CPB radio grant changes would open gates but end free rides
Originally published in Current, May 2, 2005
By Mike Janssen
CPB is expected to make at least a dozen more pubradio stations eligible for Community Service Grants next year [it turned out to be 11], though it may also require some smaller grantees to meet minimum ratings criteria for the first time.
Changes in CSG rules discussed by a CPB-convened panel of station and system leaders will be previewed this week at the Public Radio Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., before the panel completes its recommendations for CPB late this month. Some changes would go into effect in March and others in October 2006.
New rules will affect the size of annual grants that now provide an average of 20 percent of the budget for hundreds of stations. The portion runs as high as 30 percent for financially weaker stations.
CPB may slightly reduce CSGs for many larger stations to boost funding for new grantees and smaller stations. But big stations could get substantial bonuses from a new set of incentives for improved community service.
About 30 stations stand to lose CSGs because they will fall short of new audience service goals. But they could also get larger base grants, incentives to improve service and the chance to re-enter the program if they meet the goals, which present rules don’t always allow.
Vinnie Curren, CPB’s senior v.p. of radio, is confident that the system will support plans to expand CSG eligibility and streamline the program, even if adding grantees means that each gets a slightly smaller slice of the pie.
“It could be in a few years that more stations are seeing reductions in funding,” he says. “But the outcome of that would be an outcome we feel terrific about — more public radio stations delivering measurable service to their communities.”
A rural station with high resources could lose about $5,000. Midmarket stations with high resources and urban minority stations could lose about $7,000 from their grants.
Several aspects of the CSG program are likely to change:
Station eligibility and service criteria: Since the mid-’90s, rules have made it difficult for stations to join the CSG fraternity. They favor stations that would bring the first pubradio service to a market, a second service in major markets and minority stations. Excluded are about a dozen stations that meet CPB’s audience service criteria but are not the only pubradio voices in town.
Now the CSG panel has recommended loosening the restrictions and allowing those stations to join.
“It can only make public radio stronger for CPB to fund all of the stations in a market that that community is willing to support,” says Steve Yasko, g.m. of WTMD in Towson, Md. The pubradio station is one of four serving Baltimore, so it’s been ineligible for a CSG.
Some argue that handing out more CSGs encourages wasteful duplication. But CPB could balance this by offering incentives for stations working together, Curren says.
Welcoming new grantees would be part of a plan to extend CSGs to all stations that can meet audience service goals. That means that the standards would be imposed on about two dozen smaller stations that have been exempted from the criteria. However, meeting the standards would raise their base grants significantly.
CPB has been lenient with stations that fall short of service criteria, Curren says, but “because we’re moving to a criteria-based program, we’re going to be a little more rigorous.”
About 35 stations would not meet the new criteria, including many that have fallen short for some time. CPB will phase out some of those grantees and get tougher with others, Curren says. In some cases, these stations could regain CSGs by raising relatively little extra money.
Audience service levels: Today, a station with fewer than 3 million listeners in its coverage area must meet one set of criteria; stations with more listeners face another. Leaders of struggling big-city stations say that’s unfair because it requires gains at a much higher scale. A proposal under consideration would ease the abrupt change of criteria at the level of 3 million listeners by creating four levels of stations instead of two.
CPB may also end its practice of escalating its audience service criteria along with pubradio’s overall audience and fundraising performance, which kept CSGs out of reach for some stations. CPB would instead adjust the criteria as part of periodic CSG reviews.
Station levels: Stations receiving CSGs fall into seven categories, each with a different base grant. Panelists say the complicated system makes it harder for stations to understand where they belong and how to change classes, Curren says.
The revised CSG program would lump stations into four levels, maintaining the “sole service” class and creating three others: small stations, big rural stations and big nonrural stations.
Bonuses: Panelists are considering rewarding stations with bonuses of as much as $50,000 if they excel at serving minorities, collecting major gifts, offering local news or on-demand content, collaborating with other stations or reaching a high level of public visibility and accountability.
The challenge, Curren says, is defining the activities and creating “clear and unambiguous” metrics for measuring success.
“It’s messy,” he says. “On the other hand, the payoff can be pretty significant.”
CPB has charged experts in each area with firming up the protocols and would free up money for the bonuses by ending matching incentives to larger stations for non-federal financial funds. Only the stations now receiving those incentives would be eligible to receive the new bonuses.
Eleven public radio licensees will receive their first Community Service Grants from CPB in fiscal year 2007, thanks to newly expanded eligibility standards.
Since 1995, CPB has added few new recipients to its main grant program except those that provided new public radio service to a market or a second service in a major market, as well as minority stations. In September 2005, the CPB Board approved guidelines that extended CSG eligibility to all stations meeting a minimum threshold of audience service.
The newly qualified stations are KCLU in Thousand Oaks, Calif.; KDUR in Durango, Colo.; KRFC in Fort Collins, Colo.; KGLT in Bozeman, Mont.; KMFA in Austin, Texas; WTIP in Grand Marais, Minn.; WGDR in Plainfield, Vt.; WTMD in Towson, Md.; KMOJ in Minneapolis, which targets black audiences; KOHN in Sells, Ariz., which serves a Tohono O’odham Native reservation; and WGVV, a low-power FM station in Rock Island, Ill.
Collectively, the stations are expected to receive more than $1 million in CSGs in FY07. With the additions, CPB gives CSGs to 406 public radio licensees.
posted Jan. 2, 2007
Copyright 2006 by Current LLC