Thursday, July 30, 2020


A couple of months ago the future looked bleak for KBCS [link], an old-school community radio station in Seattle. 

In early June it looked like the station was going to layoff its Program Director and News Director because the licensee is cutting off its funding for the station.

The good news is listeners and community organization opened their hearts and their wallets and saved the jobs and gave the station some time to keep operating.

The bad news is that that KBCS’s licensee, Bellevue College, announced that they will be cutting off funding for the station. According a report in The Watchdog, the campus newspaper, the college provides 19% of the station’s annual operating budget. Now KBCS desperately needs to plan for a sustainable future in a dicey time.

KBCS has an excellent signal that blankets Seattle
This will be big task because KBCS is a small player in the highly competitive Seattle noncommercial radio market. In a place where everything is an alternative to something else, KBCS has remained stuck in the 1970s.

KBCS was born during the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The station signed on in 1973 after protesting students at Bellevue College, a commuter campus that is part of the State of Washington’s Community and Technical College system, called for a  radio station that would present the news and music of the day.

Since the 1970s, KBCS remained a quirky community station with"Pacifica style" programming politics and engagement.

According to Nielsen, KBCS had a 0.2 AQH share and 33,100 estimated weekly listeners in January 2019, the last "book" where KBCS appeared.

In early July, KBCS began a Sustainability Campaign with the goal of adding 1,000 new members by July 1, 2021. Cash support from Bellevue is scheduled to end on June 30, 2021.

According to the station’s audited financial report for 2019 [link], KBCS received $1.3 million in cash and in-kind support. 

Donations from members and other listeners was approximately $580,000. Underwriters provided about $149,000. CPB added $114,000. The rest of the revenue came from Bellevue College and other sources.

In January 2018 Spark News published a “case study” of KBCS [link].  When we checked KBCS’s website when we were preparing this post, we found that little had changed since 2018.

Slide from our 2018 Case Study
KBCS continues to program “Political Talk” and eclectic music. Weekly mornings are filled with the Thom Hartmann Show and Democracy Now.

On the weekends KBCS airs narrow-appeal music and ethnic programs such as tunes from Hawaii, Portugal and Brazil.

You could describe KBCS as “radio for old hippies” because that reflects the mindset of the station’s hosts and listeners. This approach was working when Bellevue paid bills. Now KBCS needs to be relevant to wider group of people.