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Spring 2003 l Capital University Journal
CPR riding the [air]waves
by Ann Reed


The dulcet tones of Capital Public Radio (CPR) are a booming success, filling the region from Turlock to Chico and from Reno to Vallejo. There will soon be seven area CPR stations, which are by many measures national leaders in public radio. When current president and general manager Michael Lazar arrived in 1996, the two-station operation had 16 full-time employees and a $2.1 million budget. Today there are 38 full-time staff and a $4.6 million budget—solid evidence CPR is on the move.

In the next year it will literally be on the move, when it moves into new studios and operating headquarters now under construction on the south end of the Sac State campus just off Folsom Boulevard.

CPR and Sac State have a long shared history—Sac State has held the broadcast license since the first station went on air.

The move to campus will increase the stations’ current leased space from 7,500 square feet to more than 18,000 square feet plus a new 200-foot tower, designed into the center of a semi-circular building. With the move will be many improvements. For example, Lazar said the stations will gradually be converting to digital radio and listeners will be able to hear the difference. “Everything will sound better. The quality will be better,” he said.

When the first public radio station began operations in April 1979, its various staff and offices were split between two buildings on campus. In 1985, having long ago outgrown its original quarters, the stations moved off campus.

“Being away from campus we had moved away from that educational aspect of our mission, but built community connections. Being back on campus will allow us more opportunities to enhance internships and other opportunities for students to learn about the business. It will also allow us to work closely with departments on campus, like music, and their performances and productions,” said Julia Jenness, chair of the board and an attorney with Downey, Brand, Seymour and Rohwer.

One of the big successes of CPR is the stable financial situation produced through a strong listening audience of station donors. It began with 600 charter members, and grew to 13,500 in 1987. Today it boasts more than 24,000 subscribers. Corporate underwriting for programming has had strong growth, moving from $300,000 in 1996 to $1.2 million today, one-quarter of the total operating budget. More than half of the operating revenues come from subscriber donations.

As the building begins to rise, CPR will need a fund-raising campaign to furnish it and add new programming equipment. With the new facility there will be many naming opportunities, said Jenness, including for the building, tower, and rooms; to endow a classical, jazz or news position; or to expand the music library.

Another spectacular success has been station acquisitions, which add to the strength of the signal and to the listener base. When Sac State supported the formation of the original station, KXPR, in 1979, Sacramento was one of the last major metropolitan areas to add public radio. In 1991 KXJZ was added to expand programming options. Then in 1992 KXSR in the Groveland/Yosemite area was added as a repeater for programming. In 1997 CPR expanded into the Tahoe/Reno area with a station that combined programming from its other holdings. In 2000, CPR picked up KUOP from University of the Pacific, which still holds the license but now has a management agreement and full programming from CPR.

Two more stations will join the CPR on-air family by the end of the calendar year, one in Quincy and the other in Sutter County.

Currently the stations’ reach is between 250,000 and 300,000 listeners per week. In the quarterly Arbitron ratings, which compare radio operations, the stations frequently appear in the top 10, particularly in share of audience. Despite there being more than 40 Sacramento-area stations to listen to, approximately 6 percent of the listening audience is routinely listening to one of the two Sacramento-based CPR stations. KXJZ nearly always is in the top three in terms of adult listening during morning drive time when it airs the highly popular “Morning Edition” program from National Public Radio.

Statistics also show that the listeners are highly educated, community leaders with good incomes and affluent lifestyles. This has made an excellent target market for various companies who support programming with underwriting. Jenness said she often hears feedback from companies about how much they appreciate the stations.

“We’ve had good support from the community. We are a part of the community and we have built strong partnerships with business, nonprofits and with the University,” stressed Jenness.

“Sac State’s president, Don Gerth, has been a supporter of CPR through his years and he has been with us through all of the strategic moves,” continued Jenness. “I think that commitment speaks to his understanding of the role of the University with the community. We have built that in Sacramento.

“Make no mistake,” she said, “People feel passionately about their public radio, and well they should. We treat that with the level of trust that it deserves.”


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