Hopkins will keep WJHU on the air

March 05, 1991|By Eric Siegel

Johns Hopkins University announced yesterday that it will continue to operate WJHU-FM (88.1), ending two years of uncertainty about the public radio station's future.

Ross Jones, vice president and secretary of Hopkins, said WJHU's ability to operate within a pared-down annual budget of just under $1 million since May convinced the university to abandon its efforts to find a new owner.

"We've been pleased with the station and wanted to keep it if we possibly could," he said.

Mr. Jones said Hopkins would continue to pay the debt service on the station's equipment -- the amount of which he would not disclose -- but would provide no direct operating support. The budget would be "up to the station," he said, adding, "We hope it will grow."

Hopkins, which had threatened early last year to close WJHU if a new owner could not be found, instead decided in May to cut the station's budget by $400,000 and try to run it on a break-even basis. But the university made no commitment to continue operating it beyond the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Those developments came a month after the General Assembly rejected a controversial plan to have the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission take over the license and operation of the station.

Hopkins launched WJHU as a full-service public radio station in October 1986. But two years ago, faced with a financial crisis in its School of Arts & Sciences, the university said it would no longer subsidize the radio operation, which was running an annual deficit of several hundred thousand dollars.

Dennis Kita -- who has been running the the 10,000-watt National Public Radio affiliate for the past year and has now been named general manager -- said WJHU would begin an on-air fund-raiser next Monday with a goal of $160,000.

"Having a long-term commitment from the university provides stability, but we're still faced with the difficult challenge of raising operating revenue," he said.

WJHU's last fund drive, in the fall, was the most successful in the station's history, bringing in $167,000. The station receives a third of its budget from listeners, another third from corporations and foundations and the rest from the federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The station had 85,000 cumulative weekly listeners in the fall ratings period, one of the highest figures in the station's history and a rise of 17 percent over fall of 1989, Mr. Kita said. He attributed the increase largely to program changes that increased the numbers of hours devoted to jazz and NPR broadcasts.

If similar increases in funding could be achieved, Mr. Kita said he would like to add to the station's local public affairs programming, which in the past year has included call-in shows on AIDS and the Persian Gulf crisis. He also said he hoped eventually to restore some of the broadcasts of local classical music concerts that were discontinued as a cost-cutting move.

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