Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 20, 1995

WJHU Staff Ready to Catch "Spring Fever"

By Mike Field

     It's spring. Warm weather is returning. Daffodils bloom,
magnolia trees revel in their showy ornaments, students throw
Frisbees on the lawn. And at Baltimore's WJHU, FM radio 88.1,
staff members gear up for another on-the-air fund-raising drive.
They call it Spring Fever.

     "I think when we're on the air and the sound is good and the
challenge grants are exciting and the premiums are good people
get into a kind of a festive mood," said Nan Rosenthal, manager
of membership and community outreach and organizer of the annual
drive. It is Rosenthal who offers the spring fever description,
almost as an afterthought as she explains the intricacies of
raising money over the airwaves. "These things peak--usually
right in the middle of the drive--and that's when we generally
raise the largest amounts of money." 

     It is then, she says, when phones are ring-ing, DJs are
hoarse with talking and volunteers are scrambling back and forth
through the studios that the frenzy of the drive becomes, well,
sort of fun. "We try to make our fund-raisers really exciting,"
she said. "People will give money if they like what they hear
during the rest of the year. When people make the case over the
air, people will call. People will call." 

     This year WJHU hopes to raise more than $100,000 from
listeners during the spring fund-raising drive, which begins
March 24. The Hopkins-affiliated station offers a unique variety
of classical music, jazz and community issues oriented
programming as well as National Public Radio's Morning Edition
and All Things Considered. Its listeners have proven remarkably
loyal over the years, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars
to the non-profit, non-commercial station annually. Their
generosity has consistently placed WJHU within the top 10 percent
of all public radio stations nationwide ranked in order of
listener support. 

     And yet, like public radio stations everywhere, estimates
suggest that no more than one in 10 listeners donates money to
keep the station on the air. Now management must seriously
consider just how loyal those listeners are, and how they can be
persuaded to become even more supportive of WJHU. Faced with the
almost certain reduction of some or all of the roughly 20 percent
of WJHU's $1 million annual operating budget that comes from the
federal government, fans of WJHU--and public radio stations
across the country--will be asked to dig a little deeper and give
a little more frequently than in the past.

     "I usually offer an analogy to a typical household," said
WJHU general manager Dennis Kita. "If your household payments
were suddenly decreased by 20 percent you could probably still
manage to pay the mortgage--but that would be about it. It's all
the extras that make public radio so unique." The extras Kita
points to with evident pride include the creation of nationally
distributed radio programs such as Soundprint and the Baltimore
Symphony Orchestra Concert series, as well as the thrice-weekly
Marc Steiner Show which discusses local and national issues in a
radio call-in format.

     "It's a talk show, but I don't put it anywhere on the
political spectrum," said Steiner of his 2-year-old show. "I
think it's thoughtful without being boring, a place that centers
on a thorough discussion of ideas without invective or
grandstanding." Steiner's shows have focused on issues ranging
from the Hubble telescope to charges of mismanagement in the
Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development. One
recent show brought advocates and opponents of affirmative action
together to debate the merits of current federal policies aimed
at correcting past injustices. "That show allowed us to have a
concrete discussion about the real issue," Steiner said. "It was
a dialogue on race, the kind which we need to have and are just
not having." Some contend this is precisely the kind of
programming that conservatives in Congress are trying to cut off
--or at least stop paying for.

     Current discussions in the Republican-controlled Congress
call for eliminating most or all federal funding to public radio
and television over a three-year period. They call it a "glide
path" to self-sufficiency. "If we have zero percent federal
funding within three years that's not a glide path, it's a
mid-air explosion," quipped Kita of the more draconian of the

     Even so, he remains optimistic about the long-term health of
the station. "You have to understand that for many years public
radio stations received all their funding from the government,"
he said. Then, in 1982 the government began reducing funding and
shifting more and more responsibility for financing to the
stations, while easing FCC regulations concerning corporate

     "The first year the regulations were changed we experienced
a 30 percent increase in business funding and we were able to
sustain that increase the next year," Kita said. "Now more than a
quarter of our budget comes from that sector. I am sure we will
be able to find the money to run this station. The only question
is how."

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