KACU’s shift to become more focused on news and information has increased pledges from some donors during the spring pledge drive.
The drive brought in more than $33,000 in donations from listeners around the Abilene area last week. Though the station came up about $4,000 short of its $38,000 goal, it raised more than the previous spring drive.
“So we’re happy,” said Nathan Gibbs, general manager of KACU.
KACU, Abilene’s public radio station, is a part of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department. Basic funding for full-time staff comes from the department but the station depends on the fall and spring pledge drives to cover the cost of programming. NPR programs cost KACU around $100,000 – $150,000 a year. The remainder of the funding is covered by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Gibbs, who is new to his position as general manager, said KACU has changed up its programming since his arrival in January.
“Since January, we have added a bunch of new programs,” Gibbs said. “We used to air a lot of music but we are making a strategic shift to air news and information during the business day.”
When he stepped into his new role, Gibbs said he took time to evaluate the station’s performance as part of the JMC student media experience.
“There are certain ways I didn’t think the station was doing its job,” Gibbs said. “DJ-ing music isn’t a fundamental part of what our goals are for students.”
Student roles have since been shifted at the station, changing titles from “announcers” to “news anchors.”
With more emphasis on the news part of the job, KACU student employees will now be more involved with the editorial process. For the first time, the station has partnered with local news organizations like Abilene Reporter News, KTAB and KRBC, as well as the Texas Tribune for state news.
“We are adding local news to the radio,” Gibbs said. “So I’m getting that started with partners, but ultimately we want to grow our reporting efforts. We want to take advantage of the talent we have with students.”
This new emphasis on news is not only helping students gain better and more professional experience, but it increases the value of content on air during the day.
This added value is reflected in the increased pledges of some donors during the drive.
“People increased donations because they liked what they heard,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs also said many callers provided positive feedback.
“My hope is that new programming and new transitions we’re doing with the students increases that value proposition for people listening,” Gibbs said, “which would get new people to donate.”
Dr. Cheryl Bacon, professor and chair of the JMC department, said she is excited about the work Gibbs has done so far with KACU.
“Nathan has done a terrific job working in more news, information and culture content,” Bacon said. “For a university that has a public radio station, it is very consistent with our mission to be providing news and cultural information to the community.”
Bacon said the station has received positive feedback for the changes even without much assertive marketing.
“We plan to do that in the coming fiscal year,” Bacon said.
For now, Gibbs said he hopes the station’s strategic focus on news and information continues to bring in more listeners and more supporters of the station.
“Long term, people support public radio because it’s kind of a special thing,” Gibbs said.