KMUD radio (91.1 FM Redway/Garberville) -- the funky, feisty radio station (aka KMUE 88.1 in Eureka, KLAI 90.3 in Laytonville and 99.5 FM in Shelter Cove) that knits the independent hinterlands into a tight community -- is in jeopardy.
"We don't have any cash," said Rob Bier this morning (Tuesday) on the phone. Bier is president of the board of directors of Redwood Community Radio, which owns the stations. Bier said the board realized its dire situation about two weeks ago. Since late last week, he and staff have been on the air explaining the problem and feverishly fundraising. "Between our indebtedness and our anticipated revenues, we didn't have anything left over. The cupboard is bare."
To meet payroll today for its nine employees, the board deferred paying its bills -- including, significantly, its PG&E bill and rent for its transmittal tower space.
So, what happened?
Bier said the nonprofit got a grant of about $90,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to upgrade three of its four transmitters and convert the signals to high definition. As part of the deal, the station had to put up a matching amount -- about $70,000.
"On paper, we managed to show we had matching funds," Bier said. "They released their grant and we went to work."
In reality, the board didn't yet have the matching funds. But it was under the gun to begin the work, Bier said. The grant as well as the construction permit from the FCC had deadlines -- use 'em or lose 'em. So the board drew from other internal accounts and took out about $90,000 in loans, which are now coming due. Bier blames the fiasco on a combination of poor decision making, wishful thinking and "a bad spot of weather in March" which hindered the rigging crew brought up from the Bay Area to put up a new antena on a tower; the crew had to return a second time, which doubled the costs and put the nonprofit $58,000 in the hole, said Bier.
"We started robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "We were expecting to raise money but we didn't raise enough. We also purchased equipment before we went to our listeners and supporters and asked them to pay for it. And our estimates for the equipment were a year out of date -- and those costs went up ... so we got stung there, too. This is not the way to do business."
It's hard to imagine life without KMUD. Since May 28, 1987, when KMUD radio first went on the air, it's been a vital hub: Something happens -- an election, a mudslide, a federal raid, or something else big or interesting in Southern Humboldt -- and everybody tunes in to the small, Redway-based station's local news programs to find out what's happening and chime in on the discussion. In between the action: music and storytelling, poetry and pondering, spiritual questing and reports from afar. KMUD is as community-radio as they come, offering everything from "Al Jazeera News" to "Hot Potatoes" and "Jomama's Blues" and "Thank Jah it's Friday." Oh, and those seasonal weeks of fundraising, when the volunteers, board members and staff cheerfully pester listeners to cough up.
The good news is, work on one of the transmitters is finished -- KMUE in Kneeland is now operating at 10,000 watts, a vast improvement over its previous, wimpy 1,250 watts -- and equipment for the remaining two has been built and paid for and will be installed soon, bringing HD and clearer signals to listeners.
The bad news is, Bier thinks they can eke out an existence for the next three months ... but after that? It depends on the fundraising.
"We're proceeding on the assumption we're going to get there," he said. "We made a mistake, and that's a very hard thing to say, because the main job of the board of directors of a nonprofit is to watch the money. But we're a bunch of amateurs, volunteers... ."