Attention K-LOVE listeners. Your easy gifts have helped K-LOVE pay $21.5 million for one of the biggest stations in rock. According to Chicago media analyst Robert Felder and this FCC filing, Educational Media Foundation is gobbling up Chicago rock station WLUP-FM 97.9.
As Felder points out in his article, K-LOVE just last year bought Los Angeles rock station “The Sound” and two other stations for $58 million. The Christian music giant pays for their expansion with twice yearly pledge drives.
Felder quotes industry analyst Tom Taylor praising the business strategy of nonprofit EMF:
“They’re very, very sharp, business-wise, and very strategic,” Taylor said of the company headquartered in Rocklin, California, near Sacramento. “They buy based on a formula of x dollars per person under [covered by] the signal.”
It should be obvious then that Chicago is a huge score. Get ready Chicagoland listeners, soon you will be asked to make those easy pledges of $40/month so you can keep K-LOVE on the air. They will need a little less than an entire pledge drive to pay for that station.
What happens when K-LOVE buys all the stations?
Read more about K-LOVE, the manipulative pledge drives, and the blandification of Christian music:
K-LOVE’s Pledge Drive: The Money Behind the Music
Pay a Bill or Give to K-LOVE?
K-LOVE: The Pledge Goal Was About $30-Million
Just Before Pledge Drive, K-LOVE Paid $58-Million for Three Stations
A Very Rich K-LOVE Uses Disaster Relief to Raise More Money
If You Want to Feed the Hungry, Don’t Give (As Much) to a Radio Station
#GivingTuesday: Your $40/Month EZ Gift to K-LOVE/AIR1 Does Not Provide a Child with a Warm Winter Coat
K-LOVE Wants You to Pull Over and Pledge
K-LOVE First Promises Answer to Listener about Executive Compensation Then Fails to Follow Through
Another Indication K-LOVE May Not Need Your Money
Twice a year, Christian radio giant Educational Media Foundation (K-LOVE and Air-One) conducts a pledge drive. For about a week, the on-air personalities beg for pledges to “keep your K-LOVE on the air.” During the most recent pledge drive, I called, wrote, tweeted, and Facebook messaged K-LOVE in order to find out the pledge drive goal. How much money was K-LOVE trying to raise?
Despite my efforts, I never got an answer. K-LOVE’s Facebook contact referred me to CEO Mike Novak who never answered. The customer service representatives said they didn’t know. It is hard for me to believe that donors parted with their money without information about how much K-LOVE needs and why.
It Is a Big Number
After I wrote about the lack of transparency, some sources who are in a position to know contacted me to tell me that the goals for 2017 were in the neighborhood of $30-million per drive, give or take a million.
K-LOVE had a surplus of over $60-million in 2016 on revenues of $170-million. Just before the last pledge drive, the mega-station purchased three stations for $58-million which is about the same amount as was pledged by donors during the 2017 pledge drives. Looks like those $40/month EZ gifts are buying new stations more so than keeping current K-LOVE stations on the air.
K-LOVE purchased several other new stations in 2017. The expansion of the organization is made possible by twice yearly pledge drives where listeners are told that their local station may go away if the listeners don’t become donors. I suppose K-LOVE could yank a station but it wouldn’t be because K-LOVE doesn’t have money. It would be because the listeners in a coverage area fail to meet a quota not disclosed to them. Nasty business, this nonprofit Christian radio business.
New markets mean new listeners, which mean new donors, which mean more money for more stations. Eventually, when all the stations are purchased, they will have to do something else.
I have some ideas.
New Expansion Ideas for K-LOVE
K-LOVE Streaming Worship – No need for a musically trained or spiritually prepared worship band. Just stream K-LOVE’s worship sets into your church on Sunday mornings. Put the music videos on the big screen if you want. Your worship team could lip sync for extra fun and even have lip sync competitions in seeker friendly churches. The full package would let you stream the worship set for all services including youth group.
K-LOVE Church – With nearly so many stations already owned by K-LOVE, they need to find something else religious to buy. How about churches?
At my age, I have heard about everything I need to hear in a sermon so it would be good with me if we just sing or listen to music and commentary the whole time. Most other people aren’t listening anyway. K-LOVE could just buy up churches and let the on-air personalities tell heart warming stories and play tunes. It would be much more entertaining and much less convicting. With many church goers/listeners already giving to K-LOVE instead of paying bills or giving to their churches anyway, it seems like a natural move on so many levels.
K-LOVE University – As a college professor, this is especially near to my heart. On-air banter and contemporary Christian music are so deep and rich with theological insights that the airwaves provide a natural delivery system for theological education. Given how Christian leaders already creatively use honorary degrees as if they were actual degree programs, why not give academic credentials for listening to the radio? Think of the size of the student body! K-LOVE University would instantly be the largest university on the planet with millions of students eager to exchange their EZ tuition for EZ credits.
Well, those are my ideas, kids. How about you? Have any suggestions for what K-LOVE can do with their millions?
Just before the Fall Pledge Drive, K-LOVE purchased three stations from Entercom for $58-million. According to the industry blog, Radioinsight,
EMF [Educational Media Foundation – K-LOVE’s parent company] will acquire Classic Rock “100.3 The Sound” KSWD Los Angeles as well as 92.1 KSOQ Escondido CA (Simulcasts Country http://www.froggy101.com/“>97.3 KSON San Diego) and 95.9 WGGI Berwick PA (Simulcasts Country “Froggy 101” WGGY Wilkes-Barre).
