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WOUB Radio: Format switch necessitated by $$ pressures
By Nick Claussen
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
The switch from classical to talk radio on WOUB-FM was not just made to attract more listeners, but also to secure funding for the radio station,
according to officials at Ohio University.
The OU-run radio station on Friday sent a letter to local newspapers, written by Carolyn Bailey Lewis, director and general manager of WOUB Radio and
Later Friday, Tim Myers, director of radio and on-line services at OU, explained the issue further. Lewis' letter is printed in full on page 6 of
today's Athens NEWS.
In March, WOUB Radio announced that it was changing the format of its FM station from classical music, which had been on the air weekdays from 9 a.m.
until 4 p.m., to five daily news, culture and talk programs.
The change in format prompted an outcry from classical music listeners, unhappy that their programs are being taken off the air. Similar protests
erupted in the fall of 2002 when WOUB-FM replaced its evening jazz format with "Crossing Boundaries," a mix of AAA, Americana and blues.
Lewis said in her letter that she has been reading letters to local newspapers and also has spoken with many listeners. She explained in the letter
that WOUB has been studying its programming for the last two years and decided the change in format was the best move for the station.
"It is clear, based on the research that we have seen, that the classical music audience in southeastern Ohio is small and continuing to decline,"
Lewis wrote. The research showed listeners want talk radio, and that the move would benefit the station financially, Lewis added.
"The landscape of public radio has changed," Lewis wrote. Public radio stations are no longer assured automatic funding from the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting, she added. Federal funding is now based in part on a criteria that measures a station's audience and private financial support,
"For the past two years, WOUB has not met those measurements and is in danger of losing all federal funding from the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting," Lewis wrote. In addition to losing the federal funding, WOUB could lose the rights to broadcast programs from National Public Radio
(NPR) and forfeit grant funding if it does not meet the measurements for listeners and private donations, according to Lewis.
In past years, Myers said, the station has been on the edge of meeting criteria for listeners, but it has not met the criteria for private financial
support. The last two years, though, the station fell below the criteria for its number of listeners as well, he said.
Because the station is not meeting these measurements, it already has lost some of its federal funding, Myers said.
"They've already cut a quarter of the money," he said. The station had been receiving just under $200,000 per year from the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, and it has lost $50,000 of that, Myers said.
The station will continue to lose 25 percent of its funding every year that it doesn't meet the set measurements until the federal funding is
eliminated, Myers explained.
Lewis' letter stated that the station has 1.4 million potential listeners and only 1,808 of those people are members who donate to WOUB.
Asked if that means that the classical music listeners aren't donating and that hopefully talk radio listeners will donate more, Myers said that WOUB
hopes to receive more donations simply by having more listeners. More listeners and more donations would mean that the station could keep its federal
funding and all of its NPR programming, he said.
Now that the station has made the format changes, WOUB-FM officials will watch donations and numbers of listeners closely to determine the impacts of
the changes, Myers said. The station will conduct another survey next spring, similar to this year's survey, and it will evaluate audience data
throughout the year, he said.
IN HER LETTER, LEWIS wrote that while WOUB-FM has dropped classical music, the station is willing to encourage efforts to bring a radio signal to
Athens that features classical and jazz music.
Last week, Athens resident Tom Taggart announced that Fine Arts Radio, in which he's a partner, has permission from the Federal Communications
Commission to set up a translator in Athens to broadcast the signal from the Marietta College radio station, which plays jazz and classical music.
Taggart said that Fine Arts Radio plans to start in September with a signal that only can be heard in the city, but he's looking for a place to erect
a translator so that the signal in the Athens area can be stronger.