As many listeners know, Nevada Public Radio is going through some serious financial difficulties.
A few weeks ago, the non-profit stopped operations at its Reno station, NV89, and laid off all its staff. CEO Flo Rogers resigned.
Jerry Nadal, a former Nevada Public Radio board chairman, accepted the job of interim CEO. At the same time, several board members have stepped in to work through Nevada Public Radio’s financial problems.
But many loyal listeners, and those who have pledged money over the years, have questions about what’s going on, how it happened and the future of Nevada public radio.
In an effort to be as transparent as possible, State of Nevada asked John L. Smith, a long-time Nevada journalist and freelance contributor to the station, to talk to Nadal about the station's current status.
Smith: One of the most important questions, one that's on the minds of many at this station and beyond is what's the financial status of KNPR as we sit here today?
Nadal: Well, frankly, John I can tell you the status of our finances is pretty dire right now.
Smith: Tell me what do you mean by dire?
Nadal: Well, I can tell you that this is my basically my first week here, taking over and working with the board that's been involved in this now for the better part of the past month, and we're still actually trying to get a handle on where we sit from a financial standpoint.
But I can tell you from a cash reserve standpoint we're very low on cash and we're still trying to account for all of the bills that we have that have built up over the past year.
Smith: Can you say how much debt the station is dealing with?
Nadal: Still don't know that accurate number, John.
Smith: Well, listeners know there's been no shortage of fundraising efforts. There are two pledge drives per year, auctions, ticket sales to Strip shows. So, a simple question and I'm sure it does not have a simple answer. What went wrong in your mind?
Nadal: Well, frankly, I think the bottom line is we've been living beyond our means and even though we've had all of those fundraising events as you've mentioned, our fundraising has just not kept pace with the growth of the station. Our listenership has grown tremendously.
So, if you look at where we were four or five years ago, we were number 15 in the market in the morning slot. Now, I think Morning Edition is now the number one show in the valley and we're number four or five overall.
But we are a public radio station and our fundraising has not kept pace with that. And I think a lot of the listeners don't realize that you pay for your programming based on the size of your audience.
So, we've been hovering around 11,000 members despite a lot of efforts and you hear us pounding away at all those membership drives. So, I think the challenge is to get the people that are listening in the valley to understand we are not a commercial station and without member support, we just can't sustain the amount of programming that we have on the air.
Smith: As you probe the expenditures and the finances is there a forensic audit going on? What is being done to examine - drilling down - what happened?
Nadal: I think when we realized, when the board realized, about a month or so ago that we had some significant problems, we had a number of our board members jump in and are essentially working here full time just looking at all of that.
And one of the first things we did was to hire a forensic accounting firm to come in and start to dig into what's going on, where we've been, the money that we've received versus the payables that we have so that's all underway as we speak.
Smith: Beyond the addition, what we know now, are there other red flags that came up?
Nadal: No, there's no other red flags beyond the fact that it's like a household budget right? If you're spending more than you're taking in, you're going to run into trouble at some point.
Smith: Well, but with a household budget, of course, we would know by that bill that comes in the mail. We would get a message that something was overdue. How did you get this message?
Nadal: Well, that's what came to the attention of the board. I think we had a rainy day fund that was exhausted and I just think that we just ran out of avenues to turn to as far as paying our bills and be able to run and operate at the level we've been operating at.
Smith: So, the information pool is growing but in the absence of more information there's always going to be speculation.
Smith: Can we talk a little bit about - is there another inquiry going on, any investigation or something like that?
Nadal: Well, the investigation is going on, it is all internal. The board is driving that. We have the forensic accountants in place looking at past audits. What we've done just to make sure that we have all the information that we need to ensure the viability of the organization going forward.
Smith: How clear are you now and how much time do you think that this might all take to shake out?
Nadal: I think it's going to take a couple of months for us to really understand where we are. We don't want it to drag on, but you know we really are digging in - bill by bill. The income that comes in. So, it's going to take a while to get to it and to actually have a clean sheet to look at.
Smith: You're going through this, it sounds, meticulously. What's being done to improve the station's finances?
Nadal: Well, we've been working with a number of our major donors. They're understanding that we have significant problems. We have had a couple of people already step up and offer some major gifts to help get us back on track.
We start our membership campaign next week on October 1. And I think there's going to be a lot more messaging about what the actual costs are to run the station. What the cost of the programming is and the fact that we need to get ourselves up to at least 20,000 members to make this a viable organization without worrying about paying the bills every month
Smith: From your standpoint, how does it complicate the fundraising issues when you have something like this occur? There have been some mea culpas really. I mean there's been a lot of explanation going on and then we're doing more of that today.
Nadal: Well, I think there's a lot of love for KNPR in the valley right? I mean this is the public radio station in Las Vegas and we broadcast through a lot of the rest of the state as well. So, I think there's a lot of goodwill there.
I think what we have to do is make sure that we are completely clean and transparent. Once we realize exactly what happened and how we got to the situation, we'll let the listeners know exactly what that was as we go forward.
But, I think what this also does is highlight the fact that we've had a very small percentage of our listenership that have been supporting the station over the years. And we really need to increase that. We can't maintain our position in the valley where we are with 11,000 members supporting that. And I have to say on the side of that, our corporate sponsorship has been fantastic. Our corporate sponsors have always stepped up, but we need the listeners to do their part as well. It's not even kept pace with what the corporate sponsors have done.
Smith: Over the years, listeners have come to know Flo Rogers. They know her voice certainly, and they know that she's played a pivotal role at the station. She was longtime CEO of the Nevada Public Radio and she resigned a few weeks ago.
