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Colorado Public Radio on refinancing, fund drive, launch of Open Air

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Colorado Public Radio has quietly been making lotsa news of late, and almost all of it requires some explaining -- including word that CPR has purchased (for $8.346 million) its flagship station, KVOD-FM/88.1, which most listeners likely believed it already owned. Below, senior programming veep Sean Nethery details this move and comments on a just-completed fund drive and the progress of the new Open Air format.

Since 2008, CPR has been operating KVOD under a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Boulder's Public Radio Capital through a Denver-based subsidiary, PRC Denver. Public Radio Capital helps services like CPR with station purchases and the like -- and so, notes Nethery, "the simplest way of saying this is, we're in the process of refinancing our debt. And we're doing it for the same reason anybody else is refinancing right now: We're taking advantage of better interest rates."

According to Nethery, it's "too early to say for sure" that CPR will save big bucks via this arrangement. "We're not looking for lower payments, per se. But owning the station gives us that asset as part of the other stations we own."

The deal doesn't mean CPR just plunked down more than $8 million. Rather, it simply signals that a banking process is underway. Nethery expects it to be completed by June.

In the meantime, CPR is celebrating the successful conclusion of what Nethery describes as a "record-breaking" fund drive -- one that collected more than $1 million from over 8,100 pledges. This performance is something of a trend, Nethery maintains. "It's certainly not just Colorado Public Radio. A number of public-radio organizations have seen really strong support from individuals and businesses. It speaks to the growing importance of public radio in people's lives in the current media world -- especially with news and information, but also classical radio. The last two big classical stations in the country have become public stations, so there's no classical station anywhere in the U.S. on commercial radio."

Moreover, Nethery sees the response as proof that terrestrial radio remains a viable medium. "It's still an important way that people get their news or information or music," he says. "We certainly see the audience growing bit by bit on station websites in terms of use, but it's still dwarfed by the traditional radio audience."

Are the occasional Congressional attempts to ban federal funding of public radio a factor in the rise of donations in what remains a sluggish economy? Nethery doubts it. "I can't say we get an awful lot of feedback about that, and we don't make the point much at all. Already, 94 percent of our funding comes from the community, and we have a growing member base of over 38,000 households, the most members we've ever had. So in an environment where our audience is stable, we're having more people decide individually to take personal responsibility by donating -- that it's important enough to do."

The number of donors who pledged based on their support of Open Air, the new indie-rock format at 1340 AM, was modest; Nethery estimates that "several hundred" people who opened their wallets mentioned their fondness for the outlet, and that Arbitron ratings to date are "measured in the thousands." But the response thus far to the station, which represents what Nethery calls a "mini-trend" toward public radio services offering indie rock, shouldn't cause fans to worry about plug-pulling anytime soon.

"On public radio, we work slowly and deliberately," he emphasizes. "We don't expect to try something for a little while, like in commercial radio, then say, 'It didn't work. We're going to dump it.'" He sees the station as complimentary to Radio 1190, a CU-Boulder station that preceded it, and from whose ranks much of the staff (including manager Mike Flanagan) was culled. "We think Radio 1190 is great, but it's a student station," he says. "We're focusing on a consistent approach throughout the day and the week." As such, "we're looking at a three-year growth plan."

And in today's media scene, that's a long, long time.

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More from our Media archive: "Open Air, new CPR station at 1340 AM: Launch emphasizes the safe side of adventurous."

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