27 March 2008

David Strand's Further Response

http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=13252

March 27, 2008

Dear Christian Friend:

Last week the decision was made to discontinue the “Issues, Etc.” program on KFUO-AM Radio, a ministry owned and operated by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). A brief statement was posted soon after on KFUO-AM's website citing programmatic and stewardship (business) reasons for this decision.

Following the discontinuation of the program, some KFUO-AM listeners asked for more information as to why “Issues, Etc.” had been ended. Detailed reasons are not usually provided when making program changes, and I intend to continue our policy and practice not to publicly discuss specific personnel matters. However, I do want to provide additional information regarding some of the significant challenges we faced prior to the discontinuation of the program and to respond to the inquiries of those who were particularly fond and appreciative of “Issues, Etc.”

In fiscal year 2007-08, KFUO-AM’s operating deficit was $620,698. Since 2001, the accumulated deficits at the station have been in excess of $3.5 million. The LCMS budget, entrusted to our care by members of our Synod’s congregations, has absorbed these shortfalls for years. After long and prayerful consideration, it became clear that measures had to be taken to stop the ongoing, staggering losses.

Although some are under the impression that “Issues, Etc.” was profitable and self-supporting, the fact is the program lost approximately $250,000 in the last fiscal year. While airing for only 18 percent of KFUO-AM’s programming week, “Issues” accounted for more than 40 percent of the station’s total deficit. These figures are based on the audited financial statements of the LCMS.

Over the years, every effort has been made to cut expenses at KFUO-AM. At the same time, particularly in the past year, extraordinary measures were taken to bolster the financial support of the station. A sizable portion of those efforts focused on assisting “Issues, Etc.,” the most costly program on the AM schedule. Unfortunately, these measures have not solved the problem. As of February 29th, two-thirds into the current fiscal year, KFUO-AM was on pace to suffer heavy losses again.

Some may also be under a misapprehension about the size of the “Issues” audience. In 2005, station management decided it could no longer justify paying for expensive ratings reports in light of the predictably low and static nature of KFUO-AM’s audience numbers. At the time, a blending of the spring 2004 and spring 2005 “books” showed an average listening audience during the “Issues” Monday-Friday timeslot of 1,650. There is no indication these numbers have grown appreciably since.

As for the audio streaming of “Issues, Etc.” via the Internet, the numbers are similarly low. During the last full month (February 2008) for which we have reports, the average number of live, streaming listeners during the “Issues” Monday-Friday timeslot was 64.

On Sunday nights, when the first hour of “Issues” was syndicated in a number of markets (an opportunity for which, during the past fiscal year, the LCMS actually paid $66,000 in broadcast fees), and where the second hour was available only on the Internet, the peak number of online listeners on the KFUO stream was 39.

Sadly, very difficult financial conditions sometimes require decisions that are not popular among all affected. In the case of KFUO-AM, the time had come when good stewardship of the church’s funds required a decision that meaningfully curtailed the deep, ongoing losses at the station. Ending the costs associated with “Issues, Etc.” was the only viable option, and the decision to do this was prayerfully and contemplatively made.

I am sorry that those who enjoyed “Issues” are disappointed, but I have made the show’s archives available, and I respectfully hope that all listeners will support the ongoing radio ministry of our beloved Synod.

Sincerely in Christ,

David L. Strand
Executive Director
Board for Communication Services

[I notice that there was no mention of the number of DOWNLOADS of the show, which seems to me to be one of the more frequent ways folks listened to it. I wonder if Mr. Strand would be willing to share those particulars?]

34 comments:

orthodoxy hunter said...

So... how much of that is true, if any of it? I've heard nothing but good numbers; big numbers. I've heard the opposite of this story. What's the truth?z

William Weedon said...

I'm eagerly waiting to hear more myself, Jen. Let's wait and see.

orthodoxy hunter said...

I personally have no problem waiting for the truth. I'm worried about the petition email address. I'm gonna get a bunch of folks asking questions or asking to have their names removed because the won't want to wait for the truth. Bleh. :รพ

M. Staneck said...

I would have to say that Mr. Strand is indeed telling the truth. He is the one who is the head of the board, and delivered some pretty convincing numbers. Now, this doesn't excuse the fact that it was handled poorly from the start, but I do think this sheds a lot more light on the situation.

Brandon Ross said...

The numbers that Mr. Strand provides only counts the numbers of live listeners or live streaming listeners via internet. If you are like me, I typically download the program after its "live" stream has already come and gone as I have time. Every time I or any of those I know like me have ever listened to Issues in the past four years has never been counted...

