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Why St. Louis Public Radio Canceled Its Spring Pledge Drive

Tim Eby is St. Louis Public Radio's general manager.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Public health considerations and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be at the forefront of daily life. Among those effects, the last few weeks have been incredibly tough for journalists and nonprofits alike, St. Louis Public Radio included.

The station is dealing with the difficulties of being dependent on members, even as they face serious anxiety as well as real or potential losses in income. St. Louis Public Radio continues to cover the news while minimizing in-person contact. That is not easy.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sarah Fenske spoke with St. Louis Public Radio General Manager Tim Eby. They talked about precautions the station is taking while still delivering content, the decision to cancel the annual Talk Toast Taste fundraiser gala (a virtual fundraiser to benefit St. Louis Public Radio is in the works) and why the station’s spring member campaign was canceled.

Eby said interrupting programs with extended pledge drive breaks didn’t feel right at this time, especially when people “are seeking information about all that’s going on in the world, from the health care issues of the virus to the economic impact of all this.”

“So, we are doing some short messaging, reminding people about the importance of supporting St. Louis Public Radio, and folks will be hearing those throughout the course of the next week or so,” he said. “We feel like it’s important to remind people how important member support is to keep this station going, but beyond that, we won’t be interrupting the programs as we normally do with our pledge drives.”

Eby said the decision to not conduct a traditional pledge drive will be a hit to the station’s budget, as support from individuals and foundations is upwards of 60% to 65% of the total budget.

“It’s a huge chunk. Then you add in the corporate sponsorship — the underwriting messages that people hear — that’s another 25% to 30%, and we’re taking a hit there, too,” he said. “A large part of those businesses — many of them nonprofits that support us — they promote their events on our air using the underwriting announcements. And events are not happening.”

While the loss in underwriting revenue is also a hit, Eby said the station is understanding.

“We are not alone. Everyone is taking a hit,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”

In the midst of all the challenges and interruptions stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, Eby said the newsroom’s work on the station’s blog, Live Updates: Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region, was a point of pride.

“The live blog that we have on our website has been something that people have turned to,” he said. “We have had more people visit our website in just the first 20 days of March, so to speak, than we’ve ever had in our history. People are responding because they are hungry for information, and particularly information they can trust.” 

He adds, “We just created a Public Radio Parents Facebook group that people can go to and talk about ideas about how they are managing this situation with their kids … and have that communication because part of this whole issue with staying at home, for everyone, is that we don’t have that communication back and forth. We’re trying to be that convener in a virtual way, so people can have those conversations to help one another through this ordeal."

Hear Sarah Fenske’s interview with Tim Eby:

Eby encourages people to visit stlpublicradio.org to stay informed and to make a donation of any amount to power St. Louis Public Radio’s service at this critical time.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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