Clear Foresight and Able Management

We’ve mentioned often how radio has struggled in the past couple years, losing nearly 20 percent of revenues last year alone. This explains some of the wild-eyed rush to Triple-A radio as the perceived cure for what ails our “public” radio stations. But as mentioned in this on the original saveKUTaustin website,”Fuzzy Math: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics,” all the self-justification in the world may not be enough to save the bean counters. As noted in pages of a report from the Radio Research Consortium entitled “Audience 2010”:

Managing the business of public service was difficult enough while listening and revenues continued to rise. It will be exceptionally challenging when both are stagnant. Development professionals will be called on to earn more from listeners per listener-hour — a feat they’ve heretofore been unable to sustain. Programmers will be called upon to generate more public service per programming dollar – putting pressure on high cost, low return local programming.

Management initiatives that presume audience and revenue growth over the long term will be called upon to prove out sooner, or be adjusted mid-course, or be abandoned. As an industry, we seem to be at a real point of inflection. We might wait a couple years to be sure, but by then it may be too late. If listener-sensitive resources do not grow, our ability to invest in new endeavors will be limited.

The threat of a downward spiral looms. The reinvigoration of public service and public support calls for clear foresight and able management.

In this report, we address the central finding that public radio is no longer a growth industry. Or at least it won’t be for the immediate future, as its ability to earn listener-sensitive revenues (particularly individual giving) is predicated on (and predicted by) listening. This finding has significant ramifications for those used to budgeting on the presumption of financial growth [emphasis added throughout].

The expenses have mounted at a station like KUT, with its no-return HD channels, new building, expanded newsroom (Austin Chronicle writer Kevin Brass noted in 2006, “Although local news reports are heard only sporadically through the course of a day, the station spends $600,000 a year to maintain the news presence”), fundraising expenses (Kevin noted that in 2005, KUT spent $1.4 million), and new hires — not to mention a very expensive management elite.

This website of the online Texas Tribune, which has a tie-in to KUT and is thus privy to this ultra-secret information, had an interesting post about current salaries of those management types:

Jonathon S Vanderwilt Director $146,500
Hawk T Mendenhall Assoc Director $112,500
Sylvia Ponce-Carson Asst Director $97,000
David Brown Sr Producer & Corrspndt $84,000
Emily Donahue Manager $81,100
James L Reese Info Tech Manager $78,200
Valerie L Phillips Assoc Dir For Devpment $75,000
Rodney T Fehlhafer Manager $73,000
Robert J Cross Admin Mgr $72,000
Larry L Monroe A&P Hourly Employment $65,603
Paul H Ray A&P Hourly Employment $65,603
John L Aielli Sr Host/Producer $64,500
Jennifer P Stayton Sr Producer & Corrspndt $64,000
Jeffrey S McCord Manager, Kut Radio $63,300
Jay J Trachtenberg Manager $53,500
Holly J Gaete Asst Dir Development $52,254
Charles J Price Tech Staff Asst IV $52,100
Kevin B Connor On-Air Producer/Talent $52,000
James B Philpott Senior Reporter $52,000
Ida L Maldonado Sr Admin Associate $51,100
Brian L Urban Technical Staff Assoc. $49,600
John R Craig Sr Desktop Support Spec $48,400
David M Alvarez Tech Staff Asst IV $46,400
Michael J Lee Producer $46,000
Julie B Moody Reporter $45,000
Ian P Crawford Sr Producer & Corrspndt $45,000
Deepina Kapila Webmaster $45,000
Nathan J Bernier Reporter $45,000
Matthew C Reilly Sr Host/Producer $45,000
Cliff D Hargrove Tech Staff Asst IV $42,100

The top two, of course, are the architects of the Brave New World at KUT, hauling in more than a quarter mil between them. Add in Sylvia, who heads up fundraising, David and Emily, the married couple brought in from LA, and James, the head of the digital revolution, you’re talking a chunk of change: well over a half-million. Way down the list you’ll see the deejays who’ve floated this boat for decades, yet still are only paid at the rate of $65,000 a year (“at the rate” because even before Bloody Monday last year, they weren’t working a full 40 hours). As noted in another post, “How Much Is Enough?” on the saveKUTaustin site:

How do you put a price on the combined wisdom of those DJs who for years funded the station’s operations while helping build that which is now trumpeted as the Live Music Capital of the World? Larry Monroe, awarded for “Keeping the Blues Alive” by the Blues Foundation in Memphis, host of one of the longest-running blues radio shows in the country. Paul Ray, recently named to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame — besides already being named to the Texas Music Hall of Fame. John Aielli, the money-maker for KUT for decades . . . You can’t buy the type of respect they’ve earned, but we’re seeing now you sure can fritter it away. Back-handed into forced retirement, stripped of health benefits, they’re cynically re-badged as “legends” by a hyperbolic PR machine.

And as the conclusion of “Fuzzy Math” states:

Truth be told, the upheaval is just the latest management gamble in the heretofore frustrated ambition of empire building, with employee roadkill collateral damage in pursuit of the dream. The money now spent solely to secure advertising is the size of the entire KUT budget when Vanderwilt took over. The station may boast a budget three times that of San Antonio (and still somehow be not enough), but look what you’ve got when the bill becomes due: the new reality in your public radio station, where the soul purpose [sic] is maximizing market share, completing the overpass to the dealers of luxury automobiles and the landed gentry. Where once it was said that “KUT seeks out music that isn’t promoted, packaged, or hyped, music you wouldn’t find without us,” now it’s what’s hot nationwide and being played everywhere, what’s on the charts, what advertisers will pay to support. We’ve come a long way to go nowhere at all.


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