Northern Kentucky University (NKU) in Highland Heights, Kentucky (and in the Cincinnati market) is what I call “ASO” – Accidental Station Owner. Many licensees of noncommercial stations got into the radio biz by accident. They built their stations in the 1970s and 1980s when there was much less money at risk.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) upped the stakes (and programming quality) when they required a substantial local financial commitment to qualify for CPB funds. Such is the case at WNKU. After years of support for WNKU, the university is facing unprecedented statewide higher education budget cuts. Now the “inner ASO” of the university is showing up and WNKU is likely to the block.
All of this was kicked into a higher gear last week when a Kentucky judge ruled that Republican Gov. Matt Bevin can cut the budgets of public colleges and universities without the approval of the state legislature. The operating budget at NKU will be reduced by $8 million. This means there will be job cuts for staff and faculty. WNKU has become an expense item NKU says they can no longer afford.
WNKU HAS SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS
As we reported in April [link] Northern Kentucky University has provided an annual subsidy that amounted to $900,000 in 2015. The station needed the subsidies to pay back a $6.75 million loan from 2011. Back them WNKU’s management purchased three commercial stations outside of the Cincinnati metro to repeat WNKU’s programming.
Though the new stations added a lot of coverage territory for WNKU, it didn’t add many listeners or supporters. Ironically this was part of an over-aggressive plan to make WNKU self-supporting. Since the university is ultimately on the hook for the dough, they felt they needed to act now.
THE RISE OF SAVE WNKU!
According to a report last weekend on Cincinnati’s WLWT-TV thousands of people are fighting to save WNKU from a possible sale. The effort is being led by local indie music site CincyMusic.com.
Triple A consultant Mike Henry of Paragon Media added his support for the SAVE WNKU! campaign [link]. In his letter of support, Henry said:
“Music and radio usually live in an entertainment bubble away from politics. Unfortunately, the waves of a new budget slashing [by the] governor of Kentucky have washed ashore on noncom Music Discovery WNKU-FM. Now a fire sale of WNKU is on the table, and local supporters of WNKU are quickly lining up to help save the invaluable and unreplaceable local community service.”
Cincy resident Charles Auerbach, father of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, said NKU should keep the station:
“Because it’s the best radio station in the Midwest.
But I think SAVE WNKU! needs to quit focusing on the university and work wth an actual broadcaster – not an ASO – to operate the station.
WHY CINCINNATI PUBLIC RADIO SHOULD ACQUIRE WNKU
Cincinnati is home to one of the best noncommercial broadcasters in the nation: Cincinnati Public Radio (CPR). CPR now operates two excellent noncom stations: WVXU (NPR News) and WGUC (Classical music).
The prime mover in the creation of CPR is Richard Eiswerth. Since he became manager of WGUC in 1998, Eiswerth has done wonders. He led WGUC’s successful acquisition of WVXU from Xavier University. He streamlined the sound of both stations. He assembled a management and programming team that helped CPR grow to an annual revenue of $8.2 million. In FY 2015 CPR’s net assets were worth over $25.5 million. This is the type of organization that WNKU needs and WNKU can benefit CPR.
I’ve met Eiswerth several times over the years. I am sending him this email:
To: Rich Eiswerth, CEO Cincinnati Public Radio
Hi Rich –
I hope all is well with you. I believe we last spoke at a PRIMA meeting in New Orleans. I am writing to you day to express my concern about the fate of WNKU. I am certain you know about the current situation regarding WNKU and Northern Kentucky University.
I will get right to the point: If possible CPR should take the reins of WNKU by a purchase or LMA. Why?
WNKU survival is part of the progress and preservation of public media. The Triple A aka Music Discovery format has become an important generator of listener and public service growth. Look at the benefits American Public Media has had with 89.3 The Current. The Current now is their number one source of new members and underwriting revenue. You can have this success in Cincinnati.
You are probably wondering if WNKU can become sustainable. There are several excellent Triple A stations in markets similar to Cincinnati: WYEP in Pittsburgh, WYMS in Milwaukee and WFPK in Louisville. The Triple A community is ready and able to help secure the success of WNKU as part of CPR.
Thank you for listening. Ken Mills.