This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: May 5, 2005

Carole Smith Petro is associate vice president and general manager of WBFO 88.7, UB's National Public Radio affiliate.

What are some of the challenges you face running a public radio station, as opposed to a commercial station?
Public radio listening has been rising steadily in recent years, while commercial radio listening has declined. The primary challenges to public radio—many of which we share with commercial radio—are technological changes that present opportunities for us to serve our listeners better by responding to their individual preferences. The innovations that quickly are becoming a reality include satellite radio, which is a subscription service; podcasting, which ultimately may allow people to fashion their own preferred radio service that they listen to on their timetable; multicasting—also known as Tomorrow Radio—which permits a station to stream two or more programming schedules on the same spectrum; and, of course, online listening, which might help attract younger listeners, too. Meeting some of these challenges will require a substantial financial investment by our donors, as well as government agencies, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Don't you get tired of the fund raising?
Quite the contrary! The entire WBFO staff is inspired and reinvigorated by the generosity of its 7,500 members, as well as by their frequent words of praise and encouragement, particularly during fund raisers. Successful fund raising requires strategic thinking, responsiveness to donor and listener feedback, first-rate marketing research and detailed analyses of the results. It is never "same old, same old." The WBFO staff spends considerable time planning the mix of on-air and direct-mail efforts, as well as major-gift and planned-giving solicitations. Even more time is devoted to developing the substance of the specific messages we want to convey and setting the tone and temper of the overall effort.

What role do volunteers play at WBFO?
Volunteers have performed the full gamut of roles over the 46 years since WBFO was founded by UB engineering students under the guidance of faculty. WBFO has a volunteer advisory board composed of 18 loyal and committed public radio devotees. They provide invaluable advice and feedback, serve as knowledgeable advocates and contribute substantial funding. Several on-air personalities are volunteers—some for as long as a couple decades—and their voices provide texture and nuance to our on-air sound. In addition, volunteers are essential to our on-air fund-raising activities, answering phones and serving as a community interface to our callers.

WBFO recently converted its broadcast facilities to a digital system. What exactly does that mean, and how did the station—and its listeners—benefit?
Simply put, we have replaced all manual board transactions in the studios, as well as manual editing of on-air material, with computer operations. In addition, the signals—incoming and outgoing—now are transmitted over fiber-optic cable. As a result, listeners are receiving a clearer and cleaner sound, with fewer interruptions and smoother transitions. We now meet the highest sound standards of National Public Radio. In addition, all four of our studios have total production capability, and on-air personnel have greater flexibility in the selection of programming options and greater ease in board operations.

How does WBFO decide what programs to subscribe to?
Carefully! These decisions are crucial to the type of service we hope to provide. There are more than 300 programs offered for national distribution by National Public Radio, Public Radio International, individual public radio stations and other distribution entities. We select programs that are responsive to the core values of public radio listeners, such as love of lifelong learning, substance, curiosity, honesty, respect for the listener, credibility and accuracy—all of which were identified through considerable research. We avoid "experimentation" and frequent programming changes. It takes a long time to build audience loyalty for a show, and listeners in general prefer a reliable service rather than variation. Cost is another factor, although not necessarily a determinant.

What are the station's most popular shows?
Our locally produced weekend blues shows rank among the top, along with "Car Talk" and "Morning Edition" from NPR, and our listener commentary series, which elicits a tremendous amount of reaction. "All Things Considered" and "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" also are very popular. A substantial core of listeners cite our locally produced jazz shows, under music director Bert Gambini, as favorites. As one of only three local radio stations that still produce local news, our listeners consistently express their gratitude and appreciation for our highly rated news team, which Mark Scott leads and which just won six New York State Associated Press awards.

What's your personal favorite?
I'm a typical public radio "junkie," and I'm wild about "Car Talk."

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
How does WBFO benefit the University at Buffalo, and vice versa? Reaching more than 100,000 listeners each week in Buffalo/Niagara, Southern Ontario and the Southern Tier, WBFO provides a public service that is recognized and appreciated by large segments of the community, and enhances the university's image in the public's eye. UB's name is mentioned nearly 9,000 times each year as part of our hourly ID; and more importantly, "Ubeat" and "UB Edition" inform our audiences about the accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students, and the many educational and cultural opportunities at UB that are open to the public. In a word, we are a window on the university. To WBFO's advantage, UB gives the station about 16 percent of its annual operating revenues, as well as the use of Allen Hall and associated infrastructure benefits.