You weren't on the campaign board when that happened, but you had been on the board in the past. So how much responsibility would you say the board has for the financial problem? Aren't they supposed to oversee what's being done or where we are?
Nadal: I was on the board for 10 years, past board chair as well. And we got financial statements every month but it was very high-level consolidated statements.
The board didn't get into the nitty-gritty, day-to-day running of the station but when we realized that we were having our problems this past summer, when it really came to light where we were, the boards realized that we really had to step in and really get involved to ascertain exactly what happened and to ensure that it doesn't happen going forward and that we have a healthy, viable organization going forward.
Smith: You were right. This station has a certain appeal to many people in the valley. It has a place in their morning life, in their daily life. So, what changes can they expect in the coming weeks and months?
Nadal: I don't think that, from an audience member standpoint, you'll notice anything different. I think we want to maintain all the programming that we have. The programming that we have on the air really reflects what the listeners want to be hearing. But I think we also have to look at who the listeners are that are supporting which programs.
We're relooking at our fundraising campaign. I don't know that we've ever done very much fundraising [in] the overnight hours. Let’s say when the BBC programming is on. BBC is quite popular. So, I think we just need to ask everybody that's listening for their support and not just rely on those kind of 9-to-5 people that are listening and you know the big programs that air in the morning or afternoon drive times now.
Smith: The folks out there who love their Brahms and Beethoven on the classical side they're going to continue to receive it?
Nadal: We have the classical station as well. But I have to say that fundraising on classical has not been where we think it probably should be to be supporting a station that just does classical music.
So we're going to be asking a lot of our classical listeners too: if you love hearing what you're hearing we need you to step up and support the station as well because it takes funding to keep classical on the air same as it does on the news side.
Smith: What a lot of listeners really don't know perhaps is that KNPR essentially acquired a station up in Reno a few years ago. What is the status of that? Where is that headed and what went wrong there?
Nadal: Well, the status of that is that we've currently closed operations of that. That was an alternative music site that we also broadcast our State of Nevada program on on a daily basis.
When we looked at the availability of that station, and also the fact, that we're Nevada Public Radio, not Las Vegas public radio. It was a look at how we could incorporate the northern part of the state with the programming we were doing here. And we thought it was a good option for what was in the market in Reno already. The problem like we have here, but to a much greater extent, is that was never financially viable.
We did not get the corporate and/or the listener support that we needed to keep that station on the air. So, we have ceased operations. Now we're broadcasting the full slate of KNPR programming up there but we'll be selling that station and that asset off in the coming months.
Smith: How substantial do you believe that selling that off, how much will that help with the circumstances?
Nadal: Well, it will help certainly and it's one of the elements of the things that was definitely a drag on the organization. So, it'll help by not having it any longer and being able to sell off that asset will also help us financially as well.
Smith: Nevada Public Radio also has a magazine. It's a handsome one - Desert Companion. Almost no other public radio station in the country has its own city magazine. What can you say about its future?
Nadal: Well, Desert Companion I think is a big piece of our overall, as a media company, look at where our audience is and it's a companion piece to what's happening on the air.
There is no other city regional magazine in Las Vegas. So, that is being kept. We're looking at the number of issues per year that we're going to be putting out, and it's a monthly publication. We'll talk to our underwriters see what works best for them. But the intention is to keep that exactly as we have it.
Smith: Nevada Public Radio also has its twice a year pledge drive starting next week. Typically, goals for that drive have been a few hundred thousand dollars. Is that going to change this year? Are you going to be asking for more help from listeners? I know we talked about it briefly earlier and how much will the station be asking for? Or is that even a set goal?
Nadal: I think we're still working on what we think the goal needs to be. It needs to be significantly more than we've done in the past. And if we have that 20,000 -member goal in mind, we need to acquire another 8,000 members over and above what we have currently. So, I think listeners can anticipate that we'll be on the air a little more. You're going to hear us longer throughout the day, in the evening hours as well until we get to where we need to be to fund the station.
Smith: Jerry Nadal, we're getting to know each other today. A lot of listeners are getting to know you. You've been part of this station in the past. You've been an active community member but tell us a little more about yourself - your background.
Nadal: I moved here full time but 18 years ago I first came here actually in 1993 to do Starlight Express at the what was the Las Vegas Hilton, now the Westgate. Then I started a position with Cirque de Soleil, which brought me here. For many years, built up the business there and I would say what the station is going through now is not unlike what has happened at a lot of large organizations, including Cirque, where we've had to make a number of adjustments over the years based on business parameters.
And if you look around the valley, now at our other large employers are doing the same things. You know you always have to make course corrections at some point painful as they are. I don't see that what we're doing now is any different than what's happened in some of those other larger organizations.
Smith: Now, if you've ever seen a Cirque show, you know that there's a lot of moving parts in Cirque shows. So, I think you've inherited a duty here with a lot of moving parts to it. You've got different departments. You've got a lot of people who've dedicated a lot of their lives to this station, and of course, you've got listeners that are kind of hanging on every word. Can you tell us about whether your Cirque experience may translate?
Nadal: I think it's all relevant right? Because I built up a business and then we had to cut back on the business and we had to adjust in the years of the big recession - 10 years ago. So, I don't see anything that is opposed to what we're doing here. We have to worry about anybody trying to break their neck hanging from a trapeze. There's a little less stress when it comes to that, but I think as a business and if it's well-run then it will succeed.
Jerry Nadal, interim CEO, Nevada Public Radio