WJHU Gets Support For Format Shift Steve Libowitz ---------------------- Editor WJHU's Dennis Kita may feel a small sense of satisfaction now, following four months of phone calls and queries from listeners who were not thrilled with the station's weekday format change from classical music to news and information. Although the station's general manager--and program director Chris Wienk--also received plenty of calls and letters supporting the change, their vindication--or vilification--would have to wait until the fall pledge drive when listeners would, in a sense, endorse or reject the format change with their pocketbooks. As the drive ended just after 2 p.m. on Oct. 28--eight hours earlier than planned--Kita had his answer. During the nearly nine-day campaign, about 2,800 callers pledged more than $122,000. The station's goal was 2,100 callers and $80,000 in pledges. "I feel great," he said. "We were confident that the audience would be there for the new programming, but we couldn't be sure how quickly and how they would support it. If we can keep the enthusiasm up [in subsequent pledge drives], we're going to be way ahead of where we thought we'd be, not merely in terms of money but in connecting with our audience and serving the community." It was a show of appreciation for the audience's support that prompted Kita and community relations director, Nan Rosenthal, to stop the drive early. "We wanted to make the point during the drive that we have an urgent need for listener support and that we'll continue to conduct on-air drives as needed," Kita said. "But when our need was met in this drive, we felt it was right to get back to our regular programs and schedule." The drive did have its tense moments, if only briefly. The first three callers on the first morning complained about the shift from classical music, Kita said. "But the tone of the calls quickly became very positive, which pumped up the volunteers and staff who really worked hard to make this happen." Kita also thinks the drive's success can be attributed to listeners' appreciation of the programming and to the change in listening habits for those programs. "Talk radio demands a certain level of involvement from the listener that classical music doesn't," he said. "Not only are more people tuning in to the programming, but they're listening because it's information, not background [sound]." The fall effort did not pull the station--which relies on government funding as well as business and listener contributions--out of the woods, Kita said. He's looking for a 10 percent growth in membership this year. And while he feels the full potential for audience growth and member support is not yet realized, "this drive definitely puts us on track," he said.
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