Community Support At Work: Dollars And Cents Behind A 24-7 Media Organization

· Oct. 16, 2017, 1:36 pm

People are often surprised when they learn what it costs to keep Colorado Public Radio going strong. Last year’s annual operating expenses totaled just over $15 million. 

As a non-profit organization, Colorado Public Radio spends each and every one of those dollars purposefully so Coloradans have a reliable and trusted resource for news, information and music. In providing this community service, we’re regularly asked how CPR spends its budget and why it costs so much to keep the network running smoothly. 

Here’s a look at how the budget breaks down: 

For Every Dollar Spent at CPRSource: Audited Financials
Colorado Public Radio operates three 24/7 broadcast networks – CPR News, CPR Classical and CPR’s OpenAir. That means each day, 365 days a year, CPR is producing and distributing 72 hours of radio programming, in addition to digital content available through, the app, podcasts and social media. Year to year, that operation makes up about 70 percent of CPR’s spending. 
This includes things like NPR subscription fees and the cost to distribute national programming from other public radio organizations. For example, Colorado Public Radio spends an average of $300 to broadcast one hour of “Morning Edition,” a program that’s heard six hours a day, five days a week. There are also significant costs to produce locally focused programs, whether it’s travel to places across the state, maintaining studios and equipment needed to produce stories, or maintaining broadcast transmission sites so those same stories are accessible to listeners.
Colorado Public Radio is a non-profit organization that relies heavily on diverse sources of community support to sustain the news and music programs Coloradans depend on. The benefit of this model is that CPR is fueled by many different revenue sources – from the $10 per month donation from an Evergreen Member to a $70,000 underwriting agreement or a six-figure gift from a Leadership Partner.
Generating varied revenue streams and ensuring they are stable requires active communication to preserve the relationships CPR has with 50,000+ people and businesses. As a result, about 27 percent of CPR’s spending is used to garner financial support from the community, which is in line with the average of other public radio stations across the country.
CPR’s spending in this category is careful, strategic and focused on cost-saving strategies. One example, to reduce the cost of printing and postage, CPR is increasingly using e-mail to communicate with members. And members themselves often help minimize costs by joining as sustaining Evergreen Members, substantially reducing the volume of letters and postage, and also by opting out of a thank-you gift that Colorado Public Radio sends.
The smallest category of spending includes administrative expenses like utilities, bank fees and building maintenance. These expenses are generally very predictable and static, like the monthly electric bill, which averages around $11,000 for all 30 broadcast sites and CPR’s headquarters at Bridges Broadcast Center. 
Costs Explained
Here’s a snapshot of some of the specific costs involved in powering a statewide media organization: 
$1 million – cost of annual NPR program fees
$250,000 – cost to broadcast other national programs like BBC, Radiolab and This American Life
$80,000 – cost to access the AP wire services for news and digital content
$25,000 – cost of travel and mileage to cover news stories around the state annually
Much like a household budget, Colorado Public Radio’s costs can vary from year to year. When there’s a surplus, the organization saves cash reserves, which can be used at any point for one-time equipment and technology upgrades. For example, last year the roof at Bridge Broadcast Center needed to be replaced. And nearly $250,000 was spent on system upgrades for nine broadcast studios and five voice booths (mini studios). This year, the organization is investing $500,000 to move our primary broadcast signals serving the Denver area to a long-term location on Lookout Mountain. 
Of all the resources required to fulfill CPR’s mission, the one we invest in most heavily is the people behind the organization. Fifty-five percent of Colorado Public Radio’s total expenses support the 122 individuals behind the work, through salaries, payroll taxes and benefits. 
In the last five years, Colorado Public Radio’s staff has increased 41 percent, which contributes to the organization’s strategic growth. This is a sound investment in CPR’s future as more staffing creates greater capacity to produce and distribute quality news and music.
The staff at CPR are dedicated to fulfilling the organization’s mission and come to work every day with a variety of skills that keep Colorado Public Radio going strong. Whether it’s the news editor carefully fact-checking stories, the accountant looking out for issues of compliance, the engineer monitoring station sites or the music librarian curating tomorrow’s playlists – the expertise of CPR’s staff is the organization’s greatest asset in serving the public, which is why CPR invests so deeply in their work.
Where does Colorado Public Radio get this funding?
Read more about sources of funding for Colorado Public Radio, and why community support continues to be one of the organization’s greatest assets in providing impartial news and meaningful music to Colorado, including: 
Special reporting on arts, environment, health and education
And so much more . . .