KPBS General Manager Answers Public’s Questions
Thursday, October 1, 2009
KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo talks about how the economy is impacting public broadcasting.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Most people who listen to public radio here on KPBS and watch Public Television on KPBS-TV are big advocates of the station. After all it's your support that keeps us going. But because you feel so strongly about this station, you've often got questions about why we do the things we do here. Well, today we've got the man who knows the answers to those questions right here in the studio. KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo is here with us. Tom was appointed general manager earlier this year, and at that time, he came on the program to tell us about the plans he has for KPBS. Now he's back to tell us how those plans are taking shape, and to take your questions and comments. Good morning, Tom.
TOM KARLO (General Manager, KPBS): Good morning, Maureen. Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome. Now we really want to invite our listeners to give us a call and talk to Tom. Are you curious about the programming decisions made here at KPBS? Or maybe you have a question about where we get our funding? We’re opening up the phones, inviting our listeners to call in, talk to the KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo. Our number, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, Tom, let’s start by talking about something that public broadcasting always struggles with. It’s the issue of funding. What’s KPBS’ operating budget this year?
KARLO: Well, our operating budget this year is going to be right about $19 million. That’s the money that we projected that we could bring in for the year, and we’ve set our expenses accordingly. And I would say that over the last couple of years we have felt the effects of the economy. I think back in 2006, we were probably up to about twenty-one and a half million dollars, so we’ve seen revenue decline over the last couple of years. But we’ve also – Our finances are stable right now. We have made the necessary cuts, we’ve looked for efficiencies, we’ve downsized the management team in order to maintain the quality of content that we deliver to our audience. So, all in all, over the last couple of years, the economy has affected us in – definitely in the federal support and in the state support. Membership is down a little bit. But we’re balanced. We’ve been balanced for the last couple of years and we have not used any reserves. We have not used a line of credit at all, and I’m happy to say that we’re somewhat stable. Now, our net assets has declined over the last couple of years because we’ve also not replaced any equipment…
KARLO: …and we’ve seen our quasi-endowments or investments decline along with the stock market. You know, we have an investment policy that we follow, San Diego State University’s investment policy, and like everybody else’s 401(k) or investments or whatever, we’ve seen a decline in that. So our net assets have dropped but the cash part of our operating budget is stable right now and, you know, we’re hoping to end this year also on a balanced budget.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s break this down for our listeners, Tom. Where does KPBS’ funding come from? You know, during a pledge drive, either on the radio or on TV, we’re saying your support is what – is the backbone of KPBS. Is that true? And where does our other funding come from?
KARLO: Well, it is, it’s very true that membership is the single largest source of revenue that comes in to help operate KPBS. Just under 40% of all the money needed, of that nineteen and a half million dollars that I mentioned, comes from people who are annual contributors to KPBS, anywhere from $25 to $45 dollars a year all the way up to $5,000 to $10,000 a year. We have 50,000 households in the San Diego market area, the San Diego County area, that are annual contributors to KPBS. They are by far the largest source, it’s just under 40%. Followed then by what we call our business development area, which is our corporate support, the corporate people that get acknowledgements in between programs, our underwriters, and also some of our video production services area where we lease out some of our facilities here for net revenue to help operate the station, the vehicle donation program, that comprises about 25% of our budget. And the federal support really is only about 12% of our operating budget. A lot of people think we’re totally subsidized by the federal…
CAVANAUGH: I know.
KARLO: …government but it’s a small part. It’s an important part. But we’ve seen that federal support – in 2006 we received $3.5 million and this year we’re going to, I think we’ll receive about $2.4 million. So if you say $2.4 million from the federal government and we need nineteen and a half million dollars, you know, we do an awful lot of things to help bring in that extra revenue.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo, and we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You can join the conversation. And right now, Luchiano – Luciano in San Diego is calling. Good morning, and welcome to These Days.
LUCIANO (Caller, San Diego): Hi. How are you? Good morning.
KARLO: Good morning.
