The only remaining employee at KHSU, Humboldt State alumna Natalya Estrada speaks with her former colleagues before heading into Feuerwerker House to see what the situation is inside the station on April 11. | Photo by Thomas Lal

KHSU shutdown, plans moving forward vague at best

KHSU, 90.5 FM, has been abruptly shut down this morning with little to no notice given to the employees and volunteers.

KHSU, 90.5 FM, has been abruptly shut down this morning with little to no notice given to the employees and volunteers. Currently University Police are inside the station and only granting access to individuals with the explicit approval of Craig Wruck, Vice President for University Advancement and Executive Director of the HSU Advancement Foundation. Ryan Lee, a station volunteer and radio host since 1990, was standing in the rain outside of the station confused and upset about the abrupt closure.

Michael Fennell, who volunteered for KHSU, carries out a basket of CD’s from Feuerwerker House where the station has been on Humboldt State campus on April 11. | Photo by Thomas Lal

“The station is shut down, everybody is fired, all the volunteers have been let go,” Lee said. “All accounts for current staff have been locked. We have been denied access to Wagner House without an escort. We have no plans for programming. There may be nothing.”

Lee said that he came to the station this morning at 8 a.m. and his keycard worked at the time but when he tried hours nothing happened. 

“Jeff Demark noted that [KHSU] just had a pledge drive and that everybody that pledged their money should be refunded,” Lee said. “Maybe because it was gotten under false pretenses. We all knew that there was something coming down the pipe, but nobody knew it was going to be like this.”

David Montoya, Associate Vice President of Human Resources, answered the door at the KHSU headquarters but declined to comment on the situation. 

The press release reads as follows:

Humboldt State University is reorganizing and streamlining operations at its public radio station, KHSU, with the goal of preserving quality programming for the North Coast.
The changes are intended to address operational challenges at KHSU, prevent further negative impact to the University’s budget, and better align HSU’s financial support with its mission and with opportunities for students. 
Station employees were told of the changes earlier today. Because the reorganization and budget reductions include the elimination of positions, a number of individuals will no longer be employed at HSU. The University is working to provide clear information to them, and to ensure they receive any benefits they are entitled to.
The steps taken today include:
Elimination of HSU’s direct payroll support, including the General Manager position and Chief Engineer position, saving the University more than $250,000 annually.
Elimination of five other staff positions, generating significant savings in the portion of KHSU’s budget that comes from government support, underwriting, and listener contributions.
Appointment of an Interim Station Director, to be supported through non-HSU funding.
Consolidating all KHSU operations in Feuerwerker House, reducing the inefficiency of having two separate spaces.
Indefinite suspension of volunteer-run programs. The University will evaluate how students can return to a more substantial on-air role at KHSU.
Actively pursuing collaboration with other public radio stations and seeking CPB funding to support this effort.
The decision to realign the station reflects a comprehensive assessment. Factors included the station’s increasing cost to the University; KHSU’s limited capacity for additional fundraising and underwriting; challenges identified by the CSU Office of Audit and Advisory Services; feedback from listeners and volunteers; the University’s commitment to public service; and the appropriate role of student involvement in station operations and programming. 
The report from the CSU Office of Audit and Advisory Services (pdf), which was recently received by HSU, includes an in-depth program review of the station that identified a number of issues with operations and administration. It was initiated at the request of HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, and she shared it yesterday with KHSU’s Community Advisory Board.
In addition to issues identified in the report, there are serious budget issues at the station. KHSU is heavily subsidized by the HSU general fund, and the station’s budget deficits have continued to worsen. At the end of the 2017-18 year, HSU had to cover a budget deficit of nearly $135,000 beyond its regular subsidy, and this year’s projected budget deficit is even larger.
KHSU’s budget challenge largely reflects increases in payroll costs. In addition, community support has been flat or declining, with underwriting revenue down approximately 14 percent for the year and listener support down approximately 17 percent. And while volunteers create a great deal of local programming, their efforts also come at a cost, requiring significant support by paid staff. 
The budget challenges at KHSU come as HSU has been working to address an overall structural deficit as well as funding declines related to an enrollment drop. The University has reduced its spending by $9 million over the last two years, and is making nearly $1 million in additional reductions for the coming year.
For context, over the last year HSU has funded nearly half the cost of KHSU. Listener support provided about 22 percent, corporate underwriting 17 percent, and government grants 12 percent. HSU directly paid more than $265,000 in salary, covered at least $250,000 for space and utilities, and spent at least $80,000 receiving and processing contributions to the station.
Even with the changes at KHSU, listeners will continue to have access to high-quality national programming and news. The most recent audience data reaffirm this is, by far, the station’s most popular programming.

This story is ongoing and has been updated here.

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