State of the Station 2021

Sep 13, 2021

Dear WSHU friends:

My heartfelt gratitude for your continued commitment to WSHU Public Radio. Thank you for being an important part of the WSHU family. Because of you, we finished fiscal year ‘21 on solid financial footing. YOU made this happen. Thank you!

One year ago, I began my transition into the role of General Manager. We are not the same station that we were a year ago. We are so proud of all the work we’ve done to date, and eager to share our projects for the coming year. While it has been challenging, we are invigorated by the work we’ve accomplished together. Onward!

WSHU Financial Review

WSHU exceeded its revenue expectations this year, finishing $600,000 over goal. While we are thrilled to be in this position, it is worth reminding ourselves that in May 2020, as we were fully beginning to comprehend the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our budget was revised down to $4.8 million. This amounted to an $800,000 cut in operating expenses, including salary reductions of up to 15% for all staff.

Our success can be attributed to budget planning for a worst-case scenario, strong results from diversifying our revenue streams and being awarded an unexpected federal grant. New sources of income include:

  • Renewed focus on grant opportunities – especially around COVID-19 relief
  • Multi-channel vehicle donation campaign
  • Dedicated planned giving program
  • Emergency Stabilization Funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the CARES Act
  • New underwriting/corporate support from the health care sector
  • The George Lombardi Legacy Fund

As we begin the new fiscal year, we have reinstated many of the budget cuts we made a year ago, including bringing all employee salaries to pre-pandemic levels. This past year would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the WSHU staff and I want to publicly acknowledge their hard work.

While things are looking up, we expect it to take two years to fully recover from the impact of COVID-19. Our operating budget for the new fiscal year is $5 million: a 5% increase over last year. While this is a solid increase, it does not bring us back to pre-pandemic levels. We are mindful of the potential impact of new variants on our community and the economy. Some of the new sources of revenue that helped us through the past year are not replicable (e.g., emergency COVID-19 grants, bequests). We will continue to focus on vehicle donations and growing The George Lombardi Legacy Fund. The latter will provide the resources needed to invest in new programming, technology and training as opportunities present themselves.

One of my priorities over the next two years is to review our current organizational structure and make necessary changes to establish a sustainable model for growth.

Building A Sustainable Operations Model

The past year highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the station. It stripped away any pretense that we could continue to do business as usual. It afforded us the opportunity to look at our bare-bones staffing structure and our organizational and program capacity. We must establish a new baseline for operations and build a sustainable model that takes into account our current capacity and our desire for smart growth as we continue to provide programming that is relevant and available when and where you want it.

For the next two years, our primary focus will be to:

  • Build WSHU infrastructure, programs, and plan for executive and senior staff transitions
  • Adapt to changes happening at NPR (fee changes, podcast and digital programs) and the audience pivot to digital listening brought on by pandemic behavior changes
  • Evolve with the changing reality of a pandemic, post-vaccine environment and economic recovery for nonprofit organizations

We must also look at how we serve our entire region, including strengthening our relationship with communities traditionally underserved by public radio. This includes deepening our engagement with communities of color, expanding coverage of arts and culture and exploring solutions to our communities’ challenges in climate, education, transportation, health care, social justice and politics.

Local And Regional Reporting

Rima Dael with SJN trainer, Helene Biandudi Hofer
Credit WSHU Public Radio

Over the past year, we incorporated more in-depth, local coverage on the air, and launched several podcasts, including Everytown and C-19 (recently re-launched as After All Things). Feedback from our listeners has been humbling. In addition, we were recognized with a number of prestigious awards, including an IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) award for Best Audio/Radio for the podcast Everytown. At the end of the letter, you will find a complete list of awards we received this year. Please join me in congratulating our entire news team for the incredible work they produced this year.

The pandemic led us to strengthen our investigative journalism approach as our listeners depended on us for the latest news and how it impacted our region. News Director Terry Sheridan and I realized there was a critical need to reach diverse and underserved communities throughout Connecticut and Long Island. To do this, we had to better leverage our hard-working but lean news staff, and change how we approached every story. Throughout the year, we partnered with Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), a powerful news hub and capacity builder, in order to realize our goals of being more diverse and inclusive.

We continue to leverage capacity building partnerships with New York State Public Radio Exchange, New England News Collaborative and American Homefront Project. The WSHU News Fellowship Program has grown through partnerships with Sacred Heart University and Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Each year, WSHU Corman News Fellows work alongside our news team to develop their skills in investigative journalism. To strengthen our program on Long Island, WSHU’s Long Island News Bureau is now located on the Stony Brook University campus where Terry Sheridan and Assistant News Director J.D. Allen teach journalism courses.

In September, WSHU will launch Higher Ground, an exciting new environmental podcast produced in partnership with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Higher Ground explores the current impact of climate change on Long Island, and the future of coastal communities. The focus is on potential solutions, including innovation and new technology, municipal policy and community ingenuity.

Classical Music Programming

WSHU’s strong history of locally produced classical music is both a wide-reaching, accessible path to classical music and a platform to engage, uplift and inspire our community. In August, we began broadcasting classical music on Saturday afternoons on 91.1 FM, giving listeners more of what they wanted.

Suzanne Bona live in our Fairfield studio.
Credit WSHU Public Radio

During the difficult months of the pandemic, our knowledgeable music hosts and producers crafted special initiatives like Lauren Rico’s daily “Afternoon Reset,” and Suzanne Bona’s selections of “Beautiful Music in Difficult Times.” This year, our weekday classical music, Kate Remington’s Music Respawn podcast and the Sunday Baroque program and podcast all explored the music and stories of under-represented populations in classical music: women, people of color and artists overlooked by the traditional canon.

Sunday Baroque’s audience continues to grow across the country. Each week 338,000 terrestrial broadcast listeners tune in on the 228 stations across the U.S. and its territories that air the program.

Our listeners look to us not only for classical music on the air, but also to experience the genre through a new innovative live performances. As things return to normal, we hope once again to welcome our community in person to special events like a reimagined performance of Romeo and Juliet by pianist Frederic Chu. This event will take place in April at the SHU Community Theatre in Fairfield, Conn., and will allow our audience to participate by selecting an ending.

We are exploring partnerships within the world of classical music to help us build capacity so we can continue to expand our music programming to reach a broader audience. We will share these details with you later in the spring.

Connecting With Our Community

Our journey, over the next two years, involves better defining the communities we serve, and the ways we can serve them best. WSHU Public Radio is committed to making our region a better place to live by creating relevant connections among all who live here. With your support, we will increase our connections in communities that have been overlooked or underserved.

WSHU, in collaboration with Sacred Heart University’s College of Arts & Sciences, will host its inaugural Women’s Leadership Conference this October. Leading Together is a multidisciplinary virtual event that will explore the rich and diverse experience of women in leadership, leveraging both humanities and social science perspectives. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, author and President Emerita of Spelman College, will be our keynote speaker. For more information, please visit sacredheart.edu/leadingtogether.

It has been a long time since we engaged with you in person at WSHU events. Over the course of the next few months, we will expand our calendar of both virtual and in-person happenings. We are cautiously planning events while keeping an eye on the rapidly changing nature of the global pandemic. We will pivot to socially distanced events or entirely virtual events if necessary. Please keep reading our weekly newsletter and other emails for details.

We are excited about the year ahead. I love my job, and I love this great team that I am honored to work with daily. You — our listening audience — and our greater communities on Long Island and in Connecticut remain at the center of how we think, plan and work every single day.

We always love hearing from you. Please email me with your thoughts at rdael@wshu.org.

Warmest regards,
A. Rima Dael