But is “Issues, etc.” cost-effective?

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has finally released information about why its radio show “Issues, Etc.” was cancelled. According to the statement’, the church-owned radio station KFUO has been losing money on the show, and viewership numbers were not enough to justify the expense:

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. . . .

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. . . .

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. 

The figures–which are three years old–do not include, however, the main way people listen to radio on the internet: not streaming but downloading. In the last three-month quarter, the show was downloaded 480,000 times. (See this for the number-crunching and this for a comparison of “Issues” downloads compared to KFUO’s other shows to gauge its relative popularity.) Figuring the cost of the show as given in the LCMS statement, this calculation finds the cost comes to 13 cents per download, less than the cost of a printed flyer.

For more responses and information about the grass roots uprising over the “Issues,” go here.

Meanwhile, here is an attempt to privatize “Issues.”

Also, fans suffering “Issues” withdrawal should know about Radical Grace, a similar radio and downloadable program that is already privately operated but hits the same themes as “Issues.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • WebMonk

    While the numbers are interesting and do seem quite dismal, it would be good to see how some of those costs are calculated and where the Issues costs were so much higher than any of the other programs. In ’07-’08 the total station deficit was $621K and Issues made up $248.3K of that. Why? Was it just because they were putting it into a prime slot that cost more than other non-prime spots?

    If the costs truly are too high, surely there are ways to limit the costs short of canceling the program. As an Internet-only production, it may not be quite as widely disseminated, but it would be radically cheaper and still be downloaded almost 2 million times.

    Just thoughts.

  • WebMonk

    While the numbers are interesting and do seem quite dismal, it would be good to see how some of those costs are calculated and where the Issues costs were so much higher than any of the other programs. In ’07-’08 the total station deficit was $621K and Issues made up $248.3K of that. Why? Was it just because they were putting it into a prime slot that cost more than other non-prime spots?

    If the costs truly are too high, surely there are ways to limit the costs short of canceling the program. As an Internet-only production, it may not be quite as widely disseminated, but it would be radically cheaper and still be downloaded almost 2 million times.

    Just thoughts.

  • Carl Vehse

    All of these links and similar ones bring up another question that should start being addressed -

    Is David Strand’s job “cost-effective”?

  • Carl Vehse

    All of these links and similar ones bring up another question that should start being addressed -

    Is David Strand’s job “cost-effective”?

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    How about this for some crucial questions for Mr. Strand that turn his “financial reasons” on their head?

    http://weedon.blogspot.com/2008/03/some-questions-that-arise.html

  • http://lutheransandcontraception.blogspot.com Erich Heidenreich, DDS

    How about this for some crucial questions for Mr. Strand that turn his “financial reasons” on their head?

    http://weedon.blogspot.com/2008/03/some-questions-that-arise.html

  • Marc

    I know we are supposed to give our Christian brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt, and put the best construction on decisions made. However, this “explanation” – just like the first two – doesn’t hold water.

    This relies on the economics of broadcasting. What part of economics science dictates that the entire KFUO website would be purged of all references to Issues, Etc. the day of the firing? (To be replaced with a prominent picture of G. Kieschnick?)

    Since when do missions rely on the same economics as taught in business school? I’ll have to remember that lesson next time LCMS asks for resources for “Ablaze!”(TM). If the fiscal situation was so dire, why not inform the listening public beforehand?

    And finally, as referenced by Dr. Veith, WAY fishy is the selective, manipulative data given by Mr. Strand.

    Carl Vehse is correct: is it Mr. Strand, not Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwartz, who should be losing his job. He is either amazingly incompetent for a communications professional, or he is doing the devil’s work. Both are firing offenses.

  • Marc

    I know we are supposed to give our Christian brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt, and put the best construction on decisions made. However, this “explanation” – just like the first two – doesn’t hold water.

    This relies on the economics of broadcasting. What part of economics science dictates that the entire KFUO website would be purged of all references to Issues, Etc. the day of the firing? (To be replaced with a prominent picture of G. Kieschnick?)

