Montana Public Radio finished our 50th anniversary year with an amazing rally in listener support, reaching $1.54 million. We also had three sold-out performances (Ira Glass, Bill Harley and Garrison Keillor), and held our first short fiction contest. It has been exciting to see all the ways that our shared love for Montana Public Radio has manifested. I can’t say often enough that financial support from deeply committed listeners like you is what makes MTPR succeed.
It has also been a challenging year to be part of the University of Montana, with difficult cutbacks to faculty, staff and general funding across the campus. The Broadcast Media Center, home to both Montana Public Radio and MontanaPBS, will enter the new fiscal year with $80,000 less in funding from UM. The cumulative annual loss of university funds for public broadcasting now totals $210,000 since 2014.
So what is the goal for this new fiscal year? Taking into account increases to wages and health benefit costs, along with University funding cuts, and planned infrastructure upgrades, MTPR must achieve $1.678 million in listener support for the next year.
How will your funding for MTPR be spent? Content, content, content. And equipment.
News is the core of our mission, with the NPR news service and an outstanding Montana news team. News Director Eric Whitney is an excellent trainer for our staff reporters, freelancers and student news staff. The recent growth in the skills and capacity of our news team is inspiring. One important goal in the budget is to increase our reporting capability in Northwest Montana by making our Flathead reporter full-time (a $20,000 increase). Eric and I are building partnerships with local foundations to increase funding for reporting on certain issues, like health care and the natural world. I’m also very proud of the number of our Montana features that are being carried nationally by NPR.
Music is next on the list of what your membership donations support. Hand-picked music from Morning Classics to What I Like About Jazz, curated with loving care by talented Montana Public Radio staff and volunteers. Our commitment to local music producers is as strong as ever. Looking towards cost savings, Program Director Michael Marsolek is including more students and volunteers on the staff, which has a nice side benefit of adding fresh energy and new ideas to the team. I’m also very happy to report that Michael’s initiative to bring more music live-to-air is humming along, with at least one live session per month and new partnerships with the UM Music Department and performers across the state.
You expect a strong commitment to programs for children and families on public television, but it is a rare thing on public radio. I’m delighted that Montanan Public Radio is continuing our tradition of serving listeners of all ages with the longest running children’s programs on public radio. With wonderful stories and songs, the poetry club, our own Rodeo Radio Theater productions, the raptors and the goats, and partnerships with librarians, parents, naturalists, actors and kids too, our children’s programs are an oasis for families and many adults as well. I commend the dedication of Annie Garde and Sam Manno and all the community partners who make these programs so special each week.
I haven’t forgotten about the equipment. It amazes me how many technical things break, malfunction, act strangely every day, and sometimes actually self-destruct. Equally amazing is how quickly the MTPR technical staff responds, figures out what went wrong and fixes it … mostly without our listeners ever being the wiser. The technical staff, led by Saxon Holbrook, keep everything running 24/7 and are also planning for our future. Over the next three summers they will replace five aged transmitters. They will also change our entire signal distribution model from satellite (more expensive and subject to interference and outages) to microwave (cheaper and more reliable). Saxon and I are actively working to seek foundation funding to match the portion of your annual donations ($130,000 each year) that will go toward these important projects.
I’ll close with this insight from Corporate Support Manager Dave Dennis, who tells us that in his 25-year career in media sales, he has never seen a station, public or commercial, with ratings as strong as Montana Public Radio: number one by a landslide in Missoula and a solid number three in the Flathead.
What does that mean? Simply put, Montana Public Radio provides excellent programs that many, many people want and experience every day. But you already know that and have made a commitment to fund this exceptional station with your donations.
Bravo. We do this together… and together we are all Montana Public Radio.
Linda Talbott, Interim Director, Montana Public Radio