Seattle classical station cuts positions as underwriting income dries up

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Classical KING FM in Seattle has cut three full-time positions and several part-time positions due to a loss of underwriting income from local arts organizations. 

“Underwriting revenue has almost disappeared for us,” CEO Brenda Barnes told Current in an email. “The majority is from nonprofit arts institutions that are unable to operate now and for the foreseeable future.”

Barnes said that looking to next year, “I don’t see any way that underwriting and car donations are going to rebound. So, in order to ensure KING FM is strong through the tough economic years ahead, I needed to make staff reductions.”

Among the cuts were two programming positions and a development position, Barnes said. In total, the station eliminated the equivalent of 4 1/2 full-time positions, she said.

Public broadcasters have been bracing for underwriting declines as local businesses and organizations close to contain the pandemic. Business income, which includes underwriting, is the second-highest source of income for public radio stations, according to CPB. 

Underwriting made up 11% of KING FM’s total revenue in 2018, according to its annual report

Though underwriting is suffering, Barnes said KING FM’s listening in March “went sky-high.” 

The station nearly doubled its Average Quarter Hour Persons from the first week of March to the fourth week, according to Nielsen Audio Portable People Meter data compiled by the Radio Research Consortium. 

“I expect listener sensitive revenue to be strong through this,” she said.

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