Entercom divested the stations as part of their merger with CBS.
This year K-LOVE has also acquired stations in other markets including Rhode Island, Louisiana, Virginia, and Ohio. These are just a few of the purchases. K-LOVE has been quite active this year. What is clear is that the pledge drives are making it possible for K-LOVE to increase market share not just stay on the air.
More expansion is likely to be in K-LOVE’s future. Radioinsight’s Lance Venta recently wrote:
Educational Media Foundation’s business model portends well to constant expansion. Multiple federal rules allow EMF to take advantage of loopholes that commercial operators do not have the opportunity to do so. As a non-profit EMF can take advantage of tax credits and loopholes. The networks take on the majority of their revenue through listener donations and as the group expands to more markets that brings more potential listeners and donors. With the main-studio waiver that each EMF license holds, the local stations do not exist as anything more than a rack of equipment at the translator site as programming currently all comes from a pair of locales. They don’t need to have a local studio or maintain local staffing cutting down costs.
Local Christian radio is just about gone. Many of these stations have been gobbled up by K-LOVE with no end in sight. The FCC just did away with the requirement that broadcasters must have a local presence near the location where they have a license to broadcast. K-LOVE has long obtained waivers from this rule in order to broadcast nationally without needing to have a local station. Now they don’t need to get waivers.
The FCC move was opposed by smaller broadcasters who will now be at a disadvantage in their competition with larger corporations. Beyond competition, the concern is that news coverage could be slanted away from local interests.
Regarding K-LOVE and Christian music, K-LOVE already has an out-sized influence on trends in Christian music. Programmers control who has entrance into the market and who stays current. They control so much of the market that artists are at their mercy. Over the years, creativity has been hard to find within the evangelical bubble and I worry that the repetitive pop sounds coming from every market will stifle it even more.
Recently, K-LOVE completed their Fall Pledge Drive. It lasted at least one day longer than scheduled because they didn’t reach their goal in the allotted time. Even though nobody I talked to at K-LOVE seemed to know how much they wanted to raise, they had to keep begging for money to reach it.
How Much Did K-LOVE Make During Pledge Drive?
I tried to find out how much K-LOVE raised during pledge drive. The giant radio organization had a surplus of over $60-million in 2016 so it isn’t clear why they needed to engage in such urgent solicitations.
During the pledge drive I talked to two customer service representatives who said they didn’t know the amount and forwarded me to someone else. I then left a voice mail but received no call in return. I also asked K-LOVE via Twitter and the K-LOVE Twitter manager told me to call the station. I had tried that.
I then asked my question via a private message on the K-LOVE Facebook page:
How much did KLOVE raise during the last pledge drive? If you don’t know exactly, what was the goal?
Someone named “Mike Pastor” (I wonder if that is his real name) wrote back and said:
Please write our CEO, Mike Novak with your financial questions or concerns. You can reach him at CEO @ klove. com. Thanks!
So then I wrote Novak on October 31 and asked my questions. He didn’t write back.
Dear Mr. Novak
Mike Novak, if you are reading, I would still like to know how much you raised during the fund drive. In fact, I think you should tell everyone on your website and on your station. Remember you are a 501(c)3 organization. It is the least you can do.
This is after your on-air personalities asked people for a week to give their best. Now, you should tell people how much you raised. Don’t you think that’s fair? You featured a woman who gave to K-LOVE instead of paying a bill. Don’t you think you should be transparent and tell people what their sacrifice added up to?
I realize you just acquired new stations in Los Angeles and elsewhere for nearly $58-million so you need some more cash. But shouldn’t you tell the folks why you want it and how much of it they just gave?
This afternoon K-LOVE is still in pledge drive. It is overtime. They didn’t make their goal yesterday as planned so they will keep begging until listeners pledge enough. My question is: how much is enough? In other words, what is the goal of the pledge drive?
K-LOVE’s website posts the percentage of the goal but not the goal.
So I called K-LOVE, posted on Facebook and asked on Twitter: How much total are you trying to raise during this pledge drive?
When I called the station, I talked to two people. Neither person knew the goal. Here is the Twitter exchange:
I then asked why the amount could not be disclosed publicly. So far, there has been no answer.
Why Does K-LOVE Need the Pledge Drive?
I suspect the reason is because the amount is quite large. It may also be because it would raise questions about why the pledge drive is needed. Let’s review some key figures from K-LOVE’s 2016 IRS 990 filing:
Surplus (Revenue less expenses): $63,043,532
CEO Total Compensation: $ 563,767
PR Coaching for pledge drive: $ 355,146
Number of executive staff making over $100k: 53
K-LOVE took in $63-million more than the organization spent in 2016. Does 100% of the pledge goal represent $63-million more than is needed? Given their own giving records, K-LOVE would clearly be fine if their current goal was not completely met. Listeners out there fretting because you fear your station won’t broadcast music if you don’t give should take a hard look at these numbers. K-LOVE does not need your pledge. They want it, but they don’t need it.
It is a huge red flag that K-LOVE won’t disclose the goal for the pledge drive.