Though this letter shed some more light on the issue, I pray for further explanation.

BringBackIssues said...

I have no doubt he's telling the truth. The question is whether this is the complete picture. I would like to see the numbers on Internet downloads.

Jim Kruta said...

Strand is comparing apples to nothing. If you count the average weekday hours (Mon---Fri). Issues Etc. was 25% of your programming. I would love to see a show by show comparison of audience numbers, revenue, etc., to give his numbers any real meaning. The rest of his rhetoric is meaningless.
As to the handling of the termination of the show and personnel, even in the secular world, one is "given notice" in such a situation. The usual reasons for this type of sudden firing are due to "conflict of interests" or "misbehaviors". KFUO is promoted as spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Does that mean we do this only as long as it is profitable? Is the entire station to be sold (with all our donations with it?)

Anonymous said...

I just counted 247 Issues, Etc. shows I have downloaded currently in my iTunes playlist. I think I listened to the live stream 3 or 4 times over this same time period.

Susan said...

If less than 2000 people listened to each broadcast, it seems odd that 5000 people have signed a petition saying that it troubles them to lose Issues Etc.

If portions of the facts are withheld so that a story is told to the teller's benefit, is that living according to the Eighth Commandment?

Rev. Shane R. Cota, SSP said...

I, for one, listened to the show for a number of hours each week, but never once during the live broadcast. I usually listened a day or two later and usually during the morning.

If most listeners habits were similar to mine, the numbers could indeed be much bigger that who was listening live.

Some probably listened in the evening, or downloaded for later listening on iPods, computer, etc.

There is no way those numbers reflect the actual listening audience, except perhaps during the live broadcast.

The wonder of the internet is that anyone could listen at his own convenience.

Not much thought was put into this aspect of who really listens.

baptizatus said...

I mean no disrespect to the other programs on KFUO-AM, but with Issues gone the AM station means pretty much nothing to me now. I wonder how Issues' numbers look compared to the other programs on the show?

I still think this was a bad "business" decision. I also second the notion that real business decisions like this are made in the open, with notice given. I was under the impression that the "Issues 300" fundraiser was promising.

When it comes right down to it, Strand won't tell us who nor will he says the real reason why: I intend to continue our policy and practice not to publicly discuss specific personnel matters. Translation: I don't have to tell you. Go away.

The whole thing still reeks.

Chris said...

If Issues, etc. was the highest rated and most popular show, and if these numbers are correct, why would the most popular show be dropped and nothing else? Why would a new program (if how I understood "new programming" before is right) which would be uncertain be put in also. It still, so far, makes very little sense. There is still not an ample explanation as to why Ablaze!(tm) would not support this highly effective ministry which works towards its goals....I still smell a rat.

Chris said...

I would also agree with baptizatus. The fact that private individuals have donated money and support for Issues, etc. AND the fact that the Synod supports it or is supposed to with funds given through different means actually DOES mean they should be sharing the financial details of this decision. If your church just fired the pastor for monetary reasons but didn't fill you in on the details, you might wonder if your money was squandered or used in a way you did not intend it to be used.

M. Staneck said...

I'm not sure if downloading shows after the initial "live" airing does anything for revenue/income. It could very well be the case that an unbelievably large number of folks downloaded the show after its airing, but that could also mean little to nothing as far as generating revenue goes because the show was not listened to "live-on the air."

M. Staneck said...

To add to my previous comment, Look we all would love to not have to deal with the financial constraints of this world, but the fact of the matter is we do have to. Because of this, unfortunately unpopular decisions are apparently made because of money. Being that I take Strand at his word here, I have no reason not to, it seemed bad for the radio station which is bleedings internally to keep this program on the air. It stinks, it's sad, it's unfortunate, but it is also reality and may have actually nothing to do with a rat or synodical politics. Again, financial situation of KFUO was made known to many at Synodical Convention in July.

Rev. Shane R. Cota, SSP said...

Obfuscation!

Go here: http://adelphoitouchristou.typepad.com/savethelcms/2008/03/obfuscation.html

BringBackIssues said...

M. Staneck,
The ratings issue and the financial issue are separate. Mr. Strand made the case that few people are listening to the program; he did not make the case that the low ratings are responsible for the financial deficity. His argument about the ratings is, essentially, that the show isn't nearly as popular as we might think. It could be true, but the numbers quoted do not give a full picture.

