KUT donors pledge support for station after threat of cuts

William James Gerlich

When it comes to radio pledge drives, KUT deserves a Ph.D. for schooling every other local radio station in town.

The National Public Radio affiliate and University-operated radio station, KUT 90.5, announced Wednesday morning that more than 7,500 individuals and local businesses pledged more than $1 million during the station’s annual spring pledge drive. This success comes on the heels of last month’s news that the U.S. House of Representatives approved cuts to NPR that could result in $500,000 in losses for KUT.

This spring, Austinites donated record-breaking amounts to public radio. KOOP Radio has earned more than $68,000 so far, and UT’s student-run KVRX exceeded expectations with $7,000 in total pledges.

Although pledge drives are not considered competition from station to station, KVRX’s pledge drive coordinator Katie Carson said she was shocked to hear KUT’s final results and congratulated them for their tremendous success.

The NPR affiliate owes some of its success to members of the KUT advisory board, which includes community leaders and professionals, who pooled their respective resources to create individual goals ranging from $2,500 to $25,000.

Among the advisory board members was UT McCombs School of Business lecturer Ben Bentzin, who has been a guest radio host on the Morning Edition show several times this season and discussed the importance of donating to public radio, no matter how big or small the pledge.

“KUT’s pledge drives have incrementally grown as its audience grows as well,” said KUT director Stewart Vanderwilt. “This success was driven by the loyalty of our listeners and their awareness of the federal funding concerns public radio is currently facing.”

According to KUT and College of Communication spokeswoman Erin Geisler, if the U.S. Senate passes the House-approved bill to cut all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the station could lose a significant amount of its budget.

“If passed, this [legislation] will have a huge impact on local stations, especially if those where [Corporation for Public Broadcasting] funding is roughly 40 percent of their overall budget,” Geisler said.

Federal funding for KUT amounts to about 7 percent, or $500,000, of the station’s total budget, and Vanderwilt has not put a backup plan into effect yet. NPR is facing leadership challenges after CEO Vivian Schiller resigned over a recent controversy regarding an administrator who was caught on camera blasting the Tea Party.

“Educational broadcasting has been supported by government grants for nearly four decades and will not be wiped out in one legislative session,” Vanderwilt said.