WAMC shoots for $1 million in fund drive

Thursday January 20, 2011

GREAT BARRINGTON -- WAMC Northeast Public Radio is increasing its fund-drive goal to a cool million bucks.

For nearly four years, the station -- which has 22 lower-power transmitters in addition to its 90.3FM signal atop Mount Greylock and its 105.1 atop Catamount in South Egremont -- has been raising at least $800,000 three times a year from its roster of more than 20,000 members. Full-throttle on-air pledge drives are held in winter, spring and fall.

The next drive begins at 6 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 31, though there will be the launch of an online fund drive component prior to then. The station's goal for its first fund drive in 1981 was $125,000; that effort, dubbed "Save Our Station," yielded $129,000, said senior Vice-President Selma Kaplan.

The major reason for the 25 percent increase in the new target for fund drives is the expected effort by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to reduce or eliminate funding for public broadcasting, said WAMC President and Executive Director Alan S. Chartock of Great Barrington. Rising costs are another factor, he said, citing unanticipated expenses of a new antenna atop Greylock. The annual WAMC budget is $6.3 million.

The Republican furor followed the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams after his comments on TV's Fox News Channel about personal fears aroused by airline passengers clad in Muslim garb.

Some House Republicans are on record questioning the need for "taxpayer subsidies" to fund public radio in view of federal budget deficits and a perception that NPR is not neutral. WAMC carries popular NPR broadcasts such as "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Car Talk," in addition to its extensive schedule of locally produced programs.

As a member of NPR, WAMC pays the Washington, D.C., network over $800,000 for programs, as well as additional amounts to other providers such as American Public Media, which supplies shows such as "A Prairie Home Companion."

U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., in a stinging rebuke of NPR, suggested that left-leaning financier George Soros "could fully finance NPR's schedule with spinoffs of some of America's favorite shows such as ‘Dancing with the Czars,' ‘Socialist Survivor' and ‘Lost: The Obama Presidency.'"

House Majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and U.S. Rep. Doug Sanborn, D-Colo., have drafted a proposal to eliminate taxpayer funding for NPR, citing the "unfair termination" of Williams.

While acknowledging that "it is not the role of government to tell news organizations how to operate, what is avoidable is providing taxpayer funds to news organizations that promote a partisan point of view," said Cantor.

Chartock said that "we have every reason to believe they will keep their word. We consider it prudent and necessary to prepare ourselves for this, rather than waiting until the ax falls and scrambling to catch up."

WAMC receives between $400,000 and $500,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is the funding arm of NPR and PBS, Chartock said.

"At a time when they are cutting money from virtually every part of the budget, why would the federal government leave public radio untouched?" Chartock said. "When you potentially cut funding to hospitals and their clients, what would make us believe that they wouldn't similarly cut public broadcasting funding? Our listeners and supporters certainly know all of this."

While it's believed that the $1 million target is at the higher end of funding goals among public radio broadcasters, there's no way to be sure since most public radio groups do not announce a goal in advance, and often decline to disclose on the air how much they have raised.

To jump-start the upcoming effort, WAMC launched a "cyber-drive" on Monday aimed at collecting funds in advance in order to reduce the needed on-air total.

According to recent ratings estimates, WAMC Northeast Public Radio reaches more than 413,000 listeners per month.

Berkshire County public radio fans have had more choices since Amherst-based WFCR added low-power relay transmitters in Great Barrington, Lee, Pittsfield, North Adams and Williamstown for its mix of classical music and news.

"We haven't seen any diminishment of underwriting or membership money that we can attribute to other stations," said Chartock. "Frankly, we're delighted that our listeners have choices."WAMC By the numbers....

New pledge drive goal: $1 million

Previous goal: $800,000

First goal, 1981: $125,000

Annual fund-drive goal, 2011: $3 million

Number of transmitters: 23

Monthly audience: 413,000 (estimated)

Paid members: About 20,000

Annual budget: $6.3 million

Annual fee to NPR: $800,000

Federal funding to WAMC: $400,000-$500,000


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