WATERLOO — Afro-American Community Broadcasting Inc. is appealing for financial support to stay on the air.
Leaders at the public radio station broadcasting as KBBG-FM 88.1 said they need $100,000 quickly to cover overdue payments. Another $400,000 is the fundraising target over the next year.
“We’re in dire straits right now,” said Edyce Porter, the station’s community outreach director and daughter of Jimmie Porter, who founded KBBG in 1977.
KBBG Executive Director Deborah Berry, board president Robert C. Wright and staff said the current budget crisis stems from unexpected equipment failures, lost federal support and declining donations as its older patrons pass away and aren’t replaced by younger listeners.
“It’s just really been a struggle for us,” Berry said. “The community is not donating as we had planned.”
Berry and rest of KBBG’s staff has been laid off for about six weeks but continue showing up at the station’s Newell and Mobile street building.
“Our staff people are so dedicated, so committed, they are volunteering,” she said. “We know how important this radio station is to this community.”
Berry took the reins in July 2017 after the previous volunteer director passed away.
The station retained a consultant to help update the organization, which included adding new board members; steps were taken to update the programming to attract younger listeners; and fundraising became a year-round push.
A Community Learning Center project for students interested in broadcasting careers was started with new partnerships throughout the Cedar Valley.
But the station’s vintage equipment started failing and undermining those efforts.
The transmitter and the digital-audio delivery system both died and needed to be replaced. All the station’s digital music, underwriting, public service announcements and other digital files were lost when the system went down in March.
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KBBG went off the air for two weeks in June when its audio processor failed.
“All of the money that we raised from various fundraisers, we’ve been putting it toward that,” Berry said.
KBBG accountant Candice Lanning noted KBBG also has seen declining federal support through Corporation for Public Broadcasting since 2014. The station once received $170,000 annually but is expecting just $108,000 in October.
The CPB support also has more strings attached on its use and now requires the station to provide a 300 percent match. It was a major setback when KBBG failed to get any CPB funding in 2017.
The station has tried new fundraising avenues, including crowdfunding websites and smart phone apps, but has been unable to drive up donations.
“It’s like we hit a wall,” Lanning said.
Lanning and Berry emphasized the important local programming KBBG provides beyond its music and entertainment offerings. That includes weekly shows with the mayor and police chief, for example.
The programming, including a recent series on domestic violence and financial literacy, is not just targeted at African-American listeners.
“That applies to you if you’re black, white, brown, green, whatever,” Lanning said. “Yes, it was the original black radio station, but it’s not just for the black community.”
Berry said KBBG needs $100,000 immediately to get out of arrears and buy time until the CBP funds arrive in October. The station is looking for $309,000 to cover expenses for the next year and would like to set up a $100,000 endowment fund to cushion any future crisis.
The station accepts donations through its website, in person or by using the KBBG app.
A group of community leaders, including Mayor Quentin Hart, met recently to discuss how to help the station. Wright and a few other board members are also planning to conduct outreach into the community to see what support is available.