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Seven years after he founded the nonprofit that runs KCPW, Ed Sweeney is signing off.
The president and CEO officially resigned at a July 12 board meeting to help the station's struggle with finances.
"It got to the point where we had really good staff, and I realized it doesn't make any economic sense to have a president/CEO, so I stepped aside," said Sweeney, 63. "It was time to pass the baton … the decision was mine."
The station dropped National Public Radio content about a year ago, and with that move lost about one-third of its listeners who are also its donors. The station switched to American Public Media, Public Radio International and Public Radio Exchange. Sweeney, who also acted as legal counsel and solicited large donations, cut his salary from $96,000 to $50,000.
Earlier this month, station leadership was forced to raise $42,000 in order to pay APM. They were able to reach the goal and stay on the air, but the effort is far from over.
"We still have a long-term debt that we incurred a month before the recession hit, and we've renegotiated it several times … but it's hard when you have to pay that interest and you're looking at retiring that debt," Sweeney said.
For now, Sweeney's duties will be handled by general manager Tyler Ford, 33, and interim station manager Lauren Colucci, 34. Other staff and board members will take on other roles, and volunteers, including a volunteer grant writer, will continue to do work for the station.
The new leaders promise more transparency, including a website page that "clearly and accurately explains our current status and the plan forward," they say in a letter sent to supporters.
The costs facing the station are considerable: there's a $7,500 per month interest payment on a $1.8 million loan, another loan of about $525,000 used to purchase KCPW seven years ago, and a debt to APM of about $50,000, Ford said. It also must pay programming costs, salaries and other day-to-day expenses.
According to a preliminary budget the station released, it is overdue on nearly $490,000 in debts, ranging from programming content to technical support to rent. Even under the rosiest of predictions for a pledge drive starting next week, it would pay off less than half of the delinquent debt.
KCPW offers national programming not available through other area public stations and some local news, including the weekly "Behind the Headlines" segment hosted by the Tribune's Jennifer Napier-Pearce and featuring Tribune reporters. It hopes to boost local coverage in the future, Ford said.
"We need the public support right now more than we ever have, and we're fully aware that we just asked them to save us," Ford said. "If we're able to turn this thing around, we'll be able to give them more in the future and rely on them less."
The station will morph its "Help Save KCPW" campaign into the "Make KCPW Sustainable" campaign, and another fundraising drive will start Monday. In the future, Ford said, pledge drives will be scheduled quarterly, and will be shorter and "slightly less intrusive."
Colucci said station leaders hope to get out from underneath the debt that has kept them operating paycheck-to-paycheck without any emergency savings. She will know the fundraising goal by Monday.
"If we raise less than we need, we can keep going, but we'll keep limping along," Colucci said. "We need to get out from under some of these immediate smaller vendor debts."
The the station can focus on the $1.8 million debt, on which its has been making interest-only payments, she said.
The staff of six full-time employees and one contract producer have discussed internal fundraising deadlines, Ford said.
"The station has been going from crisis to crisis for years, and that's not a knock on Ed, but now that we're in control, let's look at the whole picture," Ford said. "We want to see what's organized how so we can see what we can do so that it doesn't keep happening."
Sweeney said his decision to step down is not a vote of no confidence in the station, but rather a sign that he has faith in the new leadership.
"We've got good staff, and my passion is still there, but somebody else has to step up," he said. "And the staff is; they're doing an extraordinary job. This is a community effort; it can't come from just one person, and the community did step up. But in order to survive, you've got to cut."
Ford said he is hopeful that the staff and community can give KCPW some financial stability and grow from there.
"We have some amazing and creative people on the staff right now, and even with our previous deadline, basically everyone turned everything up to 11," Ford said. "I think we can do it. It's going to be very hard, but I think we can do it."