It could very well be true that the show was losing money. But operating the show at a net loss is more reasonable if 10,000 people are listening -- it's a lot less reasonable if 1,000 are listening. And that's the impression Mr. Strand gives in his letter.

M. Staneck said...

I understand what you are saying but I'm under the impression that live listeners does have something to do with revenue and keeping a program on the air. Unfortunately financial decisions still have to be made, it is sad and shouldn't be but it seems it is.

I find the blog Rev. Cota linked to be borderline offensive. "Blood letting administration of Pres. Kieschnick." I mean, come on, and that's the thing we're going to use to discredit David Strand? Imagine that unfortunately a financial decision was made, and it isn't some vast conspiracy?

Anonymous said...

We were faithful Issues listeners who also never listened live. Sounds like the case for most. Still waiting...

katy j.

Anonymous said...

I listened to IE every day for 15 plus years on radios throughout my home and garage and also in my car when I was out and about. I didn't realize my radio listening habits could monitored.

luckyjean

Rev. Shane R. Cota, SSP said...

If it was just a financial decision made in all honesty, are they going to get cheaper programming to fill the old Issues, Etc. slot? Why don't they just can the whole station then and sell it? Well, maybe that's in the works.

BringBackIssues said...

M. Staneck,
A couple of things. First, as I pointed out, the question of live-versus-delayed listeners has no bearing, because Mr. Strand did not tie the issues together in his own letter. He was not saying that the low listenership led to low revenues.

If we concede that on-demand listenership does not drive revenue, it remains important to know whether the show reached 100 or 10,000 people. It goes to the effectiveness of the show as an evangelism tool. A $250,000 deficit is worthwhile, for example, if a program reaches 1,000,000 people with the Gospel. (I am not saying IE reached 1,000,000 directly, but merely making the point that accurate listenership numbers are important for us to make an evaluation of the show.)

Andrew said...

Hadn't Issues just launched a campaign to create the "Issues Etc 300", three hundred congregations to allocate $1000 from their mission, advertising, &c. budgets, and donate it towards Issues?

Had the "Issues Etc 300" been given a little longer to get this off the ground, wouldn't the resulting $300,000 more than made up for the $250,000 annual deficit (at least going forward)?

I can't get to the "What's New" section on issuesetc.org to verify this - but can someone else corroborate that they remember this to be true, and a fairly new effort?

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

For those of you who have subscribed to this discussion but have not seen the new one Pastor Weedon provided for my questions, here are the crucial questions I have asked David Strand to answer:

Is the revenue generated by Issues, Etc. underwriters, church sponsors, ALL Reformation Club income and Bott Radio Network contributions included in Issues, Etc.’s total revenue figure?

Why were the host and the producer made responsible for a $3.5 million loss since 2001 and not KFUO management?

You have given statitistics for people listening live on the web. Why have you failed to release the on-demand listening statistics? How does the on-demand listenership of Issues, Etc. compare to the on-demand listenership of other KFUO produced programs in the past year?

The official responsibility for raising financial support for KFUO lies with the LCMS Foundation. Is it true that LCMS Foundation President Tom Ries was strongly critical of Issues, Etc.’s on-air editorial positions, specifically its public critique of popular televangelist Joel Osteen?

What was the total listenership for the weekly nationally, syndicated edition of Issues, Etc.?

How many grant proposals were written for Issues, Etc. compared to other proposals for KFUO-AM and KFUO-FM?

Why was Issues, Etc. the only KFUO-produced program required to raise and account for its own funds?

Why was Issues, Etc. the only KFUO-produced program that generated major financial underwriters like Concordia Seminary-St. Louis, Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, Concordia Publishing House and LCMS World Relief?

Why cancel all of Issues, Etc.? Why not first cancel the more expensive Sunday night nationally, syndicated edition of Issues, Etc. and continue to do the three-hour weekday local broadcast of Issues, Etc.?

Why not make cuts at top-level, higher-paid management at KFUO?

Why were the audio archives of Issues, Etc. initially removed? This doesn't cost KFUO any salaries and benefits?

Why fire the only Lutheran Pastor on staff, of the more than 20 full-time employees at KFUO?

Does the LCMS Treasurer, Tom Kuchta, think that Issues, Etc. was the cause of KFUO’s financial woes?

Does KFUO management think that Issues, Etc. was the cause of KFUO’s financial woes?

Why cancel the show just as it was launching a major development initiative (Issues, Etc. 300)? This campaign had the potential to eliminate the entire fiscal year deficit for KFUO-AM.

