WYPR Board News: Looking to Raise Revenues

Report by Max Obuszewski

The Jan. 13, 2010 WYPR Board meeting and the Jan. 14 WYPR CAB meeting:

Deborah Callard called the meeting to order around 3 PM. George Matysiak, myself, and CAB members Peggy Olbrecht and Dale McCardle were in attendance.

Bailey Eck gave a report from the Governance Committee.  No representative was present from Ocean City.  According to FCC rules, there must be board members from all locales in the listening area.  It was said there were some good candidates, but there is reluctance to commit. One potential candidate has been found, a police officer in Ocean City, who is president of the FOP.  He played center on the University of Maryland football team. Those board members who spoke were favorable to having him on the board.  Again there is almost no racial diversity on the board with but one African American in the room.

Since radio is changing, it was said to look for board candidates who can assist in the technical transformation. In fact there is a move towards joint ventures.  A task force will look at sustainability issues and possible new directions.

Tony Brandon indicated other nonprofits are looking in this direction.  Johns Hopkins University has hired a woman who is a venture capitalist. Sinai Hospital has hired a person to look for new business ventures and she suggested that the hospital should open a drugstore.  There can be downsides, as Bailey pointed out, in regards to integrity.

I was extremely surprised to hear that Deborah and Tony have been traveling to see these “new business ventures.”  They were to travel to Cleveland to visit Ideastream, a for-profit which provides video streaming for the Ohio legislature.  They visited WBUR in Boston and were in San Diego.  Does the station continue with a capital campaign or should it consider new business ventures?

I wondered to myself if this is this legal?  Can a nonprofit radio station get involved with a for-profit corporation?  Can the station get involved in a for-profit business venture?

Beth Falcone gave a report from the Content and Outreach Committee.  She reported the new CAB members were briefed and given a tour of the station.

Bruce Wallace, producer for Maryland Morning, explained how a story might be developed.  He talked about the closing down of the community group SMEAC.  What he failed to mentioned, as reported in THE SUN, the former head of SMEAC was now employed by Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Could this be the reason the community group closed up shop?

A new project for Maryland Morning will be an investigation of the effects of the stimulus money.  Wallace said Doug Donovan, a former SUN reporter, has been hired to do a story once a month for the next nine months. There is some underwriting to cover Donovan’s contract.

Andy Bienstock gave a ratings report and an update on video streaming.  He asked who has HD radio.  Two people raised their hands.  He said this is typical of the general public.  HD1 is by the law analog.  HD2 is streaming the BBC and HD 3, while also streaming BBC, is being considered for some alternative.  YPR could consider doing jazz, classical or folk music.  There is no reason to do news on HD3. It is not yet standard for cars to have HD radio.

For ratings, there are no more diaries, but instead people meters.  With this system, the listenership reported has dropped, but YPR maintained its share and is 10th in the city.  WLIF, easy listening, benefited from the people meters.  Before men would not admit listening to such stations, but meters catch what radio station is actually on.

In a blatant attempt to smack Marc Steiner, Brandon asked about WEAA.  Andy said the station has very meager listener ship, except for music on the weekends.  There was no reason for bringing this up except to taunt us for supporting Steiner.  See my comments at the CAB meeting.  Andy said you cannot survive as an NPR station with so few listeners.  He was pleased with YPR’s ratings.

David Bowen gave a financial report.  He indicated the station was doing much better than expected.  The finance committee would meet each month to monitor the situation.  Tony thanked the programming people, and Deborah thanked Alex for bringing in the grants.

Tony reported that ad revenue is down 20% in the industry, but YPR is only down 3.5%.  The real financial concern then surfaced.  While YPR is adequately covering its costs, it is hardly reducing its debt–the loan taken to buy the station.  It was indicated that based on the covenant, there is concern about the debt ratio.

Dale gave a report about the CAB.  He said committees were functioning, and that attendance was pretty good. Tony expressed a concern that no one was taking minutes at CAB meetings.  Rodney Stump gave an update on the work of the Friends Group.

Finally, Brandon gave his president’s state of the station.  The strategic initiative is fiscal restraint, an improved web site and a search for new opportunities for the station.