LUCIANO: I just had a question. How much big corporations have influenced public radio? And what are you doing to keep it so that it doesn’t go – the news are always fresh and clean from, you know, from influences and convenient petitions.
KARLO: Well, first of all, I can tell you that there are no corporations and no major donors or even San Diego State University that influences any of our programming decisions. We take great pride in the fact that people trust and value what we produce every single day on our air. And there is a firewall around our content area. We allow our editorial team and all the people that produce all of the content to produce in their – the best way they feel that they’re going to present something that’s fair, balanced and can be trusted and is of value, and management does not walk down the hall and tell people what to do, and our donors don’t tell us what to do. And we have had stories—I don’t want to get into any of the specifics—but we’ve had stories that we’ve done in the past that we’ve had some major underwriters actually leave us because we did a story that might not have been in their favor, and we do not cross the line. And I think Maureen will tell you that as we prepared for this interview, we never spoke ahead of time.
KARLO: We did not talk. I mean, this is – this was a chance for – Maureen and the These Days team produced and came up with all the questions and I did not at all come in and say this is what I want you to ask me, this is what I want you to do. And there’s a trust factor that Public Broadcasting has. It is one of the most trusted institutions in this country and we’re going to preserve that in the long run. And I can just say emphatically, we do not allow anyone to influence our decision-making.
CAVANAUGH: Actually, I think our listeners are going to have most of the questions for you, Tom. The number’s…
KARLO: That’s fine.
CAVANAUGH: ...1-888-895-5727. Let me just ask a follow-up question to Luciano. Is that also true in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR, that there is this firewall between – because, you know, you watch public TV these days and you see an awful lot of underwriting, these, you know, these little – small, little commercials almost…
CAVANAUGH: …you know, at the end of the programs. Do they also have that firewall that these corporate donors don’t influence content?
KARLO: Yeah, it is really a backbone of Public Broadcasting that when you become a supporter or an underwriter of any product that Public Broadcasting produces, you do not get to influence the content. You do not get to say, this is what I want you to do in that show and I will fund you. It just doesn’t happen. And, actually, the premise of the Public Broadcasting Act, signed in 1967 by President Johnson, was, in fact, that the federal support that I’d mentioned earlier was really there as a baseline of support to make sure that Public Broadcasting stations had an initial foundation of funding to make sure that they would not be influenced by any corporations, and I can say we are not. And, you know, people have asked me that about San Diego State University. We are not influenced by – in our content producing by the university, too, who holds our license.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another phone call. Austin is calling from Golden Hill. And good morning, Austin. Welcome to These Days.
AUSTIN (Caller, Golden Hill): Good morning and thank you. I think he may have just answered my question that I had and it was regarding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. What influence, if any, does it have on the local affiliates? And the second part of my question was a programming question. Understanding the current economic climate, I wanted to make a request for a program by the name of “News & Notes.” And was wondering if it would be possible to have that as a part of the lineup.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well…
KARLO: Well, let me take the “News & Notes” one…
KARLO: …first, and I’m going to look for my staff to make sure I’m going to say this correctly. I believe “News & Notes” was cancelled a few months ago out of NPR West when they also cancelled “Day to Day.” And if I’m wrong, someone will let me know, so I don’t think “News & Notes” is available anymore, and we did not carry it even when it was available and I’m not sure I know the answer why. But I believe it’s no longer there. Let me talk a little bit about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When in 1967 Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, which actually allowed for the federal government to support, and have appropriations to support, Public Broadcasting entities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was formed to be the distributor of the federal funds. So the main thing that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting does is it gathers the $400 million that is appropriated by the federal government and works with all of the Public Broadcasting station and creates a formula driven procedure of how to distribute that money to Public Broadcasting stations. So they also keep a little bit of money for special grants in terms of special projects, new initiatives, outreach efforts and people that are trying to create new ideas for Public Broadcasting but the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is mainly a grant distributor of the federal funds and so there really is nothing that really comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting requiring us to do things. Now the FCC does, in fact, have all the guidelines in place of us making sure that everything we do falls under being a non-commercial broadcaster or an educational broadcast entity. So we follow the FCC guidelines to make sure that we are in compliance with the license of being a non-commercial broadcaster.