M. Staneck said...

BringBackIssues,

I think you raise fair points and yes it is important, of utmost importance actually, to get the Gospel "out there." But unfortunately, the Synod does operate under constraints of money, and I found it sort of obvious what Strand was trying to say, but could be the case he wasn't because people here yourself including did not find him to be so obvious. My overriding point is that money unfortunately is needed to operate a large group such as the LCMS. So it is not necessarily wise to keep a program running if it is suffering such heavy losses. I cannot answer questions as to why it was initially handled poorly, or why other shows or the whole station aren't canned, but men making financial decisions on behalf of the synod did find it necessary.

His Truth will march on.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Mr. Staneck,

The Eighth Commandment calls us to put the best construction on things, not to be stupid. There has not been enough information provided yet to determine that David Strand (and whoever else was in on this decision) did this for valid financial reasons. I find his explanation incredible without answers to the questions I have posed.

M. Staneck said...

Mr. Heidenreich,

Are you calling me stupid? I surely hope not, and I hope I am misunderstanding you because the internet can surely lead to misunderstandings.

At the same time however, there is nowhere near the amount of valid information out there suggesting some deeper conspiracy theory as many are getting all hot about regarding this issue (and many others in the past).

Shoddy way of handling it since Holy Tuesday? Absolutely. Does that automatically make this a conspiracy? Absolutely not. So although you may feel there is not sufficient information regarding this being a financial decision, there is even less sufficient information that points to this being a deliberate attack against Confessional Lutheranism. Not necessarily saying you think there is a general conspiracy but clearly some here do, and others in our Synod certainly do.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Mr. Staneck,

I am not calling you stupid. I'm calling the position you are espousing stupid. Don't be naive. There is no justification for a financial reason to cancel Issues, Etc. The figures given by Mr. Strand are EXTREMELY misleading. Just read the questions I have asked him and you'll be able to read between the lines of the totally inadequate statement he has made.

Conspiracy theory? I don't know. But I can tell when someone is trying to justify a wrong, and believe me, there is no justification in what has been presented.

M. Staneck said...

Oh okay, thank you for clearing up my well thought out position is stupid and not that I myself am *actually* stupid.

To be honest, I couldn't find it in me to call any brother or sister in Christ stupid, nor a well thought out position of theirs stupid. I happen to think it is incorrect that Mr. Strand is behind some deliberate attack against Confessional Lutheranism, but stupid? No, couldn't see myself stooping to that level to describe anyone in the Body of Christ.

But, what do I know?

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Mr. Staneck,

I'm very sorry to have offended you, but there is an important distinction between being critical of one's argument and being critical of an individual. You and your argument are not one and the same entity. I make stupid arguments sometimes, and I appreciate when someone points that out to me. Perhaps you would have been less offended if I had used the word "illogical." That's a better word for what I meant, and I wish I'd used it. But that's enough on this tangent. Please forgive me.

M. Staneck said...

Mr. Heidenreich,

Thank you for your apology, and of course I accept it and forgive you.

I don't think my argument is illogical either, but I can live with it being illogical then stupid. What I originally have said about this decision I stand by, but in the meantime prayers continue to be with Rev. Wilken, Mr Schwarz, as well as those in charge at the Synod.

Jeff J said...

Mr Staneck, if money was the issue, why eliminate the only show on KFUO to my knowledge, to solicit donations? Why base your decision on data from 2004-2005 when it is 2008? Why not provide a baseline for all programming to be compared to? Why would you shut down a program and not allow the staff to talk about it? Why wouldn't you make a push to raise awareness of the deficit and organize a fundraiser? Why? If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, just because it lives in the walls of LCMS doesn't mean it is not a duck.

Eric said...

It is one thing to throw out a number ($250,000 out of $621,000 lost last year). It is another thing to explain how the number was calculated. It appears to be some sort of allocation of total losses, but how the allocation was made needs to be revealed if the number is to have any credibility whatsoever.

The bottom line is this... Unless there is a reasonable expectation that the alternative will be more profitable than Issues Etc., the cancellation is an unwise decision from a business perspective. "Dead air" (complete silence) is almost instant death to a radio station. Reruns are nearly as bad. The Bible Study is a good and valuable program, but re-running it in the old Issues Etc. time slot is not as profitable for KFUO as Issues Etc. was. And there is no way that David Strand could have a reasonable expectation to the contrary.

In every appreciable way this was an unbelievably poor business decision.

Anonymous said...

They act as if the Gospel is not real unless it's heard over a terrestrial broadcast radio station!