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Free Speech Radio News returns on Feb. 11 with daily online updates

A little more than four months after ending production, the independent and non-profit daily Free Speech Radio News program is launching the first phase of its reboot with a new website and fresh updates on February 11. Administrative Coordinator Nell Abram said that the new site will feature daily updates, including audio segments ranging from one and a half minutes to five and a half minutes, along with text stories and photo essays.

She said the return is due to two developments. First, “we had a major funder come forward to finance a period of transition while we diversify our funding streams.” FSRN closed at the end of September when it ran out of funds as a result of being owed $198,000 by the Pacifica Foundation, which, as the program’s syndicator was also its primary funder.

The second factor is a successful year-end giving campaign. “We had a lot of support from individual donors,” Abram said. "It was quite moving, given we weren’t even creating a newscast.

“After January 1 we looked at all of that and concluded, first and foremost, we need to get some content out there again, especially for those individual donors who had written checks.”

With this first phase of the relaunch all segments and stories will be free to site visitors and for stations to use. As FSRN ramps up production it will move into a second phase with more consistently produced audio segments. However stations will be asked to pay in order to download and use them on air. Until then, “We can’t ask stations to commit their financial resources until we can commit to consistency,” Abram explained.

The third phase will be resumption of the full daily half-hour news broadcast. But in order to happen both the second and third phases will depend on growth in funding.

Abram said the new major funder came forward with a pledge “the day we went dark. But it took some time to have numerous conversations and discuss goals. He needed to make sure that we had what it would take to move the project forward.”

I asked her why this new funding couldn’t be used to keep the program in production back in September. “He didn’t want just to float us for a couple of months until Pacifica would hopefully come through.” If FSRN has used this donation just to stay in production, it would have only lasted a few months, delaying the shutdown rather than avoiding it. Instead the donor “wanted use to have the opportunity to do the work necessary to broaden our financial base.” FSRN used it as seed money to work towards a more sustainable model.

This donor asked FSRN to determine if affiliate stations would be able and willing to pay for carriage directly, rather than through Pacifica. Abram said that FSRN surveyed “a representative sample” of affiliate stations and found that out of 25 stations only 2 would not be interested in taking the program. “We have commitments in writing from a handful of stations,” she explained. “The other stations verbally committed to bringing us back, but they have to work through their own processes in order to make final commitments. The lion’s share of them were clear that they want FSRN back.”

Last fall FSRN established sliding scale carriage fees for 10 different tiers of stations based upon their total revenue. That will put the program in reach of LPFMs in addition to established full-power community stations. However, Abram acknowledged that most community stations are working with limited budgets for program acquisition, which means “a funding model that relies exclusively on station fees would require a major expansion of our carriage.”

Therefore FSRN is looking to build “a 3-legged funding stool upon which we might sit,” where station fees, individual donations and major funders would each make up a third of the total.

Right now FSRN is working with what Abram calls “a skeleton of a skeleton crew,” because the program was already functioning with a bare minimum number of staff before its closure last fall. Former staff member and long-time correspondent Shannon Young will be handling much of the content coordination from her home base in Mexico, while Abram covers most administrative duties. They will work with freelance correspondents to begin producing stories.

Stations and supporters can look forward to seeing the new FSRN site and content on the 11th.

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