KING-FM: Making the cut as a non-profit?

It's been six months since big changes in Seattle's classical music station. Time to ask some questions.

It's been six months since big changes in Seattle's classical music station. Time to ask some questions.

It’s been more than six months since Seattle’s Classical KING-FM switched from commercial to listener-supported operations.  Based on numbers provided by the station this week in a sort of midterm “report card,” the move appears, so far, to have been good for business.

By the numbers, nearly 10,000 people joined during on-air membership drives in May and October.  KING-FM spokesman Gary Smith says that pledges averaging $124 put the station significantly higher than the public radio industry average of $100.

With this positive response, the station exceeded its membership income goal of $750,000 and has actually raised $860,000 this calendar year.  Smith says that the ultimate goal for KING-FM is to attract 25,000 members, which would represent about 10 percent of the 250,000 people who listen to the station each week.

This robust membership income —along with a $250,000 gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a $100,000 gift from Harriett Bullitt, a $50,000 grant from the Tateuchi Foundation, and $1 million worth of gifts from nearly 100 “leadership donors” — also helped KING-FM exceed its goal of creating a $2 million “transition fund.”  This money will allow full operation of the station while they reach for those additional 15,000 members over the next four years.

Programmatically, the deep-sixing of commercial spots and embrace of underwriting announcements has translated into an average of five more minutes of music per hour.  The KING folks happily do the math and point out that this equals 42 days of music throughout a year of broadcasting.

Gary Smith also says KING-FM now has, “more in-depth programming of a broader range of pieces, genres and composers” and that the station has added, “more local concert broadcasts featuring the top classical ensembles in the Northwest” along with new syndicated programs Sunday Baroque, International Concert Hall, The Score, and a local music show produced by KING-FM called Musical Chairs.

In late November, a short called Exploring Music premiered as a regular feature at 6 p.m. weeknights.  Smith says it’s targeted at listeners who are interested in information “behind the music.” He also says that starting later this month, Exploring Music will be available as a daily podcast and the archives will be posted online.

While the move to listener support may not have quieted all of the station’s devoted music critics, a midterm report card like this may find KING-FM ending its freshman year on the Dean’s List.


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