Partners in Broadcasting

May 11, 2009
KWBU welcomes a new president and works to expand community involvement

By Randy Fiedler

Central Texas's two public broadcasting stations -- KWBU-TV and KWBU-FM -- are entering into a new era with the hiring of new leadership and a renewed commitment to expand programming and increase community involvement.

Joe Riley began work May 4 as the president and CEO of Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation, which runs both the television and radio stations. Riley, a 30-year broadcasting veteran with 25 years experience in public broadcasting, came to Waco after serving in public television leadership positions in Alaska, Tennessee and Maine.

"This is an exciting opportunity. KWBU is a great organization, and I am honored to be part of the KWBU team," Riley said. "I'm committed to listening to community members and doing all I can to ensure that KWBU provides quality public broadcasting that is valued by the citizens of Central Texas."

A historic partnership

What is now KWBU-TV began broadcasting in Waco in 1994 as KCTF-TV, but by 1999 the station was experiencing financial problems so serious that it was feared it would have to shut down. The Baylor administration began talks with KCTF about partnership options that would keep both the station and the license securely in Waco.

"We wanted to save the television station for Waco and prevent the broadcast license from going back to the government," said Dr. Charles S. Madden, professor of marketing. Madden was Baylor's vice president of University marketing at the time negotiations began with KCTF, and serves today as a member of the Brazos Valley board. "We also wanted to give Baylor the opportunity to become partners with the community in seeing public television succeed here."

In January 1999, Baylor assumed control of Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation, the KCTF-TV license holder. The next year, the television station's call letters were changed to KWBU-TV, and the radio station, KWBU-FM, became affiliated with National Public Radio and began airing NPR programming in June 2000.

Advantages for Baylor

The Baylor community benefits in a variety of ways from its association with KWBU. For one thing, the television and radio stations give students hands-on experience that can help them in future careers.

"We have a good relationship with Baylor students," said Clare Paul, KWBU-TV station manager. "Each year we have quite a few interns and student volunteers come through our offices and studios, and we train them to work in a variety of ways. Right now we've got students working in television and radio production, in our office and even in the television master control room. Some students simply volunteer to get the experience while others are getting internship credit or participating in work-study. We run the gamut."

And then there are the many faculty, staff and students who view or listen to public broadcasting on KWBU.

"I'm a consumer and a supporter of KWBU," said Interim President David Garland. "From my perspective, public broadcasting is a quality of life issue and its presence in our community has been helpful in the recruitment of faculty. I have told friends that I would find it difficult living in a community that didn't have public broadcasting."

"A city with public television and radio is a city that's developed into a stimulating intellectual community," said Patricia Wilson, a professor at Baylor Law School and a member of the Brazos Valley board. "I think the presence of KWBU is one of the things that an awful lot of people look at when they are considering whether they want to move to Waco and Central Texas."

Funding sources

Although Baylor provides both stations with facilities on campus, a variety of in-kind services and significant financial support, the majority of the funding for both stations comes from other sources. The funding mechanism has been described as a three-legged stool, with Baylor, government funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and contributions from Central Texas residents and businesses each comprising a leg.

"Some people think that Baylor is paying all or most of the bills for KWBU, but the truth is it is a cooperative venture between CPB, Baylor and the community," Madden said. "The intent has always been that the stations should carry their own weight financially."

"Baylor chose to partner with KWBU because it saw the value of public broadcasting in Central Texas, and that partnership has served us well," said Phil Adkins, a Waco businessman who serves as chairman of the Brazos Valley board. "But the partnership with Baylor has also led some in the community to think that Baylor is the primary support mechanism for KWBU, and that's not how it is."

With Riley's arrival at the KWBU helm, officials are concentrating efforts to increase community involvement in public broadcasting.

"One strength that Joe Riley brings to KWBU is a new focus on developing stronger relationships with Waco and the Central Texas community, because that is the reason we exist," Adkins said. "I'm excited that we've chosen an individual who has a significant amount of experience and is interested in creating a more dynamic partnership with the community."

Riley said one of his first priorities is to strengthen bonds with supporters.

"KWBU is the community's station, and it needs community support," he said. "There are tremendous opportunities I see for KWBU to distinguish itself in Central Texas, and part of will be making sure that we know our viewers and listeners and that they know us, and continuing to work hard to gain their trust."

Increasing membership

Adkins, who is the first non-university employee to serve as Brazos Valley board chairman since Baylor assumed control of the KWBU license, said increasing membership is a key to maintaining financial stability as well as growing the stations.

"For us to continue to be a resource for the community by creating programs and outreach events, as well as to continue bringing people the kinds of programming they want, we must not only maintain but grow the membership of viewers and listeners who value the uniqueness of public broadcasting and support it financially," Adkins said.

Growing KWBU's membership will also make it possible for more local programming to be produced.

"We're ready to take KWBU to the next level, which involves expanding our membership to the growing population in our area and beginning to develop more high-quality original programming that will raise our profile on the local, regional and national level," said Dr. Karla K. Leeper, chief of staff to the interim Baylor president and a member of the Brazos Valley board. "Central Texas has so many great stories to tell, and there are individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations that will be eager to work with the station in the future."

Business involvement

As the new board chair, Adkins said one of his priorities during the coming year will be to find ways to encourage Central Texas businesses to support KWBU, through both memberships and by the underwriting of programming.

"From the perspective of a business person, I hope we can move forward and gain more involvement from the business community in what KWBU does," Adkins said. "Not only is it a great venue for them to underwrite both television and radio shows, but it's an excellent way for them to express their willingness to support the community as a whole. And with more businesses involved, we'll be able to create new programs that will in turn help increase station membership."

Membership hurdles

To increase community financial support of KWBU and increase membership and underwriting, station officials said they first need to overcome two errors in perception by the public. The first mistaken perception is that Baylor "owns" the stations and is able to fund them without community support.

"Baylor is committed to doing its part as a member of this community to support KWBU, and the university provides significant support for the infrastructure of the station as well as financial support," Leeper said. "But Baylor cannot and should not do it all. It is important for the citizen viewers and listeners of this community to demonstrate their support for the stations, including Baylor faculty, staff and students who appreciate public broadcasting and want to see it continue to prosper in our area."

The second mistaken perception to be overcome is that public television and radio are somehow "free" commodities that don't require payment to use.

"A lot of people think of public broadcasting as free because it feels like it's free. You can watch it or listen to it, and nobody is sending you a bill to make you pay for it," Riley said. "But the fact is it's not free. It costs something to produce, and that has to be paid for. It relies on voluntary support. The public needs to realize that it's their financial support that makes this great resource possible and allows it to grow."

Baylor faculty and staff who are interested in financially supporting KWBU are invited to visit the KWBU website at Payroll deduction is also available.
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