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CapRadio interim GM on finances: 'We can get through the month of May'

CapRadio's current headquarters on the campus of Sacramento State University on Sept. 28, 2023.
Chris Hagan
CapRadio's current headquarters on the campus of Sacramento State University on Sept. 28, 2023.

It has been an unprecedented year at CapRadio. And one of extreme hardship.

This summer, CapRadio laid off 12% of its staff — including at North State Public Radio, which CapRadio operates — and the cuts included four longtime music programs, as well as their hosts.

And that was just the start of tremendous financial challenges made public.

CapRadio is an auxiliary of Sacramento State, which holds its license, and the university has always been responsible for the news and music stations’ oversight.

An audit by the California State University system detailed significant mismanagement in recent years, by leaders who are no longer employed at CapRadio, that is largely tied to an ambitious yearslong move to a new downtown headquarters and creation of a live venue.

Both of which now have an uncertain future, as CapRadio’s news and music stations still operate on the Sac State campus.

During this time a group of CapRadio colleagues have reported on our employer independently.

As we close 2023, CapRadio’s Vicki Gonzalez spoke with CapRadio Interim General Manager Tom Karlo on where things stand, and the outlook for the new year.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Interview Highlights

Following the CSU audit, Sac State President Luke Wood gave a warning that “CapRadio will likely have no remaining financial resources by January.” Where does that stand now?

When I came onboard, and I came out of retirement, and I started on Aug. 15, I immediately put my mind set on keeping the programming of the two radio stations going as solid as we can, improving revenue opportunities, and trying to be honest and transparent with everyone. And over the last four months, we have seen an impact in revenue, and I feel right now we can get through the month of May. And so each month we seem to be kicking it down a little further, and I'm proud of what the team has done.

We're doing our best to keep us going alive and well. We still have a heartbeat and we're still serving the community, and I think the work that we're doing on our news and information station and our classical and jazz station are as good as ever.

You mentioned that we now have enough financial reserves to carry us through at least May. Realistically, are more layoffs and cuts to programming a possibility?

I hope not. We have to do a deep dive the second week of January to in fact see how we're doing at this midpoint. And you know, I think we're doing well. But we've lost some revenue. We are not going to receive our $1 million federal support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting because it's based on an audit two years ago. We had a couple of grants that we were counting on and they've been put on pause. That's taken a hit on us. So we have to readjust our revenue projections.

At the crux of this was an ambitious move to downtown, both a new HQ and live venue. Where does that stand now?

It's a very fluid situation, first of all. And I'll be very honest, I'm not sure we're ready to move down there. Because once we move down there, we have a sharp increase in our operating expenses — janitorial, security, parking, utilities — that we are not paying right now. The leases are being paid, but it's something that I think we need more stability on our income here. We are staying here to tighten our belt. I cannot give you exactly what's going to happen down the line, but I can tell you where we're discussing it very much with both the president and myself. And as we move forward, we're hoping to repopulate our governing board of directors, and that'll be something we all work on together. But I don't have an answer for that right now.

Since we are an auxiliary of Sac State, that allows for some independence, like having a board of directors for the non-profit. That previous board has since largely disbanded — the majority of whom resigned — and the university is currently working on a replacement. Where does a new CapRadio board stand today?

I've distanced myself a little bit from exactly what President Wood and his team are doing because I don't think it’s good board policy. Basically I'd be putting in the members of the board that would be my boss. So, President Wood is taking care of that. We do currently, I think, have seven board members out of around 25 that were on before. Their idea is to repopulate the board. There are decisions that we need board approval to do. So, the day-to-day operation, we're going along as best we can.

Given you’re the interim general manager, is there an active search for a permanent GM?

That decision is still going on, too. The latest is I think I’m going to stay hopefully through May. It'll be up to President Wood, and hopefully a new reconstituted board, to make a decision on moving forward.

Next year there will be changes to programming, including Insight, which will move from the 9 a.m. hour to the 12 p.m. hour. What went into this decision?

I’m so excited about that. I think we’re going to start Tuesday, Jan. 16, after MLK Jr Day. When you look at the way people consume radio, the biggest audiences are right in the drive times — Morning Edition and All Things Considered. But at 9 a.m. people start to go to work and they start to turn off the news and everything. But there is a spike of people who listen to the radio on their lunch hour. And for me, why don't we put our signature local show Insight at a time of day when more people will be able to listen.

And the other thing is, too, is when you're on at 9 a.m. there could be breaking stories, press conferences or whatever, that are taking place at 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. and we don't talk about it until tomorrow. So I think we can be more timely with our news analysis.

Your job has always been to look forward. But there's still a lot of interest in understanding how all of this happened. Do you anticipate another audit, or some type of forensic analysis, in the new year?

There is a forensic audit that is being taken place. I have really nothing to do with it. It's being led by the Chancellor's Office of the CSU system. And my understanding is hopefully we will get something in either January or February. And I have no idea what's going to happen, but it's supposed to be a deeper dive. And I think that's good for us, because then we'll make sure it never happens again.

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by Insight Host Vicki Gonzalez and edited by News Editor Chris Hagan. Following NPR’s protocol for reporting on itself, no CapRadio corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

Vicki Gonzalez is a Murrow and Emmy award-winning journalist with nearly 15 years of experience as a reporter, news anchor and producer.
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