Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why Would A School District Own A Radio Station?

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

San Francisco's public schools will loan public radio's KALW up to $200,000 to keep the struggling station financially afloat even as the district faces its own financial woes and major cutbacks.

The school board voted unanimously this week to provide an unprecedented line of credit to the 70-year-old station, which operates independently, but is technically owned by the district.

The station has been losing money for three years and now sits about $120,000 in the hole, said KALW general manager Matt Martin. Its annual budget is about $1.4 million, most of which is donated by listeners.

"We have not taken cash (from the district) for nearly 20 years," he said. "That's not what we want here. We want a loan we can pay back with interest."

The district gave the station 18 months to repay the loan's principal and about 1.5 percent in interest.

The FM station first broadcast at the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island and was donated to San Francisco Unified in 1941 to train students in the then-emerging field of radio broadcasting.

But in 1992, the station cut financial ties with city schools and set out to survive on donations and grants alone. The district has continued to provide some accounting and other administrative services and a free place to broadcast at Burton High School. In total, the aid is worth about $236,000 annually, according to station financial statements.

Hat tip to NewsAlert.


Anonymous said...

Darren: Why Would A School District Own A Radio Station?

Doesn't the bit you quoted answer this? The radio station was donated to the school in 1941, back when high schools had a vocational education track. The idea was to train kids to get jobs "in the then-emerging field of radio broadcasting."

I'm guessing that no one ever severed the connection completely because if something isn't causing trouble, you can ignore it while fighting all the other fires you have going.

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

I get that, but I have a hard time understanding how no one thought about this in the last 70 years. OK, 70 years is a bit much--how about the last 20? or 10? Since the radio station doesn't seem to have anything to do with training students anymore, what business does the school district have with it--and with "lending" it an eighth of a million dollars and providing "aid" to it to the tune of a quarter million dollars a year?

Anonymous said...

I suspect no one thought about it because the station had "not taken cash (from the district) for nearly 20 years." Out of sight, out of mind.

But, yeah, a bit more pro-active behavior by the district would have been better. A specific question might be why they didn't just cut loose the entire station in 1992?

I suspect that the "aid" was worth $236K/year to the station, but didn't cost the district anything close to the same. Was the district going to rent out the free place to broadcast? It could have, of course ... and maybe should have.

I dunno ... still a screw up :-( Fortunately, California K-12 education is flush with money so no real harm will be done!

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

Your final comment made me laugh!