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WMNF falls short of goal for pledges
Some worry after the community FM station's fund drive misses the mark for the second straight time.
By BRENDAN WATSON, Times Staff Writer
Published October 11, 2007
TAMPA — It’s a couple of hours after community radio station WMNF’s fund drive was supposed to end, but station manager Vicki Santa is still pleading with listeners in an attempt to make up lost ground.
“We don’t want this to be the time that WMNF grinds to a halt,” Santa says on the air.
Clearly, some of these pitches are hyped. It makes it more fun for the DJs and moves listeners to call the station and pledge, said Mitch Perry, host of WMNF’s evening news.
“But it’s not insignificant,” he said.
There is added urgency because the station is still trying to make up ground after falling about $50,000 short in the spring fund drive. That was the first time in recent years WMNF-FM 88.5 didn’t meet its goals. The fall fund drive that ended Wednesday was the second time.
The station fell $22,000 short of its goal of $460,000.
“Two’s a trend,” said Perry, who has been with the station since 2000. “And it’s a trend downwards.”
Was goal too ambitious?
It’s not clear why the station failed to make its goals.
Program manager Randy Wynne said the goals are intentionally ambitious, perhaps too ambitious.
Volunteer coordinator Carrie Core theorized that Columbus Day, when fewer people were listening to the radio in their cars during lucrative drive times, also contributed.
Or was it concerns over the economy?
“We don’t cater to the super-rich” said JoEllen Schilke, host of Art in Your Ear, a cultural and public affairs show, which airs from 1 to 2 p.m. Fridays. “Our listeners are feeling the pinch,’’ so that’s going to be reflected in contributions, she said.
In contrast to WMNF’s recent experience, WUSF-FM 89.7 at the University of South Florida is on track after two days to meet its $400,000 fundraising goal, content director Diane Egner said.
Scaling back may be next
More than half of WMNF’s budget comes from pledges, and as a result of two disappointing drives, something in the budget will have to give.
Wynne said the station might have to cut an additional staff position WMNF had planned for in next year’s budget.
But Wynne said that other expenses, such as paying off the debt on the station’s new building, which opened in 2005, make up only about $80,000 of the yearly budget, and that, overall, the station is in very good financial health.
Still, the disappointing fund drive has taken a toll on the station and its volunteers, according to Core.
“The volunteers here take ownership in the station. If we are not making our goals, it’s not just looked at as the station isn’t making their goal,” Core wrote in a late-night e-mail after an exhausting day of fundraising Tuesday. “Everyone feels it. We aren’t making our goal.”
DJs who didn’t make their fundraising goals also have to worry about the future of their shows.
The program lineup is evaluated every two years, and past fund-drive performance is one of the criteria that decides which shows get aired. DJs, though, have several more fund drives to make up shortfalls before shows are up for evaluation again in 2009.
The station, though, hopes fundraising rebounds before then, so that it won’t just meet current obligations, but grow to compete for listeners’ attention.
“With iPods, satellite radio, etc., how do we carve out a niche and continue to do what we’ve been doing well here for the past 28 years?” Perry asked.
Wynne said WMNF can’t count on the growth it has experienced in the past.
“We’ve reached a plateau. A high plateau, but still a plateau,” said Wynne.
“We can’t assume a continuous growth pattern.”
Brendan Watson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3302.