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'Perfect storm': CKUA must raise $3M by end of September to stay open

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CKUA Radio has been a staple of Edmonton airwaves for almost 100 years, but that could soon come to an end. A "perfect storm" of financial pressures is threatening the future of the independent radio station, and they need an emergency cash infusion to stay afloat.

"We must raise $3 million by Sept. 30," CEO Marc Carnes said Wednesday. If the funds aren’t raised, he says, the station may be forced to close.

CKUA was the first public broadcaster in Canada, and is one of the leading voices of independent radio in Edmonton. The station provides a platform for arts, culture and music programming. They are also home to a 100-year archive and music collection, rated as one of the finest in North America.

In recent years, the station has battled rising inflation costs, utility rates and the cost of modernizing their technical systems. CKUA says they have managed costs, and outpaced the commercial radio market in Alberta. But there are additional stresses the station is facing.

In January, a burst pipe in the building's sprinkler system flooded a portion of CKUA's music library. Remediation and rebuilding is still ongoing.

CKUA owns the Alberta Hotel, which they broadcast from. When they purchased the property, they planned to use rental payments, in addition to government funding and public donations, to fund the non-profit radio station and music library and repay loans. Over the last 18 months, the building was fully occupied. By last summer, it was half empty. After their main tenant became insolvent, revenue disappeared.

"A lot of buildings in downtown, and especially in this part of downtown Edmonton are worth about 50% of what they were a couple of years ago," said Carnes. "We don't think we can actually get the value of the building for which we owe the loan... and that's a $2 million moving cost for us to step into operations centres in new studios and all that. We can't afford to take that hit either."

Carnes said CKUA has reached out to multiple levels of government for funding, with little success.

"We had very good conversations with the Minister of Culture, Tanya Fir. Unfortunately we were not put into the budget. It's a little disheartening."

Carnes says the federal government previously failed to match the city and province when they contributed $5 million to build the Alberta Hotel. He says the $500 000 dollars the feds donated has contributed to their current financial stress, as CKUA had to foot the rest of the bill itself.

"When we started this process of talking with the federal government a year ago, we were told we can't give you any money because we fund the CBC," continues Carnes. "We've seen all the relief that they're providing to Bell Media. We're seeing relief go to private media all over the place."

Bell Media is the parent company of CTV News.

CKUA says their listeners previously saved the station in 1997, when it was decommissioned by the Government of Alberta.

The fundraising campaign will begin on Friday. CKUA says its fundraising plan will grow and diversify revenue leading up to the station's centennial in 2027. The $3 million dollars they're asking for now is to cover the immediate financial pressures.

Donations can be made by visiting their website.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson

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