    Since when do missions rely on the same economics as taught in business school? I’ll have to remember that lesson next time LCMS asks for resources for “Ablaze!”(TM). If the fiscal situation was so dire, why not inform the listening public beforehand?

    And finally, as referenced by Dr. Veith, WAY fishy is the selective, manipulative data given by Mr. Strand.

    Carl Vehse is correct: is it Mr. Strand, not Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwartz, who should be losing his job. He is either amazingly incompetent for a communications professional, or he is doing the devil’s work. Both are firing offenses.

  • http://www.spongobongo.com/ Barry O’Connell

    I spoke with President Kieschnick when he called me late Easter Sunday night. He was defensive at first but when we got talking it became very obvious that he thought of KFUO as a small Saint Louis station and KFUO as a local show. I tried to explain downloads and iTunes but he showed no sign of understanding.

    If he had the sophistication to use the strength of Issues with the mission of Ablaze he might have a far more successful Presidency. Sadly he lacks the vision to be much more than a stumbling block for many of us.
    By the way I know who you are Dr. Veith mostly through Issues Etc…
    Best wishes,
    Barry O’Connell

  • http://www.spongobongo.com/ Barry O’Connell

    I spoke with President Kieschnick when he called me late Easter Sunday night. He was defensive at first but when we got talking it became very obvious that he thought of KFUO as a small Saint Louis station and KFUO as a local show. I tried to explain downloads and iTunes but he showed no sign of understanding.

    If he had the sophistication to use the strength of Issues with the mission of Ablaze he might have a far more successful Presidency. Sadly he lacks the vision to be much more than a stumbling block for many of us.
    By the way I know who you are Dr. Veith mostly through Issues Etc…
    Best wishes,
    Barry O’Connell

  • Richard Lewer

    Someone calculated that the cost is about 13 cents per download. That is an hour of evangelism for 13 cents that goes anywhere in the world and is shared with other people after the download. Mr. Strand is either ignorant or is deliberately distorting the facts to get rid of the program.
    None of this explains why it had to be done immediately with no warning.

  • Richard Lewer

    Someone calculated that the cost is about 13 cents per download. That is an hour of evangelism for 13 cents that goes anywhere in the world and is shared with other people after the download. Mr. Strand is either ignorant or is deliberately distorting the facts to get rid of the program.
    None of this explains why it had to be done immediately with no warning.

  • http://www.google.com Herman Schmeling

    I would be very interested in hearing more from Mr. O’Connell. Did I read your note correctly, Mr. O’Connell? Gerald Kieschnick actually called you on the phone? Wow.

    Can you share more about the conversation?

  • http://www.google.com Herman Schmeling

    I would be very interested in hearing more from Mr. O’Connell. Did I read your note correctly, Mr. O’Connell? Gerald Kieschnick actually called you on the phone? Wow.

    Can you share more about the conversation?

  • JennaT

    It is increasingly astonishing to me, as this whole debacle goes forward, how condescending those responsible for the cancellation are toward us! Do they think we were born yesterday? If, in fact, Issues was such a financial disaster for the station, would we not have heard Pastor Wilken pleading for funds for months prior to such a cancellation? There were adds reminding listeners that it was a “listener supported” program and reminding people of how they could lend there support, but none of them sounded urgent…more like friendly reminders. Had I, a regular listener via live streaming and podcasting, suspected there was any sense of urgency I would have immediately upped my contribution. Now I am ashamed to say I had taken the show for granted.

    The level of condescension (and even deceit?) is bordering on the absurd! I would expect this from the corporate world but find it insulting and outrageous from an organization who claims the salvation of souls as its primary motive. Continued pressure needs to be placed on Mr. Strand and Pres. Kieshnick as well as continued prayers for them and the hosts. Thank you, Dr. Veith for keeping it at the forefront of people’s minds and for the links.

