Radio stations in Southwest Colorado face significant financial losses should the Trump administration make good on its promise to cut funds for public media, which accounts for a tiny fraction of the national budget.
If Trump’s proposed budget is accepted by Congress, nearly $450 million dedicated to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supports a number of local public radio stations, would disappear.
Those funds account for about .01 percent of the $3.899 trillion federal budget, or about $1.35 per person in taxes a year.
In Southwest Colorado, the CPB funding benefits three radio stations: KDUR, Fort Lewis College’s community radio station in Durango; KSUT, based in Ignacio; and KSJD, the community radio station for Montezuma County.
At KDUR, Bryant Liggett, who has served as station manager for eight years, said the elimination of CPB funding would result in a loss of about 30 percent of the station’s total operating budget.
The approximately $115,000 loss to KDUR’s $400,000 budget would cause staff layoffs and cuts to national programming, such as NPR, Democracy Now and This American Life, Liggett said.
“It would certainly hurt us and what we want to do,” Liggett said. “Everyone’s all in the same boat: you lose your money, a couple people will lose their jobs, and a couple stations will have to cut out nationally programming.”
Tami Graham, executive director for KSUT, said the station receives about $234,000 – or about 27 percent of its budget – from CPB, and it would “be a major hit to our budget” should the funding go away.
“We’d have to have difficult conversations around here on what gets cut,” Graham said.
KSJD’s executive director Jeff Pope said CPB accounts for 25 percent, about $130,000, of the station’s total operating costs.
“It would impact everything … that we’re trying to highlight,” Pope said. “It’s a conundrum. CPB and its partnership in building public media is one of the most successful private public partnerships we’ve seen in the country.”
The elimination of CPB funding has been threatened by previous presidents in years past, but local station managers agree that with the new administration, the money appears to be in more jeopardy than ever before.
And though CPB funding is allocated for the next two years, stations in Southwest Colorado are looking for new ways to make up the loss of funding, should that occur in 2019.
KSUT’s Graham said the station increased its sustaining members from 755 to 1,040 in this year’s spring fundraising drive. She said the station is looking for other ways to diversify its sources of revenue.
“We need to not overly rely on federal funding,” Graham said. “More than ever, public stations really have to engage their listeners to become supporters.”
KDUR’s spring drive is April 7-14. That station relies on Fort Lewis College funding, about $150,000, as well as fundraising efforts and small grants.
But making up a federal funding shortfall may be more difficult for stations in rural areas such as Southwest Colorado, Pope said, as there’s only a limited number of individuals and business that can provide financial support.
“Stations in rural America like here will absolutely feel the hit,” Pope said. “And I think, for us, public media is way more important in rural America than it is in urban areas, in that there are fewer choices.”
It’s unclear when Congress will vote on Trump’s budget.
“At a time when we’re facing a nearly $20 trillion debt, there’s no question that we cannot continue on the same trajectory and must identify spending priorities to more efficiently and effectively operate the federal government,” U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, said in an email, and noted that he’s reviewing details of the budget and remains “committed to putting Colorado interests first.”
Liz Payne, communications director for Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the proposed budget is just one factor the House Budget Committee considers when developing the budget framework that will guide the appropriations process.
“Congressman Tipton has been and will continue to be supportive of Colorado’s radio stations, which he believes serve an important function in rural communities,” she said.
Sen. Michael Bennet’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
KSUT’s Graham said CPB funding has stuck around this long because it enjoys bi-partisan support. She said there’s a misconception the funds go to NPR, when in actuality the money goes to local stations, which then may choose to air NPR programs like Fresh Air and Morning Edition.
“I think it would be very unpopular for members of congress to rationalize why they would vote in favor of eliminating such a crucial service to their constituents,” she said. “It’s an extremely minimal cost for the value.”