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Aspen Public Radio relies on listeners’ help

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Fans of Aspen Public Radio regard this time of the year sort of like a colonoscopy ” it’s uncomfortable but necessary.

Aspen Public Radio began its winter fund drive Saturday. That means brief but irritating interruptions of favorite shows like “Morning Editions” and “All Things Considered” as well as pleas to listeners for financial contributions that will help achieve financial goals.

Station staff and volunteers don’t like conducting the fund drives any more than listeners like hearing them, but it’s vital to the local public radio outlet’s survival, said Andrew Todd, executive director of Aspen Public Radio. The on-air fundraisers in March and August last year raised about $240,000 in pledged contributions, Todd said.



All told, contributions from individuals and organizations are expected to raise $360,000 in revenue this year. (Some contributions are collected outside of the on-air pledge drives.)

Grants from governments and foundations will raise an estimated $327,500 in 2008. Underwriting, public radio’s word for advertising sales, are the third primary source of revenue and will generate about $185,000. Other sources will bring in $61,200.




Total revenue for the year are budgeted at $933,700.

Aspen Public Radio has about 1,000 members. It’s nurtured that base by offering local programming for 20 years. The radio station has existed since the early 1980s but with programming from the University of Wyoming.

The station’s goal is to increase the number by a net amount of 10 to 15 percent. It’s an ambitious goal, Todd acknowledged, but Aspen Public Radio serves a broad area, covering the entire Roaring Fork Valley and stretching west to Rifle and east to Eagle in the Colorado River Valley.

Just as the region’s population growth is occurring in places like Silt and Rifle, Aspen Public Radio aims to expand its membership in those areas. The two annual fund drives by Aspen Public Radio are an important tool in reaching new listeners, including newcomers to the Aspen area.

More members means more revenue. The station aims to increase direct public contributions by 4 to 5 percent annually, Todd said.

“Each year we have to raise a little more,” he said. “Our costs go up.”

Since the organization doesn’t receive large gifts from individual donors, it relies on small contributions that are more acceptable to the budgets of most households.

“Those $50 contributions really do add up,” he said.

While the goal is to raise more from listeners in the service area, there are constraints. Carbondale public radio station KDNK also taps listeners for contributions. “For the valley to support us and KDNK is really amazing,” Todd said.

Financial information that the nonprofit organization reports to the Internal Revenue Service slices up revenue in a slightly different way than the budget. The report filed for 2006 shows that Aspen Public Radio received $523,970 in direct public support and another $10,000 in indirect public support.

It received $82,590 in government contributions and $139,693 in program service revenue along with $2,256 in interest.

Total revenue for 2006, the latest year that a report to the IRS is available, were $758,509.

The radio station spent $744,176 in 2006, according to its report to the IRS. The two biggest expenses are salaries and benefits for the staff and purchases of programming, Todd said.

In its 2006 report to the IRS, Aspen Public Radio broke down its expenses this way: $553,413 for program services; $124,011 for management; and $66,752 for fund raising.

Its total expenses were $744,176 for that year, leaving it $14,333 in the black. Its net assets with the surplus from 2006 reaches $170,969.

Aspen Public Radio’s staff includes nine full-time workers and one part-time employee. It relies on a pool of 20 to 25 volunteers for everything from on-air hosting to administrative help of some kind.

Its overhead is low, as exemplified by a Form 990 that goes into excruciating detail about office supplies and other operating expenses. “We know nobody’s giving to public radio so we can live high on the hog,” said Todd.

Programming is an expense that might not be apparent to listeners. News and other programming produced outside the valley isn’t provided to Aspen Public Radio free of charge. The popular “Morning Edition” news show and uniquely diverse “All Things Considered” are the most expensive programs the station purchases.

Programming expenses typically rise between 4 and 7 percent annually, Todd said.

So, he asks that listeners bear with the fund drive that’s occurring now and dig a little deeper for a contribution, if they can.

And look on the bright side ” most public radio stations hold their drives for two full weeks. History shows that Aspen Public Radio reaches its goal in about 10 days.

“By comparison, ours is mercifully short,” Todd said.

scondon@aspentimes.com