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KUNM struggles under sequester

Federal sequestration brings budget cuts for research and other government-funded endeavors here at UNM, and northern New Mexico’s public radio station is feeling some major effects.

KUNM lost $12,000 as a result of sequestration — across-the-board federal budget cuts that went into effect March 1. Listener donations helped to make up the difference, though now that the semiannual fundraising week is finished, the station realized it has further to go.

According to a message from the Congressionally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting to all its funding recipients, including KUNM, the sequester that took effect March 1 would cut an estimated 5 percent of KUNM’s funding. KUNM general manager Richard Towne said that when the station anticipated the cuts in the fall, he made sure it didn’t have to furlough employees or make programming changes.

“So we took our spending plans and said, ‘What can we either do without or postpone?’” Towne said.

Some of these projects included an upgrade to the server room and an automatic door opener to accommodate people with disabilities.

Listeners demonstrated support for KUNM during the station’s fundraising week April 6-12. A listener who wished to remain anonymous offered to pay half the sequestration losses, or $6,000. Towne said the listener stipulated that other listeners would have to match that donation, which they did in 90 minutes on Monday morning.

In an email, the anonymous donor said he feels fortunate to have the funds now and then to donate to what he considers to be a worthy cause.

“I have always believed that public media is one of the cornerstones of freedom. I was particularly motivated this go-round because of the effect of selfish interests in Washington on the delivery of service to the people of New Mexico,” he said. “The people at KUNM work hard for the people of New Mexico and the people of New Mexico deserve KUNM’s best effort.”

Towne said he was optimistic the station would reach its goal of $290,000. However, it fell short with a total of $269,659.25.

“The 25 cents thing is pretty funny,” Towne said in an email.

The station now has until June to meet its goal by soliciting donations via mail. He said the station doesn’t usually have to do this, and tries to make it a rarity to preserve its public image of fiscal responsibility.

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“Given the magnitude of the deficit and debt, it’s always going to be an issue,” he said.

Towne said funding for public radio has gone up or down about 1 percent every year since 1996, but sequestration cuts were a more dramatic reduction than he is used to.

“When (presidential) candidate (Mitt) Romney was running, he took a swipe at Big Bird, and he got pounded about it. People support public broadcast, so even though it’s a target, Congress ends up hearing from constituents, ‘No, don’t cut it.’” he said.

Dennis Hamilton, director of consulting at Public Radio Capital, said government funding for public radio will always be volatile, regardless of economic conditions. The key, he said, is for radio stations in the same area or market to get creative about how they can cooperate and collaborate in the interest of making the most out of limited resources.

“The long-term success for public broadcast is finding business models and service models that operate without government subsidies. Now that’s a big challenge. But our responsibility as stewards of these channels is to preserve and protect them.”

The game of securing government funds has nothing to do with the relevance of radio in modern times. According to the Arbitron Radio Today 2012 Executive Summary, “about 93 percent of consumers aged 12 years and older listen to the radio each week.”

“Radio listening has stayed really steady,” Hamilton said. “People have this assumption that just because there’s new technology out there that this legacy technology will fail. That’s not the case.”

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