KDNK faces deficit as it seeks new chief
November 30, 2016
Carbondale's community access radio station, KDNK, is realigning its strategy following 11-year station manager Steve Skinner's firing and projections warning of a budget deficit that could take a significant bite out of its reserves.
KDNK board secretary Andrea Korber said the board unanimously decided to dismiss Skinner earlier this month based on the station's financial trajectory.
Skinner said he shouldn't be blamed for the station's financial woes. Early this year KDNK lost staffers in two positions critical to fundraising, the underwriting director and the membership and volunteer coordinator.
But for the second year in a row, the station is expected to not make its budget, said Korber. Last year the station ended up in the red by about $10,000, whereas midyear projections this year anticipated KDNK could fall short of budget by $40,000 to $67,000, she said.
That's a big chunk of the station's reserves, which Korber said are at about $166,000.
Skinner put that deficit closer to $20,000 to $25,000 and said he believes the station could have turned this around and made its budget with a couple of big upcoming fundraising events: The Labor of Love Auction and KDNK's Annual Fund.
Skinner said he was spearheading those events and "there's going to be financial fallout from pulling me out of that effort. You don't fire your team captain in the middle of the Super Bowl."
The board is banking on these fundraisers to help the year's finances, "but it doesn't look good," said Korber. Deficit projections took into account the end-of-year fundraisers, she said.
"I understand both sides of it," said Skinner. "I understand being afraid because we're behind on the budget. But we were going to get very close if not make it all the way."
Skinner said he's had a sometimes frustrating relationship with the board. "I've had a long history of asking the board to get more involved in fundraising."
Despite the financial struggle, the board decided not to cut any staff, said Korber.
So, a big part of the solution will have to come from the station redoubling fundraising efforts.
Looking at the whole pie, including membership dues, grants and annual gifts, the station is going to need a "larger, deeper strategy," she said.
The station's direction is something that will have to be crafted with the new manager, she said. But "business as usual" under the previous management was not sustainable, said Korber.
"Membership numbers were not keeping up with population growth, and the station's income was not keeping up with inflation," she said.
KDNK's income has remained flat since 2009. Last year's total revenues were at about $457,000, according to forms KDNK — a nonprofit — filed with the Internal Revenue Service. That was down from the previous year's $485,000.
"The station has not been able to increase salaries, which needs to happen to be a healthy, thriving organization," said Korber. "Just to have kept up with inflation, our income stream should have been significantly higher.
"I feel personally sorry to see Steve go, but I'm confident in our need for a different strategy as we weren't gaining ground under (his) management," she said.
This also wasn't the first time that Skinner's job was on the line. Two years ago the KDNK board considered his dismissal over time off he'd been taking without notifying the board.
The station's board is currently crafting a job posting and aiming to have a replacement in January.
The board is approaching the station manager hunt as a "regional search," though a local or someone with knowledge of the area would have a strong advantage, said Korber.
"I'm grateful for the tenure Steve gave the station; he provided it with leadership for 11 years," said Korber. "Steve has been wonderful to work with in transition and we're grateful for that."
Said Skinner: "It was an honor and a privilege to serve the community through public radio. I have a lot of love coming at me from the community.
"Mostly, I just enjoyed doing something really meaningful in my life," he said.
KDNK news director Gavin Dahl and morning host Steve Cole said Skinner did much for the station that went unnoticed.
Everyone agrees Skinner had a great run over his 11 years and made a lot of improvements, "which I hope the next general manager can continue," said Cole.
Independent media and local news are as important now as ever, if not more, said Dahl.
And a big reason so many people are committed to KDNK, he said, is its mission statement: KDNK provides public access radio that connects community members to one another and the world.
Dahl said he developed a great respect for Skinner while working with him and he hopes everyone who supports Skinner will continue to support KDNK. "However they felt about the board's decision, we all have to work together to pick up the slack."
Some board members also agreed to pick up some of the station manager's responsibilities until Skinner's replacement is found, given that his dismissal was effective immediately.
"Everyone involved has KDNK's best interests at heart, and change is inevitable," said Cole.
Carbondale's community access radio must continue to adapt to the new media landscape that has dramatically changed radio, said Wick Moses, KDNK's first station manager.
The advent of Pandora reshaped the industry, he said, and the stations that have survived have been the one's that have adapted to streaming their broadcasts and utilizing social media.
"It will be key to have someone at the helm who is forward thinking, has a huge amount of energy and really works hard," he said. "The main thing is they have to have a perspective of what's going on in public radio, to tune up what KDNK is doing and bring it into the 21st century."
Moses gave credit to Dahl for overhauling KDNK's website functionality, which has become critically important.
Much will also depend upon the DJs paying attention to how other stations are succeeding and producing really good radio, he said. "The news, I think, is really carrying KDNK right now.
"On the technical side, the sound is good, and the streaming has improved, so there's a chance to turn this around," Moses said. "But there needs to be a realization of the media landscape. Magical thinking, much like in the recent election, will not work out."