I had to leave, as the board went into executive session.  The agenda gave no hint at the substance of what might be discussed behind closed doors.  I can only speculate that there was a serious discussion about the humongous debt which is not being reduced and the concept of getting involved in for-profit activities.

Report on January 14 CAB meeting

Dave Eberhardt and I attended the CAB meeting at Our Daily Bread.  Doreen Bolger opened the meeting at 6:10 PM and said that a YPR employee should take the minutes.  The board members agreed.  Her schedule does not permit her to do the minutes.  So it would be brought to Tony’s attention that he must supply a note taker.

Two CAB members resigned, and because of a serious health problem it is expected that Nancy Harrigan will no longer be with the CAB.  Beth Falcone from the corporate board suggested there is a need for more CAB members.  Please recruit.  Presumably interviews will take place at the station.

Then Falcone engaged in a discussion about ascertainment.  One CAB person felt that the term was elitist.  Another said she left the term out of her report.  Eduardo Hayden is the CAB’s chair of the ascertainment committee, and he was not  present.  The committee has not met since the last CAB meeting.

There were ten CAB members present, so it was determined that the meeting could proceed since there was a quorum.  Then Dale was elected chair, and Cindy Amitin was selected as vice-chair.  There was no vote at the last meeting, because of a concern for the lack of members present.

Dale McCardle and Peggy Obrecht gave a report about the previous day’s board meeting.  The station has 11,000 email addresses, but not all are contributors.  The station should echo the needs of the community, not just listeners.  Dale told of Bruce Wallace’s report to the board members.  He wants to invite him to a CAB meeting.

Rodney Stump of the Friends Group was welcomed.  Peggy said she was unaware there was a Friends Groups until she attended the board meeting.    He said the group provides pro bono advice to YPR.  Stump indicated he is working on a survey which listeners would eventually fill out.

I indicated one failing of the station is the lack of coverage of the wars and the money spent in Afghanistan and Iraq while cities and states have budget deficits.  This issue should be part of the survey.  I argued that Dan Rodricks has been supportive of the wars.   Peggy asked if I knew anyone to interview on this subject, I said yes, many people.

Dave asked what are the potential issues the news department should cover?  A CAB member wanted it on record that community members should be able to contribute at CAB meetings.

Another opined that more timely coverage of the news is needed.  The Dixon mess was well-covered, but what else?

I thanked Doreen for her service on the CAB and for allowing input from the community members who were at meetings.  Then I urged the CAB to allow members of the community to comment during the meeting, rather than just at the end.  This was agreed on.  The CAB said it will hold a general meeting, where the community will be invited and asked to express opinions and make comments and suggestions

Dale will seek out agenda items and send out a notice and an agenda a month in advance.  The next CAB meeting is March 18.  The plan is to have five meetings a year.

Dave said he would like to hear more advocacy on YPR.  A CAB member wanted to hear more investigative news stories.  I suggested inviting Sunni Khalid to a CAB meeting.  Stump promoted HD radio, but I reminded the meeting that Bienstock said very few people have an HD radio.

I raised several concerns.  There was an executive session at yesterday’s board meeting.  I agreed that certain matters could be discussed in executive session.  But how do we know if the issues discussed were indeed items that the community should not know about?  Could the poor financial session be discussed in private?  Or a plan to get involved in a private joint venture?  Dale agreed to seek more information.

Then I alerted the meeting how disdainful Tony Brandon was to WEAA during the board meeting.  I reminded all that in these difficult times, nonprofits should be supporting each other not defaming another public radio station.  I said that it was an affront aimed at Marc Steiner.  Dale said he could not confirm that and that he is not a “thorn-in-the-side person.

March 2, 2010 at 4:01 pm 6 comments

WYPR, Public Radio, and Climate Change

The world summit to deal with climate change at Copenhagen has been well covered by independent journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! (linked here). Her Web site archives her broadcasts.  It is pretty amazing to hear so many worldwide viewpoints.  One thing that does not get covered in the U.S. debate is that the U.S. government under Bush-and-Obama has spent $700 billion of taxpayer funds to rescue Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, the list goes on.  What if the government had allowed some of them to go under, and spent that money on investing in solar, wind, renewable energy, and green manufacturing jobs here in the U.S.  That is not a naive question.  In fact, it simply shows who controls the political agenda on the national stage in the U.S.  Many on Wall Street have shown themselves to be sophisticated criminals with purile motives: greed.

