Let me be the first to say that I listen to KBUT a lot. It’s a good deal and a great small town mountain radio station. But I cannot listen to KBUT all the time. I don’t know who could. The diversity that helps make it one of the most unique radio stations in the state, if not the country, is just a little too much for anyone.
Can any one person really relish it all, from Dead Head Ed to the Red Neck Woman to the Smoker’s Lounge to Monday’s Midnight Mixtape? If you love the Flannel Channel late Friday night, will you keep your ear on the 90.3 dial through the BBC, Fresh Air Weekend, the Aloha Connection, the West Elk Word, a Prairie Home Companion, RadioLab and then dance for joy when a Classical Gas rocks the Beethoven Sunday morning?
Doubtful. But it is all part of the unique charm.
While NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered are prime time along with shows like the Friday Night Fish Fry, The Finer Things, and Josephine’s Tasty Tuesday, are you really listening to Democracy Now five days a week? Not me but some people are and that is a reflection of the place.
I listen to KBUT a lot. Sometimes I’ll listen even when I do not like what’s on and learn something. And if you aren’t listening at least some of the time, you are certainly missing out. There’s a lot of stuff coming out of that little station. Some of it is weird. Some of it is informative. Some of it is funny. But it all reflects a piece of this valley, whether it is an avalanche report or a notice about local lost pets.
So I was bummed when I heard that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was changing the rules and putting a vise grip on KBUT to get its annual grant. The changes are requiring that KBUT increase the size of its contribution match raised through its independent fundraising. In essence, the station is looking at having to bring in an extra $100,000 in 2016 ($75K more next year) just to get through the gate to get the federal money that amounts to about $115,000. That might be easy for a station in Denver or Aspen but that is tough going in CB and Gunni.
Station manager Eileen Hughes told me the rationale from the feds is that they can’t envision a radio station operating effectively on less than about $300,000—which is about the current KBUT budget with that federal grant assistance. So that’s $300,000 KBUT will have to raise on its own here soon. That means competing for dollars against other local non-profits or adding a third or fourth or tenth pledge drive. I don’t think they’ll get another $100K in bingo cards. But I could be wrong.
Hughes said she feels like the mandatory increase puts KBUT on a razor’s edge. If it raises the extra money, great. They can always use the additional money to make the station even better. If they don’t bring in the extra dough, they’ll take a big hit to their budget and probably have to cut some things. Now, given the amount of volunteer labor over there, the cuts will come to the more mainstream areas. It might be A Prairie Home Companion or the overnight BBC World News. It might be Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or Ted Talks. It might be slimming down an already lean staff. Whatever it is, it just seems like another way for the big bully to tell the unique little mountain station what to do.
Look, KBUT isn’t entitled to any federal money. But when there is a good little station serving thousands of people living or visiting a somewhat remote valley, why is it that Big Brother always seems to want to come in and put the squeeze on the little brother? Why not learn a few things from a funky operation that throws out everything from regular lost-and-found reports to the Everyday Housewife to Music from the Other Side of the Fence and Lonesome Bob? It mirrors the place it lives…isn’t that what “public” radio is supposed to do? Why not reward good things instead of making it harder for good things? I mean, these changes really put a crimp into a local station already operating pretty lean. Let’s keep an eye on the situation and hope that KBUT comes up with something different enough to keep it on the air without having to slim down so much we don’t recognize a gem in the community.