WMNF-FM's lagging fundraising begs question: Is WUSF-FM's format change hurting the station?
Jim Bennett hopes things won't get as bad as they did this summer, when Tampa community radio station WMNF-FM (88.5) nearly laid off three people for the first time in its history.
But the station manager says WMNF's current fund raising drive is lagging ominously -- at midday Monday, it was nearly $50,000 behind targets, though that has improved somewhat. Already, station officials are considering an extension of the drive, which was supposed to end Friday morning, through the rest of the day.
One problem: the news and public affairs shows on WMNF are not drawing the contributions they once did. Bennett said their 10 a.m. broadcast of reruns from NPR's Fresh Air, which used to be a strong attractor of memberships, is lagging, along with their lunchtime broadcasts of Pacifica's left-leaning news program Democracy Now.
The issue may be the Sept. 15 move by public radio station WUSF-FM (89.7) to adopt a news and public affairs format in daytime, dropping classical music broadcasts. Now, area listeners can hear new episodes of Fresh Air one day before they air on WMNF, and when one station is interrupting programming to ask for donations, the other offers listeners similar material without pleas for memberships.
"If (WUSF) isn't in a fund drive and we are, maybe people are switching over there to check them out," said Bennett. "The news and public affairs block is struggling, that's for sure."
Bennett admitted he's talking about their problems now in hopes of rallying fans and boosting donations. In December, a construction project at the tower where WMNF's antenna is located will require the station to run at low power for up to two months, making fundraising impossible (Bennett expects to schedule another fundraising day around Thanksgiving).
"Before we resort to layoffs, we will make sure no stone is unturned," he said, noting the worst-case scenario might see them finishing $90,000 short of their $325,000 target (as I write this, their website says they've reached $137,444).