Marc Steiner mentioned on his WEAA show a Web site that gathers world newspaper articles in translated English versions: http://www.worldmeets.us.  Click to check it out.

The future of public radio exists in this context.  It would not be a hard-pressed analysis to note that a public radio show like Tapestry of the Times on WYPR or Praire Home Companion from Minnesota Public Radio–both very good shows–are easy to market, serialize to other radio stations, make some money for the founding station, and avoid any of the thorny issues that abut the powerful economic interests who are sucking up the public funds for war and banks.   Meanwhile, climate change and U.S. government debt will be left for our grandchilden.

This does not seem to be changing.  Therefore, each person has to take their own responsibility for global warming, by recycling, driving better-milage cars, driving less. . . .  Plus, most powerfully, spending money with companies that are creating climate solutions.  Our spending power is one of our most effective personal powers.

Does WYPR participate in creating climate solutions?  Have they covered international opinion, or simply the U.S. debate where the economy cannot afford climate change.   Has WYPR news covererage noted that the economy can afford half-a-trillion each year for U.S. Defense Department, another $100 billion for fighting wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, plus untold trillions for U.S. banks?  Meanwhile, health care for all and climate change for all are too expensive?  If WYPR covers these issues, great!  If not, maybe there is an agenda there.  Some disinformation.  You be the judge.

Many members of the former Take Back WYPR group have moved on to other projects, fighting for things they like, fighting for things they are against.  The WYPR Community Advisory Board will have to take up the slack.  The next meeting dates are below.

CAB MEETING SCHEDULE

Thursday, January 14, 2010, 6pm
Catholic Charities Our Daily Bread Employment Center
725 Fallsway
Baltimore, MD  21202


2010 CAB MEETING DATES
Thursday, March 18, 2010, 6pm
Thursday, May 20, 2010, 6pm

December 15, 2009 at 2:52 am 5 comments

CPB Closes Book on WYPR Audit

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Vice President Greg Schnirring wrote this blog editor that “at this point, the CPB considers the matter closed.”

Schnirring responded in a Sept. 25th, 2009 letter after Take Back YPR provided extensive documentation to the CPB and CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz that WYPR’s own response to the CPB audit was misleading.  In fact, WYPR contended in their official response to the CPB audit in WYPR Station Manager Tony Brandon’s letter (included in the final audit report) that WYPR always had a Community Advisory Board (CAB) .

CPB itself has not always been totally accurate.  CPB government affairs official Tim Isgitt wrote to Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes in July 2009 and implied that the CPB Inspector General never audited WYPR.  Take Back YPR has been trying to discover what CPB’s response to the audit was through our Congressional representatives.  Mr. Isgitt, in response to Rep. Sarbanes, attached a CPB Inspector General’s letter to Rep. Sarbanes that dismissed Take Back YPR claims concerning WYPR.  However after this July 2008 letter, the CPB Inspector General did go ahead with a full audit of WYPR later that year.  They published it in March 2009 (Report 903).  Click here to find it.

CPB COO Vincent Curren also came to WYPR last year and told the WYPR board and public witnesses that the CAB regulations were a “mistake.”  He characterized them as 1960s idealism.  Mr. Curren declined to respond to this blog’s request to clarify his remarks.

Mr. Curren, his official CPB page here, is what happens when corrupt administrations appoint people to positions of public authority who undermine public laws.  They go and tell boards of directors that the laws do not matter.  In the financial services sector, this has created a national catastrophe: the current recession.  In public radio, well, you decide what it means.

The CPB currently is run by Patricia Harrison, a former state department official who helped the last president sell the Iraq war to the American people.  She is a long-time Republican with a background in public relations.  Ms. Harrison has no professional experience in public radio. 

