Archive for Monday, March 31, 2003

Kansas Public Radio moves to new, bigger building

March 31, 2003


Lawrence listeners probably haven't noticed, but Kansas Public Radio is amid a whirlwind of changes.

On a site tucked a few hundred feet northwest of Memorial Stadium, construction crews have nearly completed a $2.2 million building to house Kansas University's National Public Radio affiliate.

And miles away, the station has added thousands of new listeners in the past year, in Emporia and most recently in the Manhattan-Junction City area.

"It's been a wild ride," said Janet Campbell, KPR director. "I can hardly catch my breath."

Campbell and the development office have moved into the new three-story, 8,750-square-foot building, which is attached to the Baehr Audio-Reader Center north of Colonial Court and West Hills Terrace.

Although most of the construction is finished, Campbell said, many details remain before broadcasting can begin from the new site, including installation of equipment. She said the switch probably would be turned on in the new studios in June. Until then, broadcasts will continue from Broadcasting Hall on KU's main campus.

Change in scenery

The new building features an on-air studio, a 20-by-30-foot live performance studio and two news production studios. It also features a music library and offices for employees.

Currently, KPR workers have offices in three buildings -- at the Audio-Reader Center, at Broadcasting Hall and at Carruth-O'Leary Hall.

Campbell said the main KPR building, Broadcasting Hall, was cramped, with many staffers without offices and the station's 30,000 CDs stuffed in every corner.

The change in scenery has on-air personalities such as Laura Lorson excited. Lorson, who handles local programming during NPR's "Morning Edition," said details of the new building would make it more hospitable for employees.

For instance, the current studio has no windows.

"I won't have to do stupid things, like say it's sunny and 84 when it's actually pouring down rain because I haven't been out of the studio in three hours," she said.

She said the new set-up would allow KPR to do more live broadcasts, have multiple guests at the same time and do more news production.

More transmitters, listeners

The new building comes at a time when more people are listening to KPR.

The station last April added a 3,000-watt transmitter in Emporia, at 89.7 FM. In January, it added a 6,000-watt transmitter at 91.3 FM in Olsburg, which reaches Junction City, Abilene and Manhattan. That's in addition to KANU, Lawrence's 100,000-watt station at 91.5 FM.

Campbell said the station had let its FCC licenses expire in the late 1990s on the Manhattan and Emporia transmitters.

"You don't know what you've got until it's gone," she said. "We've had calls weekly from people in those areas, saying, 'Please come back.'"

Campbell said most areas of the state now had access to an NPR signal. Other NPR affiliates serving Kansas include KMUW in Wichita, Radio Kansas in the central part of the state, High Plains Public Radio in western Kansas and KRPS in Pittsburg.

"There are a few little areas, but most of the state is covered," she said.

Money is tight

Although the station is expanding, Campbell said she was concerned about KPR's finances.

The station, which operates on an annual budget of about $1.3 million, received $8,000 less from KU this year. It also took a $9,000 cut from the Kansas Public Broadcasting Council, and Campbell said early indications were the Legislature wouldn't be increasing the broadcasting council's funds next year.

In fact, the House version of the state budget, which now is in conference committee with the Senate, would reduce funding to the broadcasting council by 25 percent, or $450,000.

Fund raising also has taken a hit, which Campbell attributes to the slow economy. Spring direct-mail solicitations usually bring in about $100,000, but they've brought in only $68,000 so far this year.

The station postponed its spring on-air fund drive, which was scheduled to begin last week, until the week of April 25 because of the extra NPR coverage of the war in Iraq. The on-air drive also usually earns about $100,000.

Campbell said she wasn't sure what would be cut to make up any shortfalls.

"There used to be a human being on air overnight, and now we use a satellite service," she said. "I don't want to do any more of that. The money from the drive I had budgeted this year, especially with the new building coming on. It's going to really hurt."

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