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:
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?
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:
We’re currently almost 90% fully funded – if you have further questions, please give us a call at 800-525-5683!
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.
Today is the next to last day of the Fall pledge drive for Christian radio giant K-LOVE. The last time K-LOVE had a pledge drive, they did not use confusing appeals to ask for money. They used and are still using contests to draw in donors but they didn’t use the deceptive strategy of saying a $40/month pledge to K-LOVE led to new shoes, warm coats, or food for disadvantaged children.
Now K-LOVE has partnered with a new group to tempt donors. Natural disasters are hot right now so K-LOVE has partnered with disaster relief charity Convoy of Hope to promote the following promise:
Your NEW $40 monthly EZ Gift not only supports K-LOVE, it also provides disaster relief by supplying food, water, and hygiene kits to those impacted!
The following video pitch makes vague claims that a gift of $40/month to K-LOVE will lead to disaster victims getting food, water, and hygiene kits.
To learn more, I wrote a K-LOVE spokesperson and I called and talked to a couple of listener service representatives. I also wrote Convoy of Hope. After these contacts, I still don’t know for sure what happens when a new donor pledges $40/month.
Disaster Relief as Bait
I emailed Molly Erickson, Senior Director of Public Relations at Convoy of Hope and asked for an explanation for the following claim from K-LOVE: “Your NEW $40 monthly EZ Gift not only supports K-LOVE, it also provides disaster relief by supplying food, water, and hygiene kits to those impacted!”
I asked her to explain how someone giving $40/month to K-LOVE provides hygiene kits to Convoy of Hope recipients.
She told me
When someone gives to K-LOVE, K-LOVE in turn gives that money to Convoy of Hope so we can procure and deliver the food, water and hygiene kits to storm survivors — which is something we are already doing, but K-LOVES support enables us to help even more people.
If true, this would be a new wrinkle and unusual for K-LOVE. A review of their 2016 990 indicates that K-LOVE gave away just $100,580 in grants during the year.
Although I doubt it, it sounds like she is saying K-LOVE takes some of that $40/month and gives it CoH. I wrote back and asked if any of the $40 pledge goes to CoH since K-LOVE had always told donors that 100% of the donation goes to K-LOVE.
She wrote back to say:
I would encourage you to reach out directly to K-LOVE if you have questions about their pledge drive and donations to Convoy.
Earlier I wrote to a K-LOVE spokesperson but received no answer. Today, I called and talked to two customer service representatives. One told me that Convoy of Hope gives a disaster kit for every new $40/month pledge. When I asked who pays for the disaster kits, I was transferred to another representative. The second representative wasn’t sure if K-LOVE gives money to Convoy of Hope from the $40/month pledge. Although she didn’t know how, she repeated that $40/month pledges resulted in a disaster kit being given away.
It is disappointing that representatives of donor supported ministries can’t answer a basic question about a major fund raising operation. It is hard to believe these organizations don’t know how their relationship works.
To me, K-LOVE and CoH describe a scenario where the disaster relief kits are being held for ransom. The K-LOVE donors pay the $40/month ransom and Convoy of Hope will release a disaster kit already made to a needy person. In fact, those kits are going to go to needy people whether K-LOVE listeners pledge $40/month or not. At least, I hope CoH isn’t holding on to disaster relief. It is unconscionable to think that CoH would take money from a CoH donor, create a kit for a homeless disaster victim funded by a CoH donor, and then hold on to it until a K-LOVE listener pledges $40/month during pledge drive. Making it worse is that K-LOVE tells their donor that disaster victims have a kit because they gave.
Using disaster victims to add more millions to K-LOVE’s surplus is disgusting. I had come to believe K-LOVE was making an ethical turnaround, but this erases any hope of that.
If CoH or K-LOVE believes I have misrepresented what happens with the pledges and disaster kits, I will provide space for them to correct the record.
K-LOVE Is Very Rich
K-LOVE sends out their on-air personalities to beg for money every pledge drive as if the results of the drive keep the wolf from the door. However, a review of K-LOVE’s 2016 IRS 990 form reveals a very rich organization.
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
So when you are making your $40/month pledge, remember it takes 1175 of you to make the CEO’s compensation. It takes 740 of you just to pay the consultants who coach the K-LOVE on-air personalities in how to get you to give your money (“we need 10 callers during this song!”). So if you want to help disaster victims, giving $40/month isn’t a good way to do it.
K-LOVE Should Take Advice from K-LOVE
K-LOVE asks donors who don’t have enough money to afford necessities to trust God to supply their need. Why doesn’t K-LOVE do that? If K-LOVE really believed what they pay $355k for some consultant to tell them to say, why don’t they believe it enough to practice it?
Just stop with the contests and the gimmicks and tell donors on your website what you need and why. If God is really in it, He will supply you with what you need, right?