CAVANAUGH: And I just want to let our caller Austin know that, indeed, Tom was right. We did check and find out “News & Notes” has been cancelled by NPR, so we can no longer broadcast that show. My guest is KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo. He’s taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. A lot of people want to join the conversation. Let’s talk to Joyce in Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Joyce. Welcome to These Days.
JOYCE (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Hi there. I always wonder what happens to posted comment. Does anybody read them? Does anybody respond to them? Maybe you could tell me?
KARLO: Well, you know, we have an Audience Services Department, led by Bob Kanish, and Bob is very, very diligent in making sure that any notes and response or letters or e-mails or comments is distributed to the right people at KPBS. And it is our desire to make sure that we follow up with everybody, and I can tell you from my standpoint, anybody who writes a letter to me, writes an e-mail to me, or calls me, I get back to them. I believe it’s very important for us to, in fact, listen to our community and to make that a part of the decision-making that we make. And I’ll use a perfect example. Over a year ago when I wasn’t the general manager, on the television side we made a move to move the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer from seven o’clock to six o’clock. And I have to admit that we received an awful lot of comments from our viewers, dedicated people of KPBS, who wanted to let us know that they preferred to have the NewsHour back at seven o’clock and not at six o’clock. So, you know, it’s not just one call but it’s a variety of things, looking at ratings, looking at demographics, and looking – and listening to the members and the viewers and the listeners and, you know, just to cut to the chase, we moved the NewsHour back to seven o’clock a couple of weeks ago based on the fact that we were listening to our customers.
CAVANAUGH: And, yes, I’m going to do this, Tom. What is your e-mail address?
KARLO: Well, it’s nothing mysterious or tricky or cute. You know, my name is Tom Karlo, my last name is spelled with a ‘K,’ so it’s K-a-r-l-o. And my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And I do my best and I will answer everyone’s e-mail the best I can. And I promise you, if I can’t find the answer, I will get the answer to you. But it’s email@example.com and I already average 125 e-mails a day, so bring it on because I do want to make sure that we are listening and responding to everybody’s input. Because, you know, KPBS is a community treasure, it is a community resource, and we provide valuable, local content. And I just believe very much that you listen to your customers and that’s the way that we can be successful.
CAVANAUGH: Well, another listener is here…
CAVANAUGH: …and wants to join the conversation. Jean Paul is calling from Rancho Bernardo. Jean Paul, welcome to These Days.
JEAN PAUL (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Hi. Good morning, Maureen. Good morning, Karlo. How are you?
KARLO: Good morning.
JEAN PAUL: Tom, I wanted to ask you and Maureen one question. Last week I was hearing an interview, I think it was Maureen and Gloria Penner and they were talking about the corrupt politicians, you know, that was the interview about. And my question is this, what’s – when the reporters or the people on the radio are talking about, do they input their political ideologies into the – into their answers? Or they try to be neutral? And this goes for all the programs I hear on NPR Radio and KPBS. And I can take my question off the air.
KARLO: Well, I think what you’re referring to is that on Wednesdays at These Days we have Gloria Penner and she is our political correspondent and she does a little segment called “Political Fix.” I’m not sure I heard the one that you’re mentioning but I will tell you that we stand very much as an editorial strategy and vision that we try to present people an issue and try to present it in a fair and balanced way and, hopefully, try to give both sides to the story. And, you know, this is something that people who are very passionate about a particular issue and everything will always – will sometimes call us and say, well, you know, it was slanted this way, and then the next call will come in, it was slanted the other way. But, by and large, I can tell you from an overall editorial vision, led by station manager Deanna Mackey over our entire content area, is we really encourage and want and really almost demand that anything we bring on the air is, in fact, bringing an important issue in a most fair and balanced way and to create civil discourse. But, you know, we’ll always get the calls and the people when they respond will say that you were slanted this way, you were slanted that way, but I can tell you the basic premise is to be – to present issues and to present both sides so people can make their own decisions.