We are far away from the 60s, Mr Curran is right on that.  Maybe these are Frankenstein Eisenhower times, except without Eisenhower’s honor and dignity, and even more of the military-industrial complex.

WYPR does have a CAB now.  Their next meeting is Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 at 6PM. Location: The Baltimore Museum of Art in the Garden Room. Enter the BMA at the staff entrance on the West Side of the building.  Anyone can go and get involved.

WYPR Board and CAB times are available on their Web site.  Linked here. Better than WYPR remains Marc Steiner on his show on WEAA (89.9 FM, 5-7pm). The gold standard is Democracy Now!


November 6, 2009 at 1:42 am 2 comments

WYPR Losing Money, Downsizing All But Fundraising

Max Obusewski attended the September 2009 WYPR Board and Community Advisory Board (CAB) meetings and offers this report. WYPR lost $173,000 over a three-month summer period, according to WYPR financial data presented at the WYPR Board meeting. Two staffers became part-time workers, voluntarily, according to WYPR management. Salaries at the station are frozen.

Obusewksi reports: The board meeting was at the Family Tree on September 23rd, 2009. Once I entered the meeting room, I was given an agenda, the very personable Alexandra Price, Director of Development, said Hi. Shortly after 3 PM, Deborah Callard opened the meeting and acknowledged me. Then she welcomed Eva Simmons-O’Brien as a new board member.

During the governance report, the most interesting facet of his report began when Jack Machen indicated there was no need for board members to sign the Conflict of Interest policy statement. Of course, a number of board members, including Barbara Bozzuto, said it is essential that board members sign the conflict of interest policy. Machen said not necessary from a legal standpoint, but he was over-ruled by the board.

The discussion of the financial situation at YPR was very somber. There will be no new shows or news stories. Because of the recession/depression, underwriting in the radio business is way down. And YPR’s situation is no better. Nationally, ads are down 15%, in Baltimore radio 23% and at YPR 11%. This is to “operate with extreme caution.” “Strict cost controls are essential.”

Board Member Mr. Grief asked about salaries. “They are frozen.” “Some furloughs.” Two people voluntarily downsized to part-time.

The woman who heads the sales department said the sales staff is very discouraged, but determined. The hope is that the tide will turn in 2010. Brandon said Alexandra will give a report on the latest update of outreach for grants.

Rodney Stump is the new chair of the Friends Group, as Gary Levine now sits on the board. He indicated he wants to closely with the CAB members.

Dave Bowen, chair of the Finance Committee, gave a bleak report, as WYPR lost $173,000 in the June, July, August period. However, he said this was “good” as the summer is a down time. And it was added that YPR still is above budget when subtracting costs from revenue. My guess, though, is that the budget was severely cut back from previous years. One basis for this guess is that YPR listeners are constantly barraged by pleas for donations. Then Tony Brandon put his spin on the report—membership is up, grants look good and underwriting was great.

Cindy Amitin was there from the CAB, and she gave a brief report. It seems that the CAB members will be given a tour of YPR in the near future. Membership and ascertainment committees are set up. A CAB member will now attend board meetings. [This was one of our complaints.] Stump will attend the CAB meeting.

Cindy indicated that Doreen Bolger wants to step down as chair. However, the by-laws state that the chair and the vice-chair must have served at least a year on the CAB before assuming either role. Machen asked the board to vote to amend the by-laws, and to my shock the board members did.

Take Back YPR worked with the CAB over a period of several meetings to finalize the CAB by-laws. In a period of two minutes, the by-laws were changed. This is an indication of the current power relationship. Management needs CAB, so that it can get CPB funding. But the CAB must be toothless.

Tony Brandon then addressed two issues—audit and finances. He observed that all is going well with matters raised by the audit. There were no questions from the board. My assumption is that the board members have been warned not to discuss this subject in the company of members of the community.

However, the meeting adjourned to go into executive session. So I left. The next meeting is November 11 at 3 PM.

The CAB meeting was the following day, Sept. 24th., at 6 PM at the BMA. After we introduced ourselves, Doreen handed out the minutes from the June 22 CAB meeting. It seems Brandon did not post am announcement of this meeting on the web site, so it was not an official meeting. Nevertheless, the minutes were approved.

