The vacancies give the station’s Board of Directors a great chance to better connect the organization to its listeners in Asheville and all across Western North Carolina.
Evans came to town with one big mandate – get WCQS on stable financial ground. She also arrived with one big dream – to move the station toward a regional leader in local news. She talked about both those goals a lot, but she really only made progress on the one to do with the bottom line.
The station recently sold its ownership in the office condominium building it calls home in downtown Asheville for $1.7 million. The station also increased its listener support 67 percent, and its business support by 32 percent, during Evans’ tenure. (She would often note that the station has 80,000 listeners every week and 7,000 people who contribute cash each year, leaving even more room for improvement.) Those moves leave WCQS with a solid bottom line moving forward.
On the news programming front, Evans cut several of the locally produced shows that listeners became familiar with over the years. The conversation-style shows with Asheville-area gardeners and doctors and journalists afforded listeners a mix of local, lively voices (and gave listeners the chance to call in). Bring back those shows, or create new ones that highlight local voices. And in general, the station doesn’t cover local news on its own – it simply spotlights the work of other local journalists.
Evans dreamed of having WCQS serve as regional voice for news connecting our far-flung mountain towns. She did something similar as director of programming at Vermont Public Radio during her decade there. (On that point, here’s what the station said when it announced Evans’ hiring: “As director of programming at Vermont Public Radio, she pioneered a sustainable model for two distinct statewide public radio services – one news, information and culture, and another focused on classical music programming.”)
WCQS is uniquely positioned to tell Western North Carolina’s story, especially as independent news outlets rise up out of the ever-changing media landscape. Is it financially feasible for a local station? Maybe not, but NPR seems to have cracked the code for funding great reporting.
There’s also plenty of room for WCQS to cover and promote Asheville arts and culture. Those topics are often cited as reasons for Asheville’s tourist appeal and its overall quality of life. They could use coverage of arts/culture to their advantage – the topics clearly appeal to their listeners i.e. donors. (The station plays classical music for most of its weekday hours.)
Listen to WCQS today, and it comes off as a quaint little public radio station happy with the status quo. Maybe that’s just fine with the station’s donor base and its board of directors as it launches a national search for a new CEO. But WCQS can do better. A city as vibrant as Asheville cries out for a public radio station that holds local institutions accountable and reflects a fascinating mix of natives and newcomers. The city deserves a public radio station that’s turned on and tuned in.
Addendum: Three points I want to add:
-WCQS was $1.2 million dollars in debt when Evans arrived. There was no debt, and an $800,000 operating reserve, when she left. That leaves the station in an excellent position to invest in new initiatives because of the debt. Was selling a valuable asset the right move to get to the point of financial security? I’ll let listeners argue over that.
-To be clear, I don’t think Evan’s tenure was a failure. She accomplished what she could, given the financial constraints she had to deal with. Now WCQS faces a new crossroads, and there’s opportunity.
-The WCQS mission statement, as a point of reference:
Western North Carolina Public Radio, Inc. operates WCQS-FM and its associated broadcast services as a community-based public radio network, committed to enhancing the quality of life in Western North Carolina by:
Expanding listeners’ horizons through new perspectives and listening experiences; Promoting the free and independent interchange of ideas and information; Enriching and reflecting the cultural climate, heritage and traditions of our region and society through classical and other music, and the arts.