-Jeanette Todd, interim administrator
KMUD Radio invites the Southern Humboldt community to eat, talk, and share ideas for managing the station at the "Brainstorm Community Barbecue" tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 15 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the KMUD building in Redway. The event is free, but donations large and small will be welcome.
"Opinions will be valued. We need the community working together to solve our problems," said Jeanette Todd, interim administrator. Todd and other members of KMUD's staff and board will circulate throughout this informal event, talking to the participants and taking notes on their ideas and comments.
The problems Todd referred to stem from a financial crisis, a shortage of ready cash that she discovered when reviewing the station's books shortly after she took the interim administrator position last month.
KMUD's monthly overhead - the amount it costs to meet payroll and pay its bills - comes to about $45,000 a month. At the end of July, with an approximately $10,000 payroll to meet on Aug. 7, KMUD had $6,950 in the bank.
Unlike a commercial business, KMUD does not receive regular income for providing its service. It relies on fundraising, primarily through two major pledge drives each fall and spring; fees paid by underwriters whose businesses or organizations get a brief promotional spot between programs; and grants. An annual $100,000 operational grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting helps to pay a large share of KMUD's day-to-day costs.
KMUD's fall pledge drive begins Oct. 30. Past drives have raised as much as $85,000 in pledges, although some $58,000 of pledges from the past two years have not yet been paid.
This year CPB also awarded KMUD a $90,000 grant specifically to upgrade its transmitters in Kneeland for KMUE (Eureka), Garberville, and Shelter Cove. As part of the grant agreement, KMUD was asked to put up matching funds.
Those matching funds came from three private loans. "We worked closely with CPB," said Rob Bier, chairman of KMUD's board of directors. "We asked them if our matching funds were OK, and they agreed.... We pay close attention to CPB's requirements and there's no question that we met them."
But the loans must be repaid, and much of the financial problem stems from how that can happen.
One loan for $50,000 should have been paid off from the sale of former programmer Maryanne Mapes Boucher's property on Spy Rock Road, which Boucher endowed to the station in her will. Unfortunately, contrary to expectations, KMUD did not receive the full purchase price in a lump sum but instead is carrying a note that is paid in monthly installments. Those payments in turn are used to pay down one of the private loans.
KMUD also owns a half-interest in a property referred to as "the Fitch property" on Alderpoint Road, also as the result of an endowment. In order to sell that property, KMUD must make an agreement with the other owner, whom they have only recently been able to contact, according to Todd. Proceeds from the sale of that property, when it happens, will go toward paying off the other loans.
Todd added that she and everyone at KMUD appreciate the "gracious, wonderful trust" of the private individuals who made the unsecured loans that enabled KMUD to obtain funding from CPB.
In the meantime, however, this leaves the station approximately $70,000 short, with payments due on loans as well as its ongoing operating costs.
KMUD met its Aug. 7 payroll by deferring payment of its bills, including utilities and rent on some of its facilities.
"We are absolutely not going to shut our doors," said Todd. "This experience is a wake-up call, a call to action.... It's not an end, it's an opportunity for outreach to the community."
Bier agreed, admitting that the board of directors knew "for months that we were in bad financial condition... It pains me to say this, but we made some misjudgments."
The directors originally hoped that matching funds for the grant would come from donations from the Eureka area, since northern Humboldt residents hear KMUD broadcasts on KMUE.
The decision to do the upgrade project before securing those donations was at least partly based on the fear that in the current national political climate, Congress would severely cut back funding to CPB or eliminate it altogether.
KMUD was also required to obtain a construction permit from the Federal Communications Commission, which allows changes in infrastructure, frequency and broadcast signal. Construction had to begin in March or KMUD was likely to lose the permit and be unable to get another one, Bier said.
To add to the trouble, bad weather during March forced the construction crew to leave the area and come back, adding almost $60,000 to the project cost, expenses not covered by the grant.
The good news is that the KMUE upgrade is now complete, and the Eureka transmitter is producing a 10,000-watt signal compared to the old 1250-watt signal.
Additionally, new equipment has already been custom-built for the rest of the upgrade. CPB is awarding KMUD an additional $50,000 grant to cover that equipment, which should be received soon, but those funds must go to the equipment supplier and cannot be used for operations costs.
The crisis fell on the shoulders of a relatively inexperienced board of directors. "The recent history of the board has been convoluted," Bier said.
The board is comprised of three member representatives, elected by KMUD's membership; three programmer representatives, elected by the volunteer programmers; and three persons appointed by the board to bring in additional experience and expertise.
The directors' terms are three years, so that each year one seat from each category is available for election or appointment.
But because of resignations, seven members of the current nine-member board have served for less than one year. "This has been a challenge to all of us," Bier said. While everyone on the board has done his or her best, "another year or two of experience" would have helped, he added.
Todd also is new to KMUD. She was hired as interim administrator following the resignation of the former general manager. "My first day was actually the Fourth of July," she said.
Todd grew up in Fieldbrook, east of Arcata. Her educational and professional background is in business, and most recently she was manager of the Center Arts ticket office at Humboldt State University.
When she and her husband, Jake, who was born in Petrolia and grew up at the very eastern edge of Humboldt County past Dinsmore, came to SoHum for a birthday party, they were impressed with the sense of community they saw, and decided they wanted to live here.
As interim administrator "my hands are safely tied until a new general manager is hired," she quipped, referring to the limits of her position. All major decisions must be made by the board.
"I'm glad that [this crisis] raises community awareness," she said. "That gives me balance and strength to stand on, that we can work together." She added that her plans are to "maintain my ethics and roll with the punches."