CAVANAUGH: And, Jean Paul, I just want to add that I think Gloria Penner would be the first one to tell you that she has the title KPBS political correspondent instead of KPBS political reporter because occasionally she will inject her own opinions into her coverage and, as a correspondent is – can do, and a reporter cannot. So there you have that one. We have to take a very short break and when we return, we will continue with KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo and continue taking your calls about KPBS. Our number here is 1-888-895-5727, and we will return in just a few moments.
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CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh.You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And my guest is KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo. He’s answering your questions on the decisions made here at KPBS, the funding at KPBS, just about any question that you have about KPBS Radio or Television. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Before we go back to the phones—and there are a lot of people who want to ask you questions, Tom—I do want to ask about a recent press release, a recent event here at KPBS. We received a large gift from Joan and Irwin Jacobs. Tell us about that gift and what it will be used for.
KARLO: Well, Maureen, we just recently received a wonderful gift from Irwin and Joan Jacobs to basically remodel our content areas, not the technical facilities but a lot of the offices and where the content people like yourself work.
CAVANAUGH: Here at the KPBS…
KARLO: Here at the KPBS building. And it’s really, I think, a great statement of a new vision that we’re after here at KPBS that we’re going for. I think everybody is quite aware what’s been happening over the last year or so with journalism, with media. I mean, there has been a decline in revenues to for-profit media. We’ve all seen the cutbacks the Union-Tribune has made. We all have our opinions about television local news. And we also have seen where radio local news has actually shrunk a little bit. And we’ve now created a vision to be the premiere news and information source of local content in this community in five to seven years, across all of our distribution platforms, which means digital media and the web, television along with radio. We are as strong as ever in radio news right now. The news team along with you, Maureen, with These Days, is as strong as ever. We have a great audience. And we are providing probably the only source of local, thoughtful news analysis of issues that are affecting San Diego. So what we did is, is we decided to take the producing teams of television, radio and the web, which were three separate departments doing wonderful work, and create one content division. So now all of our content producing people have the opportunity to have their work end up on television, radio and the web, and this remodeling project really knocks down all of the walls, knocks down all of the cubicles and creates this massive collaborative, creative working space, allowing people a free flow of an opportunity to work collaboratively, to cross distribution platforms. And it’s a very exciting project for us. We’re really creating the journalism newsroom of the future with this wonderful gift by the Jacobs.
CAVANAUGH: And how does that actually translate to serve San Diego?
KARLO: Well, for example, what we’ll be able to do is take a story like any of our news reporters do and that story then will have a chance to be repackaged, reversioned to go on television, go on the web, go on our social networking sites, and be on radio or be on a mobile phone. So in other words, what it allows us to do is have this one editorial vision with the ability to send it to all of our distribution platforms. And you can’t do that when you have walls and cubicles and people are isolated. Right now, our – a lot of our reporters don’t interact with television or interact with the web teams, so this is a chance to bring everybody together into one content division that will be able to prepare local news analysis on all of our platforms. And I, you know, I think the Jacobs have really stepped up to the plate to help us create the newsroom of the future.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s go back to the phones...
CAVANAUGH: …and hear from Kwame in Paradise Hills. Good morning, Kwame. Welcome to These Days.
KWAME (Caller, Paradise Hills): Hi. Good morning, Maureen and Tom. Thanks…
KARLO: Good morning.
KWAME: …for taking my call. I have a little bit of a bone to pick with KPBS about the coverage of the Iranian elections.
