Chicago Sun-Times
Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

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WFMT-FM (98.7) and WBEZ-FM (91.5), two Chicago radio stations that take in a significant part of their respective operating budgets from listener contributions, have both met or exceeded their fund raising goals in just-completed pledge drives.

Fine arts station WFMT set a goal of $525,000 for its recently-completed 10-day winter pledge drive, and it reached that goal on the 10th day with some 8 1/2 hours to spare before the drive was set to end.

During an eight-day pledge drive that ended Mar. 10, public radio station WBEZ secured 9,198 donations that generated revenue of $1.12 million, well above the $1 million set for the drive. The successful pledge drives at both stations suggest the public appears to be in more of a giving mood as the economy starts to turn around.

Still, WFMT used all kinds of inducements to get listeners to pledge funds. Among other things the station experimented with a "$50,000 by mid-day" strategy. The station promised to break from fund raising for the rest of one day if it could raise $50,000 by 1 p.m., which it did. And the audience for WFMT's "The Midnight Special" once again proved especially generous. They contributed five percent of the station's total fund raising goal in just four hours.

At WBEZ, 44 percent of the donors during the just-completed drive were new members to the station, a number that is typically closer to 20 to 30 percent. The monies raised at WBEZ represent about 5.6 percent of the station's total operating budget.

Rather miraculously, Chicago fine arts radio station WFMT-FM (98.7) raised $518,221 in its just-concluded 11-day membership drive, exceeding its announced goal of $500,000 in the midst of a severe national economic downtown.

WFMT General Manager and Executive Vice-President Steve Robinson said the station's avid and growing band of supporters are, in large measure, responsible for the astounding results. "I think people realized that in this economy it's more important than ever to support the station," said Robinson, who also admitted it helped to extend the membership drive from the typical eight days to an unprecedented 11. "Two-thirds of the way through the drive, I wasn't sure we were even going to crack $400,000," said Robinson.

The average contribution during the just-completed drive inched up slightly to around $144 from $143 last November, and the number of callers this month was about the same as in November. What also impressed Robinson was the fact that 24 percent of those who pledged in February were first-time callers and contributors -- an indication the station continues to forge close bonds with its listeners.

Now Robinson is thinking he may not go 11 days for the next membership drive in June. He believes nine or 10 days may suffice. And he wants to try a couple of new things, like offering would-be WFMT members the chance to buy paintings donated by local artists. The paintings would be hung in local galleries where would-be buyers could go to view the work -- thereby generating visibility for the artists, foot traffic for the galleries and monies for WFMT. A win-win all around.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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