Johnson City Press: WETS-FM spring fundraiser underway amid federal funding concerns
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WETS-FM spring fundraiser underway amid federal funding concerns

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 3, 2019 at 5:11 PM

The Spring Fundraiser for East Tennessee State University’s public radio station WETS-FM is underway amid federal funding concerns, according to Wayne Winkler, the station’s manager. 

Through April 12, the station will be asking listeners for contributions to help cover the cost of programming for the next fiscal year.

ETSU covers staff salaries and other infrastructure costs, but the cost of programming is primarily supported by listeners, with a bit of federal funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is in jeopardy once again. 

President Donald Trump’s administration recently proposed a federal budget that would close the CPB, which provides funds to public radio. While Winkler has heard the threat many times before in his 25 years at WETS, he said the threat doesn’t usually come from the president. 

He said he doesn’t think the proposal would make it through Congress, but “the threat is always there.”  

“I would like to think it’s not going to go any further than that,” Winkler said. “The fact that I’ve been hearing this for years and years doesn’t mean the threat’s not there.

“It sounds kind of like you’re crying wolf, but this time with this president, who knows? Who knows what could happen?”

In 2017, CPB funding for the station accounted for just over 6% of the station’s revenues. Listener and local underwriters contributed over half of the station’s income. Much of the funding goes to National Public Radio programs like “Morning Edition,” “Fresh Air,” “All Things Considered” and others.

“Without it, we would be unable to carry a lot of the programs we carry,” Winkler said of listeners’ contributions. 

The station usually has an annual budget of about $1 million, half of which comes from listener support. But the costs for programming are always changing and going up, much like the cost for everything else. 

“In order to stay even and keep our heads above water, we need an increase in money because the cost of programming goes up,” he said. 

“Recently, the big news magazines — ‘Morning Edition’ and ‘All Things Considered’ — went up by 10%. This year, the cost of these only went up by 1.5%, but other programs like ‘On Point,’ ‘Fresh Air,’ ‘Here and Now,’ and a few others went up by 15%.”

Winkler said he has been happy with the community support listeners have been giving public radio, but the support needs to be sustained to keep up with changing costs and potential federal funding concerns. 

If WETS reaches its $200,000 goal for the spring drive, Winkler said the station “should be in good shape for the coming year.”

“The spring fundraiser is important because it’s the last opportunity we have to raise money during this fiscal year,” he said. “What we raise during the fiscal year isn’t available for us to spend until next fiscal year, so we’re raising this money now, and we won’t be able to get to it until July 1.

“So the spring fundraiser is really our last opportunity to raise money before the fiscal year changes,” he continued. “What we have at the end of this fiscal year is all we’re going to have for the next fiscal year.” 

Listeners may contribute anytime to WETS online at the station’s website, www.wets.org. On weekdays through April 12, the station will take contributions by telephone between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Lines will be open on Saturday, April 6, from 9 a.m. to  5 p.m.

To make a contribution by phone, call 888-895-9387 (WETS), where listeners can also call to volunteer to answer phones for contributions.

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