It was noted that attendance must be taken, as a member who missed a percentage of meetings would be dismissed from the CAB.

Besides Doreen, the only old member of the CAB in attendance was Peggy Olbrecht. There were nine other CAB members at the meeting. Ross spoke about the Friends Group. They meet at YPR, the second Wednesday of the month.

Amitin gave a brief report on the board meeting. Does the CAB want a board member here? There was an amendment of the by-laws. And the audit concerns would soon be alleviated.

The CAB said it was not necessary for Tony and others to come to a CAB meeting at this time, as they are working on getting up-to-speed. Doreen was very upset with the change in by-laws without any consultation with the CAB.

Edouardo Hayden, convener of the Ascertainment Task Force, said there were email problems. So not many people responded. I have a list of brainstorming ideas the CAB did on June 22 on the following subjects: environment, urban planning, diversity, religion and health care.

I then raised several issues. I would like to find out if the loan is now unsecure. If yes, then we the people should get back ownership of the station from the folks who guaranteed the loan. It was unclear if the CAB would get me an answer.

I said I was shocked when the board amended the CAB by-laws. I informed the CAB that Take Back YPR is calling for another audit. Since Cindy did not inform the CAB about the dire financial situation, I did. The next Cab meeting is at 6 PM on November 12, 2009.

September 28, 2009 at 11:41 pm 2 comments

WYPR Hides CAB MEETING

WYPR failed to publicize and disclose that the WYPR CAB scheduled and held a June 22nd, 2009 Community Advisory Board meeting.  The information came out at the September 2009 CAB meeting, which members of the public and TAKE BACK YPR were able to learn about and attend.  According to comments by CAB Chair Doreen Bolger, CAB did inform WYPR President Tony Brandon about the meeting.

WYPR’s failure to publicize this meeting–surely they will claim it was a mistake–prevented the public, WYPR donating members, and former WYPR members from attending, participating, and observing station activities and deliberations.  It is part of a clear pattern of deception by WYPR management.

All their “mistakes” and omissions and sometimes direct actions continue to shield WYPR and management thinking and decisions from public view.  In fact, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Inspector General’s report (March 20, 2009) found that the station has violated open-meeting and public notice requirements before.  The report tasks the station with reading the law and fulfilling it, or lose CPB funding  WYPR ‘s “mistakes” and omissions and actions always benefit secretive WYPR management and hurt the public.  Sherlock Holmes is not needed to draw conclusions here.

We will be posting a report about the Sept. 2009 WYPR BOARD and CAB meetings on Sept. 29th, 2009.

September 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm 1 comment

Public Radio Explosion (1989-2009)

Public radio funding from membership has expanded greatly, according to Corporation for Public Broadcasting data, despite the dominance of television in the 1990s, and the 21st century rise of the Internet.

According to the CPB Fiscal Reports of 1999 and 2007, the average public radio contribution rose from 1989 to 1999 from $48.82 to $73. The number of contributors nationwide almost doubled, from 1,225,000 to 2,414,000.

More recently from 1997 to 2007, public radio contributors have increased from 1.9 million to 2.5 million, by 600,000 people. The average contribution has jumped from $71 to $114.

Despite all the pleas on WYPR, WEAA, and other public stations for funding, public radio listeners nationally, at least, are responding robustly.

WYPR is a slightly different sort of public radio station. For one, their membership contributions in 2008 and 2009 seemed to have remained flat. Furthermore, as station president Tony Brandon told the WYPR Board in May, the station receives 52 percent of its revenue from underwriting, and about 33 percent from members. The average NPR station, according to the NPR’s online financial overview (click to link), receives just 20 percent of revenue from “businesses via corporate underwriting,” and “31 percent from listeners in the form of pledges, memberships, and other donations.” WYPR is much more dependent on business advertising than a typical NPR station.

