Despite a controversy over the leadership of National Public Radio and congressional budget attacks on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, local radio affiliates are reporting strong support from listeners where it matters most - meaning dollars.
WFAE-FM (90.7), Charlotte's key NPR affiliate, finished its annual spring fund drive this week with a half-million dollars in pledges, believed to be a record. WDAV-FM (89.9), the Davidson-based classical music station, did so well it ended its drive nine hours early. And South Carolina's ETV network, which operates Rock Hill-based WNSC-FM (88.9), said trends were also promising.
It is a major upswing, public broadcasters say, from recent years when donations plunged as the region's economy tanked. And NPR's recent troubles appeared to have little impact on listener fundraising, vital to the stations' budgets.
Vivian Schiller, National Public Radio's president, resigned this week after a video surfaced showing a network fundraiser calling the tea party movement "seriously racist." This came in the wake of the firing of conservative analyst Juan Williams over comments about Muslims. And Republicans in Congress are calling for an end to federal underwriting for CPB - $430 million this fiscal year.
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Pledges seem unaffected
Only a few listeners making pledges talked about the public broadcasting controversies, said Libby Currier, WFAE-FM's director of fundraising.
She said the station did not discuss the ongoing congressional budget discussion in its drive, which ended Thursday after raising $511,000. "We felt it wasn't right to talk about that until we know how it will impact us," she said Friday.
WFAE-FM received $292,000 from CPB this fiscal year, making up about 8 percent of the station's budget.
Pledges received before the start of the drive were unusually strong this season - more than $120,000 came in, and the station responded by dropping three days of solicitations for memberships.
WFAE-FM pays NPR about $770,000 per year for programs. Its daily drive-time shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," constitute the bulk of that cost, running about $550,000 a year for both, Currier said.
WDAV exceeds goal
Kim Cline, interim general manager of WDAV-FM, said the station's spring drive raised $196,739, about $11,000 above its goal. Nearly a quarter of the pledges came from first-time donors.
WDAV-FM gets about $175,000 from CPB, which makes up about 10 percent of its budget. It relies on NPR for hourly newscasts, but mostly produces its own classical music content.
If the CPB money is lost, she said, the station would continue, but would have to rethink its programming and fundraising strategy. She said some other public radio stations, though, particularly in more rural areas, would probably be forced out of business if CPB contributions were lost.
NPR estimates major affiliates get an average of 10 percent of their money from CPB, but smaller or rural stations could get up to 40 percent of their backing that way.
S.C. radio complaints
Debbie Hamlett, director of development and programming for South Carolina's ETV network, said its last pledge drive in February hit its $260,000 goal, though not until its final hour.
"In this down economy, it was already a tough environment to be fundraising, even before this happened. But we are fortunate that the community has expressed their support for the services that we provide," she said.
"Of course, we've also had our share of calls from people unhappy with NPR, and to each of those we stress that ETV Radio has had nothing to do with the actions or decisions made by NPR."