Naked City

Second Verse, Same As the First

Naked City

Remember that business about the Austin Music Network becoming self-sufficient within three years? Not going to happen, according to City Financial Officer Betty Dunkerley. That announcement came as the City Council considered an item giving an extra $350,000 to the network -- which, despite showing signs of improvement in both quality and advertising revenue, is failing to meet its projections, and was before the council asking for money for the second time in its short life.

The original contract between AMN and the city gave the station $500,000 in its first year, $200,000 in its second, $100,000 in its third, and no more after that. But during its first year, the station ran through the first $500,000 and got an advance on its second year's money, for a total so far of $700,000. With the additional $350,000, AMN will have spent $1,050,000 in its first two years.

The news perplexed council members, who noted a marked trend toward city subsidy -- not self-sufficiency -- in the network's finances. This was confirmed by Dunkerley, who had apparently re-imagined the relationship between AMN and the city without consulting the council. Self-sufficiency "was the goal originally," said Dunkerley, but "I think I've changed my goal now to having the smallest subsidy from the general fund possible. I don't think they'll be able to be self-sustaining at the level of quality we want."

If council members didn't balk at Dunkerley's pronouncement, that's probably because it was basically in line with the mandate previously expressed by the mayor, and approved by the rest of the council, that the question wasn't whether the city supported the Austin Music Network, but how. The only council member who dissented against this opinion and voted against the increased funding was Willie Lewis, who argued that if the Music Network couldn't meet the terms of its original contract with the council, it should shut down.

Dunkerley defended AMN, saying the city was getting more for its money due to the marked increase in quality since the network became independent from city management. And she said that although the music channel had made only $50,000 in the last six months, that was still four times what it had brought in over the preceding seven months.

AMN's Rick Melchior said that although progress was much slower than he had hoped, "we are meeting the benchmarks we need to meet" to reach self-sufficiency. He said he wasn't surprised at the council's continued support, because "other than [making quick progress toward self-sufficiency], we're delivering on everything the council wanted us to do. We're strengthening the music industry in this city."

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