Covert Corporate

In Utah, they’re apparently having the same problem that we see in Austin at KUT — a school-affiliated “public” radio station behaving like a closely held corporation. According to this post, the bean counters at KBYU are also secretive about how they spend the public’s money.

KBYU and its general manager Walter Rudolph never tell the public how much the station takes in, and especially what it does with contributions from listeners. KBYU never releases any financial statements, never discloses key expenses such as how much it pays Rudolph, never reveals how much it has in the bank.

My argument is that KBYU-FM should not use public airwaves to solicit donations from listeners until it first makes complete and regular disclosures of its finances.

It seems a given that any “public” station accepting taxpayer money, as well as contributions from its listeners, should be required by law to give the public full financial disclosure of what it does with those funds — regardless of any dodgy university affiliation that allows for subterfuge. As in other salient situations, it’s not what they can get away with, but rather with what they should try to get away with. If they’re not trying to “get away with” something, then why all the secrecy? The situation only lends itself to suspicion. And in the matter of public radio with public funds on public airwaves, there never should be a glimmer of malfeasance or misfeasance.

In KUT’s head suit, Stewart Vanderwilt, this problem is compounded by a possible conflict of interest — in that he is a member of the board of PRI (along with Henry P. Becton Jr. of WGBH), a seller of canned product to one of the HD radio channels KUT has ponied up big bucks for (with no indication anywhere of any remuneration) — besides a spotty history in management, given the financial difficulties besetting the Indiana public radio station that previously employed him. It may be that the appearance of impropriety is greater than the truth, but unless there is full financial disclosure, who’s to know? Vanderwilt’s successor in Indiana noted the following:

The Online 1999-2001 Biennial Report that you see before you is an attempt to keep an earlier promise to Indiana Public Radio’s members and supporters. The previous general manager, Stewart Vanderwilt, promised that Indiana Public Radio would annually provide a broad financial report about the radio station. That promise has been altered by circumstance.

WBST has been a success almost from its inception. The thing about success is that it inevitably leads to a new idea, how to make something successful even more successful. An idea always looks good on paper. And the idea that looks good on paper should work when it’s implemented, but that’s not always the case. In 1997 the idea was to expand WBST, creating Indiana Public Radio by adding four transmitters in new communities. It was believed that the new communities would respond as favorably to their new stations as Delaware County had to WBST. When this idea was implemented, IPR had the financial reserves to cover the multiple transmitter costs and absorb the added expense; on paper, it looked as if new membership would soon establish itself in those new communities, thus recouping the initial investment. . . .

Rather than fantastic financial growth, the past two years at IPR have been about retrenching and reallocating resources. The financial reserves are now gone. Several staff positions have not been filled. So, we did not attempt an annual report last year, but we want to recognize the people who carry the station financially, especially during tough times [emphasis added].

The actions of KUT management and UT administration in the events surrounding the fiasco at our local “public” radio station and the “repurposing” of the Cactus Café — situations replete with double-dealing and disingenuous public relations invention — don’t bode well for future expansionist “paper ideas” from the bean counters. Perhaps the impending fall fundraiser might provide further indication of local disfavor with the machinations of those self-entitled guardians of public good. The spring drive had to be extended and buttressed with innumerable anonymous matching donations to meet its goals, and that was before the meddlesome Cactus protest reached fruition. Stay tuned for further developments.

In the meantime, if you’ve heard enough, there’s link on the left — “What Can I Do?” — where you’ll find information about contacting the congressional representatives controlling funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Therein you’ll also find a synopsis of the arguments against the covert connivance involving public funding of public radio stations as well as much more — from which you may draw freely for any correspondence. Blind acceptance is no longer acceptable.

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2 Responses

  1. […] example, one blogger writes, “KBYU should not use the public airwaves to solicit donations from listeners until it first […]

  2. Folk and blues fans in southern New England will remember Brad Paul, Brendan Hogan and Naomi Arenberg, three producer/hosts who were canned when WGBH dumped all folk and blues programming.

    Supporters of Folk and Blues on WGBH –
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=201481030324

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