KOSU is continuing its 60th year of radio broadcasting in 2016, and I am proud to have been part of this station for more than a third of that time. As station director during past nine years, I have been privileged to stand alongside a great team of public radio professionals and listener financial partners to preserve and grow KOSU’s media services. Together, we expanded KOSU’s weekday national news programming, strengthened local news content through collaborations such as StateImpact and Invisible Nations, and discovered a whole new world of local, independent music through our partnership with The Spy.
We opened a new studio in downtown Oklahoma City and a satellite studio in downtown Tulsa to better serve our largest communities of listeners. We built a radio station, 88.3 FM KOSR, to improve our broadcast signal in Stillwater and a new translator station, 94.9 FM, to restore our radio service in Ponca City.
We joined with NPR to create more stories from Oklahoma and to improve listener experiences through kosu.org. At the same time, we partnered with the community to present issues-based conversations and listening parties, live music performances in our OKC studios and at Guthrie Green in Tulsa, and listener coffees and brewery tours throughout the KOSU listening area.
Since 2008, KOSU has more than tripled the amount of financial support it receives from the community – primarily through listener contributions and business underwriters. As a result, KOSU’s annual budget has nearly doubled, up to $1.8 million in FY17, while reducing the percentage of the budget that comes from tax-based sources.
Despite KOSU’s growth, we face a season of change, as our industry grapples with its digital future and as station budgets tighten in light of shrinking tax bases in many states, including Oklahoma. Just as other publicly funded institutions in our state have made cuts to services, KOSU must also re-evaluate its spending priorities in light of a nearly 10 percent reduction in its state-based funding in the past six months.
After reviewing KOSU’s expenditures and considering the station’s future needs, and after presenting options with members of our Community Advisory Committee, KOSU will launch several changes beginning October 1.
On the programming side, KOSU has opted to end its affiliation agreement with American Public Media. The decision, will save KOSU approximately $70,000 in affiliation dues and program fees in FY17. As a result of this move, KOSU will no longer air The Dinner Party Download, A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace. Beginning October 1, KOSU will expand NPR’s All Things Considered in the Marketplace timeslot from 6pm to 6:30pm, and is currently piloting several programs to succeed The Dinner Party Download and A Prairie Home Companion.
The bottom line, it is difficult to justify the continued expense of these programs, especially when considering that Marketplace airs during All Things Considered, which KOSU already invests $58,000 a year to carry, and when considering that A Prairie Home Companion will feature only 13 new episodes in the upcoming season following the retirement of longtime host and public radio icon Garrison Keillor.
We will do our best to consider all options to continue providing the best public media service we possibly can with the resources we currently have to pay for them.
HD RADIO SERVICE
On the technical side, KOSU will take steps to wind down its HD radio service at 91.7 HD-1 and 91.7 HD-2. KOSU is not the first radio station to mothball HD, nor do I believe it will be the last. This change will happen in two phases. During phase one, which will occur October 1, KOSU will power down 91.7 HD-2, which airs classical music. During phase two, to be determined later this year, KOSU will turn off 91.7 HD-1, the digital version of KOSU’s analog signal at 91.7 FM.
After analyzing data on how listeners are accessing KOSU, the continued lack of market penetration for HD radio receivers, and weighing the cost of replacing our aging HD equipment, we have concluded that the HD platform is no longer financial viable. KOSU’s Manager of IT/Engineering estimates that by turning off the HD portion of our transmitter, KOSU will save approximately $15,000 annually on electricity costs.
This change will only be noticeable among listeners who use HD radios to experience KOSU and will have absolutely no impact on our analog broadcast signals that the vast majority of us already use at 91.7 FM in central Oklahoma, 107.3 FM and 107.5 FM in northeastern Oklahoma, 88.3 FM in Stillwater and 94.9 FM in Ponca City, as well as our live news stream at kosu.org.
Meanwhile, classical music will remain available at KOSU.org thanks to a new partnership with KUCO, the classical music station owned by the University of Central Oklahoma. KOSU will provide links from kosu.org to KUCO’s live audio stream, providing a stronger classical music experience that is locally produced and programmed.
The upcoming changes in programming and HD radio, along with the elimination of some professional services, will save KOSU approximately $100,000 in FY17. These savings, coupled with projected revenue growth from community sources, will position KOSU to invest in its future, from the people needed to create radio to the platforms that will be required to deliver it.
After examining emerging trends in listener consumption both locally and nationally, there is no denying the fact that public media’s future will be determined by how well stations, networks and independent producers embrace digital media platforms to provide great content where and when listeners want it, from podcasts, NPR One, and live and on-demand content, to traditional analog broadcast signals and events that bring our communities together to learn about issues and to experience the artistry of local musicians. Through the strategies presented, KOSU seeks to be a media resource you can rely on for quality content that helps you learn more about the world we share.
Thank you for supporting and listening to KOSU.