As I write this, I'm getting ready to head out to the radio station. Long-time readers know I volunteer for WTJU 91.1 fm, the community radio station run by the University of Virginia. And, being a non-commercial station, it's one that relies heavily on financial support from the community.
And now a commercial word
My colleagues in commercial radio don't think much of public radio. The general perception seems to be that non-commercial radio exists on the government dole (which they often translate into "unfair competition"), and that while they have to scramble for advertising dollars, we in the pubradio sit back and just collect the money squeezed out of hard-working citizens taxed beyond their means.
It's a nice picture -- but hardly true. In the case of WTJU, for example, over half of its funding has to come directly from the listeners. The University pays a small part (the bulk of their contribution is in providing the space and the salaries for the few paid employees). An even smaller sum comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
The reality is that should the CPB funding go away, the station would be in a tough financial position, but it could still survive. Take away the University support, and it becomes more problematic. But even if those two revenue streams remain, without listener support the station is dead.
Follow the money
Commercial radio stations serve their clients -- the advertisers. There's nothing wrong with that model, but many people don't understand that for a commercial station the audience isn't the customer, it's the product. The product (a lot of ears) that's sold to the customer (the advertiser who wants a lot of ears to hear his message).
Public radio's a little different. The listener IS the customer. Don't believe me? Follow the money. Where does a commercial radio station get its money? From advertisers. Where does a public radio station get its money? Mostly from the listeners (and those other sources can be traced back to the public, too).
The gentle touch
So here's the challenge. During our fund drive, I need to make our listeners understand how important they are to the success of the station they listen to.
The station they listen to for free.
Because whether you've ever contributed to WTJU or not, you can tune in, or listen online and we're there.
We're there because others have contributed and supported the station. What I need to do is to persuade all those others who listen that they're contribution is not just helpful, but vital. Commercial radio sales teams every day have to sell businesses on the concept of radio -- and how it can help them. It's a tough job (I used to work at a commercial station and saw it first-hand).
Can you imagine the DJs having to canvas their listeners and make the case for paying for the music they here? That's what we have to do. And it's a tough job, too. Because if an advertiser doesn't pay, he doesn't get on the air (or doesn't stay on very long). But if a listener doesn't contribute, they still get to listen.
So in a few hours I'll go on the air and talk to that audience, explaining why their contribution is important. And if I can stimulate a little enlightened self-interest, the station may live to fight (or broadcast) another day.
I'll include a postscript later telling you how I did!
And if you're a listener, either to the broadcast or to our online stream, please consider contributing. It's the right thing to do.