  • JennaT

    It is increasingly astonishing to me, as this whole debacle goes forward, how condescending those responsible for the cancellation are toward us! Do they think we were born yesterday? If, in fact, Issues was such a financial disaster for the station, would we not have heard Pastor Wilken pleading for funds for months prior to such a cancellation? There were adds reminding listeners that it was a “listener supported” program and reminding people of how they could lend there support, but none of them sounded urgent…more like friendly reminders. Had I, a regular listener via live streaming and podcasting, suspected there was any sense of urgency I would have immediately upped my contribution. Now I am ashamed to say I had taken the show for granted.

    The level of condescension (and even deceit?) is bordering on the absurd! I would expect this from the corporate world but find it insulting and outrageous from an organization who claims the salvation of souls as its primary motive. Continued pressure needs to be placed on Mr. Strand and Pres. Kieshnick as well as continued prayers for them and the hosts. Thank you, Dr. Veith for keeping it at the forefront of people’s minds and for the links.

  • Mary Ann

    The statement put forth by the synod goes a long way toward showing us why this move away from traditional Lutheranism and into a business model for seeker sensitivity is a disasterous trend.

  • Mary Ann

    The statement put forth by the synod goes a long way toward showing us why this move away from traditional Lutheranism and into a business model for seeker sensitivity is a disasterous trend.

  • Eric Weatherly

    Ananias and Sapphira would be proud of our beloved Synod!

  • Eric Weatherly

    Ananias and Sapphira would be proud of our beloved Synod!

  • David Zierke

    They forgot to calculate the increased book sales at CHP resulting from exposure on the program.

    Any estimate how much work was lifted from other pastors because laypeople had some questions answered through the program?

    What is the appropriate finders fee for encouraging people into professional church work? Any estimate of how many pastors went to seminary as a result of the program? Sunday school teachers?

  • David Zierke

    They forgot to calculate the increased book sales at CHP resulting from exposure on the program.

    Any estimate how much work was lifted from other pastors because laypeople had some questions answered through the program?

    What is the appropriate finders fee for encouraging people into professional church work? Any estimate of how many pastors went to seminary as a result of the program? Sunday school teachers?

  • Carl Vehse

    Doncha know? Those numbers go into the credit columns for PLI or Ablaze!(tm).

  • Carl Vehse

    Doncha know? Those numbers go into the credit columns for PLI or Ablaze!(tm).

  • Patrick Kyle

    This blog post shows how the LCMS Foundation, that took over the fundraising for Issues Etc. charged them 40% of whatever they raised as a fee.

    http://adelphoitouchristou.typepad.com/savethelcms/2008/03/lcms-foundation.html

    In addition to this I was told that the LCMS Foundation raised less money than when the radio station did old fashioned pledge drives.

    So you have a Synodical apparatus raising less money and charging an exhorbitant fee to do so

  • Patrick Kyle

    This blog post shows how the LCMS Foundation, that took over the fundraising for Issues Etc. charged them 40% of whatever they raised as a fee.

    http://adelphoitouchristou.typepad.com/savethelcms/2008/03/lcms-foundation.html

    In addition to this I was told that the LCMS Foundation raised less money than when the radio station did old fashioned pledge drives.

    So you have a Synodical apparatus raising less money and charging an exhorbitant fee to do so

  • organshoes

    The Board attributes a highly un-missional purpose to KFUO and its programming.
    I’m becoming disillusioned by our Synod’s missionalism.
    And what’s a little church like ours to do, when don’t get much bang-for-the-buck either? Most Sundays, just a handful of sinners in the pews.
    What are we doing wrong? What would they do to our doors, if they could?

  • organshoes

    The Board attributes a highly un-missional purpose to KFUO and its programming.
    I’m becoming disillusioned by our Synod’s missionalism.
    And what’s a little church like ours to do, when don’t get much bang-for-the-buck either? Most Sundays, just a handful of sinners in the pews.
    What are we doing wrong? What would they do to our doors, if they could?


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