KWANE: I think there was a lot that was kind of left out of the conversation. For instance, there were a lot of assumptions that Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, that they had – there was a lot of fraud in the elections but they’re enormously popular in Iran. And I haven’t heard anything on KPBS addressing their popularity. For instance, Mousavi is Azeri ethnically and there’s a lot of assumption that he should have won in the Azeri provinces but Ahmadinejad also speaks Azeri and the Supreme Leader is Azeri.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Kwame, let me address that as well as I can. All – Much of our coverage on that international story came from National Public Radio.
KARLO: Yes. Yeah. But we are the ones that are delivering the story. It has been produced – those stories are produced by NPR and they have bureaus all around – I think they have 17 bureaus around the world. And they’re trying to place reporters in all these places that are of interest to people and, obviously, they’ve been covering the Iran – the Iranian elections. I really can’t answer exactly why they produced it in a way. What I can say is, is that I know that the basic editorial vision and strategy of NPR is very much like what we’re trying to do and it is trying to present as much as they can of the facts and what is happening and trying to present both sides of it. And, you know, it’s a very sensitive issue, what’s happening in the Middle East. And, you know, I would say that there is also an opportunity for you, too, to contact NPR and you can go to NPR.org and let them know your feelings. They also have an ombudsan and you can talk directly to that ombudsan and they are – the ombudsan is very clear. Even though they are part of NPR, they don’t necessarily follow the company line and they let NPR know if there’s something that may not be fair or balanced. So I would suggest strongly that you could either, you know, work through us to get it to NPR but the best thing for you to do is go to NPR.org and let them know your comment.
CAVANAUGH: And, Kwame, we did have a show on These Days about people who were against the Ahmadinejad reelection and we opened our phones and I think we perhaps even heard from you. So we do try to keep things fair.
CAVANAUGH: Barbara is calling from Vista. Good morning, Barbara, and welcome to These Days.
BARBARA (Caller, Vista): I just wanted to say that I’m so – I am a faithful listener to NPR practically all day when I’m home and it’s wonderful to have you as part of the broadcasting world because so much of what is on TV and on radio is so slanted, particularly to the right, as I see it, because they’re owned by corporations that support their political views, and NPR provides both sides of an issue fairly, squarely. It’s wonderful to hear the pros and cons and have intelligent, thoughtful people speaking, not the cunning, abusive and vile and what I call the ‘lewd, crude and rude’ society that we sometimes live in. It’s just wonderful to have you there and I am a member and I am a supporter and I – I’m so glad you’re there and I just hope you’ll be there forever because your voice is the only one worth listening to. Thank you for the wonderful work that you do.
KARLO: Well, thank you, Barbara, very much. And, you know, what we’re trying to do is also take some of the great stories we do on radio and begin to move them to television. And we’ve done that with a program called San Diego Week on TV that’s on at eight o’clock on Friday nights, and it’s the first step for us to expand our public affairs and local public affairs programming. And thank you for your great comment. Maybe we should call on you to cut a spot for us. That was a wonderful statement you made.
BARBARA: Oh, you’re great. Thank you again.
BARBARA: I think Gloria Penner is great. Thank you again.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Barbara. Let’s talk to John in San Diego. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.
JOHN (Caller, San Diego): Good morning, Maureen. Good morning, Tom.
KARLO: Good morning, John.
JOHN: I just have a small complaint. I’m originally from Washington, D.C. where we have WETA and when you have your fundraisers…
KARLO: And WAMU also.
JOHN: Yes, that’s correct. And I was talking about the fundraising for the public TV side of it. And with the great menu that Public Television has, it’s like the same dinner plate when it comes to the fundraising. We see “The Ten Tenors,” “Doo-Wap Music,” “Celtic Warriors” or whatever it is, and I don’t think people are really getting a good idea of what, you know, public TV has to offer as opposed to that, you know, WETA would have like – They’d show a block of “Brideshead Revisited” or “Ken Burns’ Civil War,” or something like that, and just get a really good reflection of what public TV could really offer except kind of like geared to like a certain small percentage of, you know, what people could be seeing. And I’ll take my answer off the air.
