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Published: Saturday, 8/22/2009

Economy squeezes Christian radio

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Al Gaige, general manager of WPOS-FM, said the station has cut expenses where possible, from long-distance phone service to the types of concerts it promotes. Al Gaige, general manager of WPOS-FM, said the station has cut expenses where possible, from long-distance phone service to the types of concerts it promotes.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

The nation's economic woes are having an impact on the local Christian radio scene.

Toledo-based Christian rock station YES-FM (89.3) will interrupt its regular programming Tuesday to ask listeners to help it out of a financial bind caused by an unprecedented drop in donations.

"It's just a one-day 'share-a-thon,' but if we don't make our goal of $20,000 we might reach into a second day because as of the end of this month, we're out of operating money," said the Rev. Todd Hostetler, station manager.

Toledo's other locally owned Christian radio station, WPOS-FM (102.3), also is experiencing lean times and downsizing its budget, station officials said.

Mr. Hostetler, who has been at YES-FM since 1996, said the nationwide economic turmoil has led to a drop in revenue from individual givers and from businesses that underwrite the nonprofit station. The underwriting revenue for May through July was down $14,000 compared to the corresponding months in 2008, he said. And the 2008 figures were lower than in 2007.

"We've been in tough situations before, but this seems a little bit different. We've never been to the place where there's no money to operate. But it's amazing how God always meets the need," Mr. Hostetler said.

He recalled a time when YES-FM desperately needed to raise $21,000 to pay for bonds, and on the day before the bill was due a stack of donations arrived in the mail totalling $31,000.

"God supernaturally met that need," Mr. Hostetler said.

YES-FM went on the air in November, 1992, and broadcasts a range of Christian rock, rap, and heavy metal mostly geared for youthful listeners.

It generally holds two share-a-thons a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, to meet its annual budget of $650,000.

WPOS, meanwhile, is also going through some belt-tightening efforts.

"We've cut back on things we felt were extraneous, or maybe not extraneous but that we could live without," said Al Gaige, general manager of the station whose music and speakers appeal to mature listeners.

He said he just returned from a meeting of the Ohio Broadcasters Association and that the nation and state's financial plight have created "a situation that everybody is going through."

As examples of WPOS's budget cuts, Mr. Gaige said the station found ways to cut health insurance costs, dropped its membership in the National Religious Broadcasters to save on the annual dues, and instead of having long-distance service on all 10 phone lines in the office it now has long-distance on just two lines.

"We have cut expenses as much as possible and try to be good stewards of the Lord and of the fine folks who support us," Mr. Gaige said.

Another effort to trim the budget has been scaling down the types of concerts it promotes.

WPOS has in the past brought in many top-tier Southern Gospel artists, but this year is focusing on local and regional performers who may be less well-known but present less of a financial risk in regard to promotional costs.

"We're just having old-fashioned gospel hymn sings and taking up free-will offerings," Mr. Gaige said.

He added that he did not have enough information to compare the station's financial situation to previous years because he has been at WPOS less than a year.

WPOS has an annual operating budget of between $400,000 and $450,000, he said, and holds one fund-raising share-a-thon a year, the next one set for the first week of December.

"Our goal this year for share-a-thon is $450,000. That would make us not real comfortable but comfortable enough," he said.

Mr. Gaige started his broadcasting career at the Holland, Ohio, station 40 years ago "as a 17-year-old farm boy from Ottawa Lake, Mich.," and worked in broadcasting around the country before leaving Virginia to rejoin WPOS in 2008.

WLMB-TV (Channel 40), Toledo's only locally owned Christian television station, anticipated the downturn of 2009 and adjusted its $1.4 million annual budget accordingly, said Jamey Schmitz, president and CEO.

"Our revenues are down 2 percent over the first seven months of 2009 compared to 2008," he said. "And proactively, in response to this projected revenue decrease, we cut our expenses. Income is running slightly ahead of expenses for the year, praise the Lord."

- David Yonke



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