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|KEDM completes digital conversion fundraising drive|
It took 13 months, hunting for contributions and the like almost every day, but the campaign to secure enough funding to switch public radio station KEDM to digital broadcasting was successful.
Whitty Hood, president of Ouachita Independent Bank, served as chairman of the committee that spearheaded KEDM's efforts to raise money for the digital conversion. He said the campaign was a success thanks to many local volunteers and supporters who gave their time and money to help KEDM.
Hood along with other KEDM officials and supporters will hold a news conference Monday, Feb. 2, at the University of Louisiana-Monroe to announce the successful conclusion of the KEDM Capital Fund Campaign, which will enable the public radio station to make the change to digital transmission.
Work to convert KEDM to digital broadcasting is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks. KEDM officials say the station should begin broadcasting digitally in March.
The fund-raising campaign began early last year after KEDM was awarded a $105,000 grant from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.
However, KEDM could access the grant funding only if the station could raise the rest of the money to pay for the $255,000-project to upgrade KEDM's equipment to digital broadcasting.
During that timeframe, Hood and other people involved in spearheading KEDM's digital conversion project sought help from Louisiana Economic Development Corp. LEDC agreed, acknowledging public radio plays a role in enhancing a community's quality of life, which economic development officials say is a plus in luring a new business or industrial prospect to a community.
Eventually, the Legislature appropriated $100,000 for KEDM's digital conversion project. The appropriation was included in state funding for ULM since ULM owns the license that allows KEDM to operate.
Hood said raising the remaining $50,000 needed to complete the digital conversion project was difficult. He said the last time KEDM tried to raise major money was 16 years ago when efforts first began to establish a local public radio station.
"When we first got public radio, northeast Louisiana was the last underserved area in the United States for public radio," Hood said.
Today, KEDM is the last public radio station in the state to undertake the process of upgrading to digital broadcasting.
"We seem to always run last, but we seem to always get it done," Hood said.
"Little did I know how hard it is to raise money for an unpassionate charity," Hood explained. "Cancer research or St. Jude's or the American Heart Association … those are what I call passionate charities. If you give money to one of those you keep someone from suffering.
"If you give to public radio, you buy a digital transmitter. How hard does that tug on your heartstrings? But low and behold, we chipped away and chipped away, even though there were times we didn't think we would make it.
"We got out on the street and knocked door to door and we were raising it by a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there."
While KEDM's digital conversion campaign was still ongoing, ULM administrators informed KEDM officials they must meet a deadline for bid specifications so the digital equipment could be on site by the end of the 2008.
ULM administrators said they would not advertise for bids unless KEDM had raised 90 percent of the money to complete the digital conversion project.
"We were $7,100 from that threshold where the university would let us put out bids for the equipment," Hood said. "We made phone calls and we got it by that Friday."
After that milestone was reached, the group was $15,000 shy of reaching its $255,000 goal. However, it was November, and the campaign had until the end of 2008 to raise the money. Otherwise, KEDM would lose the state funding and money from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris talked with Hood about the situation. Along with Tommy Usery of the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, a luncheon was held at the West Monroe Convention Center with about two dozen local business leaders.
After Hood and Norris talked to the group about KEDM's future, one person raised his hand and pledged $1,000. Then another pledged $1,000. And another. After that luncheon, the group had raised almost $14,000.
About a week later, CenturyTel donated several thousands of dollars, completing KEDM's digital conversion fundraising drive.
"And it's still coming in," Hood said.
"I'll be honest," Hood continued. "There were three or four times I thought we were defeated. But I am ecstatic the public has helped us preserve a jewel in the crown of northeast Louisiana."
Hood often sees new residents who come into OIB for a loan to buy a home or to open a checking account. They want to know about public education in the region. They also want to know about quality of life issues and if museums, theaters and different attractions exist in the community.
"They always ask if there is a public radio station in northeast Louisiana," Hood said. "I would hate to say, 'No, we don't have one of those.' I would really hate to say, 'We had one, but we lost it because we wouldn't support it.
"Bob Eisenstadt (ULM economist) said this: 'It's not so important that northeast Louisiana can say the region has a public radio station as it is to say the people of northeast Louisiana support the public radio station.'
"I felt certain that at some point in time, if we didn't make this conversion and upgrade the station, the Federal Communications Commission would not renew our license. The risk was there that we would lose public radio in northeast Louisiana."
The FCC has urged all public radio stations to upgrade to digital broadcasting.
Digital broadcasting means the station will send out a FM signal with static-free, crystal-clear reception and CD quality sound. Also, information such as artists' names, song titles, local weather alerts, school closings and emergency news bulletins will scroll across the display on a listener's digital radio.
KEDM is located on the campus of ULM. It has been northeast Louisiana's only public radio station for the past 16 years.