We Need your Support to Maintain KWBU, Waco’s National Public Radio Station

By Joe Riley

For more than nineteen years now (twenty in July!), KWBU has brought National Public Radio to greater Waco. Prior to 2000, McLennan County had been the largest metropolitan market in the country without National Public Radio service. Since then, Waco has grown, and KWBU has grown with it, enhancing its schedule with the highest quality news, talk, entertainment and music from around the world. Also, with the help of volunteers, the station provides more locally produced programming than ever (including Act Locally Waco!). And KWBU now has the largest audience in its history. Every week, some 15,000 faithful listeners tune in to learn about our world and our community. That’s up 50% from just five years ago.

Some of the growth in audience is due to the relocation of the station’s transmitter in 2014, providing a clearer, more consistent signal to previously unreached parts of the county. Another factor has to do with politics and the news. During the last presidential election season, many new listeners came to KWBU to keep track of the rapidly changing political and cultural landscape. Trustworthy journalism is essential to a healthy democracy.

KWBU brings this service to Waco – every hour of the day, every day of the year – with a staff of six and a cash budget of about $750,000. Some might think the station is taxpayer funded; in fact, KWBU receives only about 15% of its annual budget as a Community Service Grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All the rest of the funding is local. About half comes from Baylor University (the station is licensed to the Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation, a subsidiary of Baylor); another portion comes as program support from local businesses; the remainder is donated by individuals – financial support from listeners is the most important source of revenue for Waco Public Radio.

But here’s the odd thing: while listenership is higher than it’s ever been, the number of donors has actually declined. Some have moved away, some have passed away, others have seen changes in their financial situations. Now fewer than five out of one hundred listeners support the KWBU financially. And, as with all organizations, expenses continue to increase every year.

In calculating what this means for the station, here are a couple of important facts:

  • First, the money KWBU receives from the CPB and from Baylor provides a consistent foundation of support, with the expectation that those who use the service will donate money on an annual basis to assure the on-going health and growth of the station. There is no expectation that funds from CPB and Baylor will increase.
  • Second, station expenses go up, on average, about 3½% per year.

To keep up with increases in expenses, funding from individuals and local organizations must grow at an even higher rate – about 7½% per year. This will require a broader base of support – more individuals joining in with the 5% who already give.

Build the Base is a new initiative to strengthen KWBU/Waco Public Radio’s base of support by adding at least six new donors per month.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but over time it will reverse the trend of declining membership. And it’s catching on – since the beginning of the fiscal year in June, more than thirty first time donors have signed up. Your support will help maintain the momentum toward a truly sustainable base of support.

So what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

KWBU is a vital part of the Waco community, providing compelling, trustworthy journalism and intelligent cultural programming and entertainment. Your support really does make a difference. Thank you!

Joe Riley has been President and CEO of the Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation/KWBU since 2009. Prior to coming to Waco, he worked many, many years in broadcasting in Maine, Tennessee, Alaska, and the Carolinas. He holds a BA (in English!) from Furman University. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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1 Comment

  1. Cyndi W on September 28, 2019 at 10:55 am

    I read the article and am interested in listening and possibly donating to your program. Initially, I didn’t see your radio station number. I clicked on one of the links to find 103.3. Next time you post, you might want to put the station number in a visible spot, maybe in the first paragraph or ?

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