One of the most frequent slogans you hear when you listen to Christian music giant K-LOVE radio is that the station is “listener supported.” When the fund drives are going on, listeners are bombarded with the message that the station wouldn’t be on the air without listener donations. As I have noted in the past, K-LOVE is sitting on millions in cash and investments and pay the executive staff extremely well, so they don’t really need all those “EZ Gifts” to remain on the air. In addition, K-LOVE is accepting paid ads for services.
I recently heard an ad for Medi-Share and learned from the health care group that Medi-Share paid K-LOVE for the ads. According to Michael Gardner, communications director with Medi-Share, “Christian Care Ministry receives media placements on K-Love because we support their programming through paid underwriting.” I also heard one from Pure Flix, a Christian comedy and entertainment group.* As far as I know, K-LOVE stations are licensed as non-commercial stations.
This might come as a surprise after hearing K-LOVE’s on-air personalities criticize other networks which use ads to underwrite programming. In the past, K-LOVE has even boasted of being “commercial free” (see also here). Judging from online comments, listeners think the station is supposed to be commercial free (see for examples here, here, here, and here).
Also, K-LOVE recruits artists to make the pitch. Watch:
According to the K-LOVE website, avoiding commercials is a selling point.
The K-LOVE Difference is…
Most Radio stations play an average of 19 Commercials an hour. Not at K-LOVE.
This means we can play more songs every hour than most radio stations.
No doubt they play fewer commercials per hour. However, they do air commercials and they air spots from Bible teachers such as Luis Palau, Proverbs 31 Ministries, etc. I wonder if those ministries pay to play as well.
*This post is not meant to detract from either Christian Care Ministry or Pure Flix. Both groups may be fine organizations. My interest in this post is to inform donors who might be trying to decide to give to K-LOVE or allow their child to register for Little League or go to summer camp. Go with the child.
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It is Spring Pledge Drive time at K-LOVE, and so far, the Christian mega station is just asking for money.
During past campaigns, K-LOVE has used other non-profits to provide a misleading incentive to give. One year, donors were told a $40/month donation would trigger a the gift of a pair of shoes for a poor child. Another drive, the hook was a warm coat. However, as it turns out, those shoes and coats would have been given anyway.
So far this year, as far as I can tell, the pitch has not included a misleading marketing partnership. Watch:
Also, the K-LOVE website doesn’t mention a marketing partnership.
About the only gimmick I see is the contests for a vacation and an Apple prize pack. While it may be a little tacky, it isn’t dishonest. I assume someone will win those things.
While I continue to believe donors should carefully assess whether or not K-LOVE really needs pledge drive funds to remain on the air (as opposed to using them to expand), so far the station has avoided the troubling marketing gimmicks of past campaigns.
If you hear any changes, let me know…
Near the end of February and into the first week of March, K-LOVE promoted the movie The Shack on air. It had all of the trappings of a paid promotional campaign, complete with a ticket giveaway contest. However, many K-LOVE listeners were not amused (e.g., Tim Challies), viewing The Shack as promoting heresy.
In response, K-LOVE discontinued the promotion. The announcement was low-key and in response to a listener post on the K-LOVE Facebook page:
Thanks for sharing your concerns, Julie. We discontinued this promotional earlier this week and are no longer airing it. If you do have any questions or concerns about our biblical values, you’re more than welcome to call our K-LOVE pastors at 1-800-525-5683.
Just a few days prior to yesterday, K-LOVE defended the promotion but the reaction may have been strong enough to change their minds.
While I cannot be sure, I think the promotion was probably about to end anyway since the ticket giveaway campaign ended on March 5. I wrote K-LOVE about the details but did not hear anything back.
K-LOVE can be responsive to listeners when the leaders perceive it will impact them. I will be watching their Spring fund drive to see if they modify any of their claims to make the promotion more transparent.
Note: When I first published this post, I wondered if K-LOVE had dropped sponsorship. According to Gene Krcelic at McDowell Motorsports, K-LOVE is still racing.
——————- (Original post)
Radio giant K-LOVE may have dropped sponsorship of car #95 with Michael McDowell as driver. A search of K-LOVE’s website finds a link to the old article introducing McDowell, but when one clicks the link, it goes nowhere. A site search shows several news article relating to NASCAR were once available via K-LOVE news, but they have been removed from the site. An archived page regarding McDowell and K-LOVE is available via the Wayback Machine.
I asked K-LOVE and Michael McDowell for comment but there has been no reply. I have been unable to find any indication from NASCAR sources that K-LOVE will be involved in the 2017 season.
I wrote about the K-LOVE NASCAR connection several months ago as an indication that K-LOVE may not need donor money just to keep stations on the air.
UPDATE: Gene Krcelic with Michael McDowell Motorsports wrote to say K-LOVE is still a sponsor. No word from K-LOVE about why all NASCAR content has been removed.