KARLO: Well, you know, this is a question we get asked a lot about our membership strategies on television specifically. And the truth of the matter is, is that the difference between Public Broadcasting and commercial broadcasting is commercial broadcasting will produce a program to directly make money. And Public Broadcasting, especially Public Television, will raise money in order to produce a program of value. And most of the time the programs that we have on the air, especially on television, will not generate a direct return on investment but they’re valuable programs. And the reason why these programs exist on Public Television is they will not directly make a profit for commercial television by selling advertising. So great, thoughtful programming doesn’t necessarily equate to people to support us at the level, and so what we try to do is we try to use these opportunities to bring programs that are entertaining, in a lot of cases educational because it will do – will bring in some of the self-help programs and things. But they’re a way that we can celebrate the great work we have and people do respond and help us raise money, raise money with these programs like “Doo-Wap” so we can, in fact, do the programs and produce the programs and deliver the programs like a Nova or a NewsHour or all of those other programs. But the truth of the matter is, is those programs don’t raise the necessary money to, in fact, cover the cost of them. So we use these pledge opportunities to do it, and I equate it a lot to a lot of the organizations here in San Diego. A lot of great nonprofit organizations that do tremendous excellent work will have galas and they bring in stars and entertainers to raise the money because they’re not going to be able to raise the money just basically to say we’ll open up our museum or our institute or whatever to bring in. So this is the way that we are able to raise money in a variety of ways, including on-air fundraising to TV and that helps to – us pay for the programs we have. And I can tell you that KPBS’ acquisition budget, the money that we will spend this year to PBS and NPR and all the other distributions is about $4 million and so, you know, it’s a lot of money that we pay to PBS, NPR to bring those programs, and this is a way that we can all get together and help support it.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call.
CAVANAUGH: Evie is calling from Pacific Beach. Hi, Evie.
EVIE (Caller, Pacific Beach): Hi. I’m calling about your format at night with classical music. When you change – Let me just state my two objections. First of all, when you changed it, there was no viewer input. I mean, I called up a couple of times, I e-mailed and I was always abruptly treated and other people would call up, you know, These Days before, when you weren’t on, and sort of just be cut off. So if we’re the ones that give the money, we had no voice. And the reason I objected to the classical music was because like when people – when we work all day, we don’t get to hear Fresh Air and all the wonderful programs. So basically I’m supporting a radio station I don’t even get to listen to. And I think if people want to listen to classical music, they can listen to their CDs because if it’s one specific program, fine, but, you know, all night long is – it’s just ridiculous.
EVIE: And I was really upset and for awhile I stopped my membership but then I, you know, did it again.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for reconsidering…
CAVANAUGH: …that, Evie.
KARLO: Let me talk a little bit about our strategy. First of all, the decision to run classical music on KPBS in the evening was made in 2001. I was not the general manager at the time. But the decision was made is because we have always felt there’s a strong audience here in San Diego that appreciates classical music and we have always desired to buy and to acquire another radio station here in San Diego and run a 24/7 classical music format. That has been our desire. So when the decision was made in 2001 to do that, it was kind of like that there was still – there wasn’t really a strong classical music service especially in the northern part of our county. And so we made that decision and we do have a fairly strong audience that listens. But I will tell you that our desire, and my desire right now as general manager, is we would like to buy another radio station and we are looking for another radio station and if we can make the numbers work and the finances, our desire in the next couple of years is to get another FM radio station in town, put a classical music format on it, and then run news and information 24 hours a day and be able to really do what you’re asking for. So our plan is to do it that way.
CAVANAUGH: We have to wrap it up, Tom.
KARLO: Oh, my gosh. It’s already over?
CAVANAUGH: It’s already over. I want to thank everyone who called, and want to remind everyone if you didn’t get a chance to talk to Tom this way, you can do that two ways. You can either e-mail him or you can post your comments online, KPBS.org/TheseDays. We will read them. And thank you so much for everyone who called in. Thank you so much, Tom.
KARLO: Thank you, Maureen. Boy, the time went fast, didn’t it?
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.
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