses its CPB grant, which accounts for about a fifth of its budget, Chubb would cut staff by half, he says. “There’s nowhere else to cut.”

KFAI, Minneapolis, believes 1996 levels of giving, rather than the 1995 levels CPB used to to analyze stations’ grant standing, may qualify the 18-year-old station.

And although the powers that be have told KBOO in Portland it has a good chance of making the mark in time, the station has been “basically assuming we’ll never see federal money again,” says Volunteer Coordinator Deborah Howes. “That’s where we have to start from.” KBOO is considering some potentially audience-boosting program changes, however, and its fundraising team is seeking new grants and will develop a major donor campaign, she says.

With an eclectic schedule that includes local and Pacifica news, talk shows, magazines, Spanish-language programming, and music that encompasses classical, folk, jazz, Latin, hip hop, R&B and Celtic, KBOO runs counter to current wisdom that says too many discrete audiences handicap both the station and its service to listeners. Howes wishes there were more stations to serve these small audiences. “Because there’s obviously a lot of need. And it is all cramped on one 24-hour-a-day band. All of [KBOO’s] shows have audiences. And every one of the audiences wants more of that [particular show].”

“Narrow” criteria for success

Though the new CPB criteria aren’t severe enough to demolish community radio, NFCB stalwarts were predictably cool to rules that encourage ratings-consciousness.

Some argue that the new performance standards don’t measure the real value of community stations’ service. Many stations target underserved populations who don’t deliver stratospheric numbers but do demonstrate their love for given shows. KFAI, for example, airs a 90-minute program for the Hmong immigrant community that consistently is one of its biggest fundraisers, says News Director Mark Wassenaar.

One vocal opponent of the audience service standard is WORT, Madison. “When you’re talking about how a program serves a community, you need to look at a lot of different standards, many of which are not quantifiable,” says Operations Coordinator Norman Stockwell. “There is a concern that the new criteria force stations to conform to a narrow set of guidelines, rather than allowing for the diversity and uniqueness public radio affords.”

At the annual business meeting that closed the NFCB conference, Chadwick responded to criticisms from some that in endorsing the audience standard she had abandoned her constituency’s mission to broadcast alternative programming for special populations. [Chadwick was a member of the CPB issues and policy task force.] Community stations were locked out of federal grant programs in CPB’s earlier years because grantees had to have certain levels of nonfederal financial support, a criteria that favors stations with universities backing them. Now stations’ eligibility will be determined by either of two measures of service–audience or community giving. “Taking the criteria off cash and into service has been what we’re after for years,” she said.

In a session about grants programs, CPB’s Rick Madden argued that the low standards are hard to take issue with.

Stations will be eligible if they meet either the Listener Index or the Community Financial Support Index. The Listener Index requires capturing only about 1/10 of 1 percent of the coverage population, he points out. “It’s tough to say that disrupts any attempt to serve a discrete population. There’s a lot of reasonableness here.”

The standards are purportedly designed to help make stations accountable for programming performance. For stations serving areas with a population of 3 million or more, the Listener Index requires an average quarter-hour audience to be at least 0.12 percent of the Areapop estimate. Stations in smaller areas must serve at least 0.15 percent. The standards will increase by .03 in Fiscal Year 1999 and again by .03 in Fiscal Year 2000.

The Community Financial Support Index requires the larger-market stations to pull in at least 18 cents per capita. Smaller-market stations must earn at least 20 cents per capita.

Minority stations must meet half of those listening or giving levels. To be counted as a minority station, a licensee must meet two of three criteria: half of its board of directors is comprised of minority persons, half of its staff is minority, or 35 percent of its weekly cume is minority.

The new standards are imposed on top of existing requirements for grant eligibility pertaining to staff size, hours of operation and nonfederal financial support.

In a later session, CPB grantmeister Priscilla Weck said the corporation is
planning to revamp criteria for the Micro-market grants program. Exactly how
hasn’t been determined, but the goal is to make the grants program home for
stations that fall out of eligibility for Community Service Grants.

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