There is a way to save Delmarva Public Radio

December 19, 2012
John Mateyko of Lewes is a member of the board of Friends of Delmarva Public Radio.

This holiday season, the future of Delmarva Public Radio is still not clear. Discussions have taken place among Salisbury University, Salisbury University Foundation, the Friends of Delmarva Public Radio, and a powerful Maryland legislator.  There’s no resolution, but everyone is talking.

Within a few years of taking office in 2000, Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, the then newly installed university president, suggested selling the Ward Museum, and separately, the issue emerged of selling the radio stations.  This same state legislator came to the rescue of the museum by sponsoring a state bond bill to endow it.  Now, a similar solution for the stations is being considered.

Also, Mark Handley, the first station manager, who went on to create the Vermont Public Radio Network, has offered to return for a month and prepare for us pro bono technical guidance and a strategic plan.

We especially want to thank and encourage the roughly 100 people, many civic leaders, who turned out Nov. 15 at the Lewes forum on the stations.  

Speaking in support of the stations was Eric Kafka, president of Rehoboth Beach Film Society; Denise Emery, president of Coastal Concerts; Jon Newsom of Lewes, former director of the music division of the Library of Congress; and Bob Hall, president, and Wes Lockfaw, artistic director, of the Easton Choral Arts Society; and others. All came to testify to the role the stations play in helping them reach their local audiences.

At the meeting it was reported that talk of a financial crisis at the stations was without merit and misleading: University audits report that nonuniversity income to the stations has held steady over the last four years (during a recession) at about $750,000 annually, with the university adding $120,000 to $140,000 annually. An independent board, fundraising regionally, could replace this manageable sum, and then some. But current university rules prohibit board fundraising specifically for the stations.

This 25-year-old, dysfunctional management structure is the root of the problem.

Our proposal would replace it with a new board of directors operationally independent of the university and having an unequivocal mandate and capacity to provide stewardship, leadership and vision.

Currently, confused accountability leaves no one minding the store - and, unfortunately, it shows.

The stations are managed by a rotating radio subcommittee of five members serving three-year terms, drawn only from the cohort of the Salisbury University Foundation.  The radio subcommittee is a dedicated group of good, well-intentioned folks selected for their ability to raise funds for the general needs of Salisbury University - not the management of the stations.

The board has its hands tied by the old rules: It is not selected for radio station expertise nor region-wide representation of the stations’ contributors or cultural arts and local business underwriters.  A new board could be. Since this issue has been in the news, three individuals from Delmarva with a combined 85 years of radio expertise have come forward to us, two at the Lewes forum, and there are more.

This would be only proper because financial research reveals that the university's cumulative investment in the stations is a distinctly minority stake of the overall investment over the past 25 years: $5.1 million by the university (including in-kind), $4.3 million by the cultural arts and local business underwriters, and roughly $7.1 million by listeners, as well as $2.7 million by the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with other grants and funding from the states of Delaware and Maryland.

Due diligence and fiduciary duty, especially with regard to federal and state taxpayer funds, legal requirements of the Federal Communications Act to manage the stations in the public interest, and contractual obligations with CPB all suggest that a differently structured board is only right.

This holiday season, we all have hope.

  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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