The Care and Feeding of the Institutional Licensee
1993 Public Radio Conference
May 8, 1993
The current recessive economy has affected all stations in the system. The only variables are how and how much. Stations are having to face problems they would not have thought possible several years ago. Drastic downsizing. Moving to independence. Consolidation. Going dark...
Those most drastically affected are the institutionally-licensed stations. Licensees and state legislatures are withdrawing substantial support from stations throughout the country. Reduced state funding and decreasing enrollment have caused a financial crisis for licensees. They are passing that crisis along to their public radio stations. In many cases the cuts are being implemented so quickly stations do not have time to make up the deficits from other revenue streams. Stations are being forced to make cuts in essential areas, such as programming, services and personnel. As a result, the present reality for many managers of institutionally-licensed public radio stations is one that is characterized by long hours, frustration and fear of the future.
It is a time when it is most difficult to adopt a nondefensive attitude with regard to the licensee, particularly if the worst case scenario is at play--the leader of the institution is inflexible and combative. However, a manager must assume a team player attitude at this very critical juncture. Decreased funding and increased competition from other colleges and universities have, indeed, placed institutions of higher learning in a crisis situation. Like it or not, the public radio station is a part of the family--be it a stepchild or not--and must come to the aid of the parent in a time of crisis. It is in the station's own best interest to do so.
A manager must make the first overture and begin to open the essential line of communication between the station and the licensee. This is not a simple task, especially when some managers do not even have direct access to the institution's leader or when a personality conflict exists. In these cases, that one person or cadre of people who have the ear of the leader must be identified. The process may require some research since each situation is different. In one setting it might be an external person simply by the nature of the inherent power, such as the president of the board of regents. On the other hand, it might be a vice president or finance officer to whom the licensee's top official listens.
Once a dialogue has begun, the manager should first identify the primary needs and goals of the institution in order to determine how the station can best meet those needs. At the same time, it is essential that the station also convey--in the most persuasive fashion possible--the considerable assets that it represents to the licensee. It is only through a thorough understanding of one another that a strong symbiotic relationship can be formed.
The following are the first elements that must be put into place in order to reestablish or strengthen the licensee relationship:
1. Take the necessary steps to open a dialogue with the licensee in order for the station to best understand the institution's short-term and long-term needs and for the institution to understand the considerable value represented by a public radio station.
2. Read the institution's mission statement and determine how the station might fit into the mission and how the station can help the licensee accomplish its goals.
3. In consultation with staff, devise a set of procedures by which the station can enhance communication with the licensee and more firmly entrench itself within the institutional structure.
4. Treat the licensee with the respect and reinforcement afforded other significant underwriters, because that is, indeed, what the licensee is.
5. Compile a written statement of worth for the licensee that speaks to both the qualitative and, especially, to the quantitative worth of the station.
6. Explore methods for reaping full potential from existing revenue streams in order to lessen dependence on licensee support as a future insurance policy.
7. Build a business plan, complete with contingencies, so that the threat of future withdrawal of licensee support or reduced governmental funding will not jeopardize a station's existence.
By adopting a positive attitude and positioning the station as a willing partner in the quest to stabilize and strengthen the licensee, the station will strengthen its own position within the institution's structure and help ensure its future in the process.