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Donna Robnett, Emily Ward, Scott Crichton and Susanna Girolamo (left to right), phone volunteers for Montana Public Radio fundraising week, train on computers earlier this week in the KUFM studios. The station is hoping to raise $610,000 in this year's annual spring fundraising effort.

Montana Public Radio aims to raise $610,000 during its spring pledge drive.

KUFM, founded at the University of Montana in 1965, is now broadcast in 12 communities around western and central Montana.

"We're planning for 50-plus people that will be working in three-person shifts for 18 hours a day," said Ray Ekness, the director of the Broadcast Media Center at UM.

The drive will start at 8 a.m. Sunday, April 7, and run through 10 p.m. Sunday, April 14.

The station's total budget in 2019 is $1.9 million, up from $1.825 million in 2018, according to Anne Hosler, the director of membership.

Of that $1.9 million, they project that listener and sponsor support will comprise 75 percent. Ekness said that federal support makes up about 10 percent of its budget and hasn't increased even though costs do — such as paying to use programs from National Public Radio, American Public Radio and the BBC. The state and UM support makes up 14 percent.

"So 75 to 76 percent of what we need to stay on the air and do all that we do — news, entertainment, music-wise — is listeners and sponsors," Ekness said.

Locally made programming, besides the myriad specialty music shows, includes the popular children's show, "Pea Green Boat," which has been on air for nearly 40 years. A program that passed the 25th anniversary mark is "Musician's Spotlight," where guitarist John Floridis does in-depth interviews with local and national acts. During pledge week, he'll host local ensemble Canta Brasil for a live session.

Sarah Aronson's "The Write Question" will feature an interview with Debra Magpie Earling, whose novel "Perma Red" is being made into a TV series and is Montana PBS' "Great Montana Read" for 2019.

MTPR has two news staff members in Missoula: Eric Whitney, news director; and Ed O'Brien, associate news director. Nick Mott is the interim reporter for the Flathead area. Corin Cates-Carney is based in Helena, and Nora Saks reports from Butte.

Saks' new podcast, "The Richest Hill on Earth," examines the legacy of mining on the people and landscape of Butte. It recently was described as a "must-listen" by the New Yorker.

"Richest Hill" follows several other series-length podcasts. Amy Martin's independently produced environmental series "Threshold," which is supported by the station and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, has won many awards. Most recently, its second season, "Cold Comfort" was cited as "best radio, audio or podcast coverage of international affairs" by the Overseas Press Club of America last month.

Nicky Ouellet's "SubSurface: Resisting Montana's Underwater Invaders," was the first in-house MTPR podcast. It focused on the issue of invasive species, quagga and zebra mussels, that threaten the state's bodies of water, and won a 2018 Kavli Science Journalism Award.

Hosler said podcasts are a natural fit, since many of the most popular national podcasts grew out of public radio, such as "This American Life" and "Serial." The station does them as staff and resources allow.

"We're learning from each one," Ekness said. "The nice part about that is that we also put them on the air, so it works for new audiences and audiences that want things on demand, and it's also working for our regular on-air listeners as well."

For now, the focus is on pledge week, which Hosler said is sometimes compared to a barn-raising.

"This is a week where we encourage people to participate," Hosler said. "The great thing about the station is we have no minimum membership. It truly is a community effort, everyone chipping in what they can to keep this station on the air. And I love that on the station. You get pledges of $12, you get pledges of $120, you get pledges of, you know, $1,200. It all makes a difference and it all gets pooled into that big fund so that we can keep this great service available for all of our listeners."

To donate, call 800-325-1565, or go to mtpr.org.

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