Writer William Hoynes says that public television especially, and public broadcasting in general, are consciously trying to drive up their membership contributions by tailoring programs to attract a more affluent membership base. In his article “The PBS Brand and the Merchandising of Public Service” (from the book Public Broadcasting and the Public Interest), Hoynes finds that public television has consciously been tailoring its appeal to increasingly affluent audiences, in order to boost membership dollars, and insulate themselves from the political winds in Congress that might tamper with their funding. Hoynes hypothesizes that public television’s targeting of affluent membership is a greater motivator for programming decisions than the influence of corporate underwriting.

Looking at WYPR, one can see how the replacement of The Marc Steiner Show with Midday by Dan Rodricks also fits into Hoynes’ analysis of public broadcasting motivations. This programming change has made WYPR news more friendly and comforting. As the WYPR Web site describes Midday, news is balanced with “good manners” and “gentle laughter.” Steiner (now on WEAA, 88.9 FM) often focuses on how issues impact the lower and middle classes. Rodricks tackles public policy issues too, but often less passionately, and with his signature cynical tone. The controversies of the day just are not as pressing on Midday.

Never mind that, for instance, Wells Fargo is being charged by the city in federal court right now with having targeted African-American Baltimore residents with deceptive subprime loans that have blown up in many people’s faces. (Click here for news link). Never mind that the city is too dangerous, a subject Marc Steiner is covering well on his WEAA show currently (click here for link). Baltimore has a great arts, writing, and music culture (and thankfully WYPR’s The Signal covers it, and it too is linked).

Does WYPR’s homegrown programming reflect the diverse experiences and points-of-view of its wide audience? The homegrown line-up of Maryland Morning, Midday, Tapestry of the Times, and The Signal, does it challenge us as well as entertain?

August 8, 2009 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

WYPR CAB Announces Future Meetings

When WYPR’s “new” Community Advisory Board (CAB) met on May 27, 2009, the CAB Chairperson Doreen Bolger said that the CAB would try to meet again in June.  It did not happen.  Considering the “new” CAB had only three members from its previous membership, maybe this signaled the new CAB would act like the old one: very few people in the future would show up.  Well, WYPR.org has announced further CAB meetings.  The schedule for 2009 and 2010 is below:

2009-2010 WYPR CAB Meetings:
Thursday, September 24, 2009, 6pm
Thursday, November 12, 2009, 6pm
Thursday, January 14, 2010, 6pm
Thursday, March 18, 2010, 6pm
Thursday, May 20, 2010, 6pm
Location: TBA

Looking at this schedule, one can see that the CAB is on course to meet quarterly, one time each season.  The CAB already met in Feb. and May 2009 (winter and spring), and the two other 2009 dates fulfill summer’s end and fall’s epiphany.  The 2010 schedule also follows a seasonal timeline.  This construction would meet the “regular” requirement of the Federal Communications Act in its three-prong CAB requirement.  The other two stipulations are regular attendance by CAB membership, and diversity of the listening community reflected in CAB membership.

WYPR is under a requirement to complete documentation of compliance with this and other relevant laws as a result of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Inspector Generals audit of WYPR.  WYPR needs to fulfill these legal requirements in order to continue to receive their annual, taxpayer-supported grant.  For more on that, read CPB IG Report 903, by clicking here.

The grant is over $300,000 per year.  Though WYPR station President Tony Brandon told the WYPR Board in May that the station is doing fine in these recessionary times–and in fact has amassed a $100,000+ war chest to make it through the summer–I heard  the station air a non-scheduled pitch for funds again in late June.  Is the station hurting, or not?  One cannot tell, really. However the station certainly seems intent to ensure this annual CPB grant.

This new CAB schedule reflects, in many ways, WYPR’s desire to meet regulatory compliance.  Does it reflect an independent CAB? Well, their next Sept. meeting will tell.

At the CPB Web site, it says that the CAB must “be distinct from and independent of the governing body” of the radio station in their online “Interpretations” of the Federal Communications Act Section 396 (k)(8).  Click here for the law.  Will the new CAB develop?

The CAB in 2009 has yet to really debate any substantial radio issue, station policy decision, or propose a single idea.  It remains in formation stage.  For more on the CAB’s last, May 27 meeting, click here.

July 6, 2009 at 1:42 am 1 comment

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