BY SHERYL COHEN AND MARY BETH NEBEL
The latest information regarding the fate of Peoria Public Radio is that the station will cease to operate on Bradley University’s campus and will be “moved” to WGLT in Bloomington.
When WCBU’s facilities and day-to-day management move away from our community, the decades-old partnership between Bradley and the listening public will end. Bradley’s decision fails to acknowledge the public interest and financial support for WCBU. Bradley has also ignored the community’s investment and the University’s accountability for that investment.
National Public Radio (NPR), created in 1970, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in two years. In that era, NPR was a new-media concept, modeled as a public-private partnership whose non-profit business would set high standards for news, cultural, educational and non-commercial programming. WCBU, also known as Peoria Public Radio, is among NPR’s first local affiliates. Since its inception in 1970, WCBU has functioned as a public-private broadcaster committed to NPR’s philosophy and mission.
Public support from WCBU’s listening audience has been tremendous. The station reaches over 30,000 listeners daily, and over the years individuals and businesses have given millions in both monetary and in-kind donations. People who live elsewhere, but have a connection with central Illinois, also listen to the station online. WCBU listeners appreciate the wide variety of syndicated programs and value in-depth coverage of local news. Moreover, 85 percent of listeners surveyed nationwide believe that NPR programming is not biased and offers a balanced point of view and wide range of programs.
Bradley’s WCBU Decision Ignores Public Interest
Bradley’s actions regarding WCBU are extraordinarily disappointing. The general public only learned of Bradley’s decision to locally shutter WCBU in August. Yet, the university’s “plan” for this outcome began at least three years ago when two campus buildings (one of which houses the radio station) were set to be demolished to make way for the school’s business and engineering complex.
The architectural plans for the complex did not include any space for the radio station and transmission tower. This was not an oversight. Although we have learned that three on-campus sites were considered for WCBU’s relocation, Bradley concluded that any move on campus might be too expensive. No details have been released about these alternate sites, including relocation cost analyses for each of them. Bradley simply waited two-plus years to inform the public it was abandoning the station’s on-campus operations.
However, during this time, WCBU continued its local fundraising efforts and encouraged listeners and supporters to give generously to a radio station in transition.
Bradley funds only one-third of WCBU’s annual revenues. Local donations from individuals and corporations provide the remaining two-thirds of the station’s annual revenues. As such, we believe Bradley has a clear fiduciary responsibility to the public that provides its funding.
Allowing fundraising to continue while such uncertainty exists, and accepting nearly half a million dollars annually from the public without giving the public timely and comprehensive information does not put Bradley’s actions in a positive light. Bradley owes WCBU’s contributing members and underwriters an explanation. Bradley also should have given WCBU’s board and leadership team the opportunity and time to consider campaigns to fund a relocation effort either on campus or elsewhere in the Peoria community.
Bradley chose not to do any of these things.
Bradley Should Consider This Underwriter’s Perspective
Note: Mary Beth Nebel is the small business owner and operator of I Know You Like A Book, a retail bookstore in Peoria Heights.
Over the past 12 years, my bookstore has been an underwriter of Peoria Public Radio. Underwriting on Peoria Public Radio is valuable to me and to other local small business owners. I served as a member of WCBU’s Associate Board for six years and have contributed as a member of the Tower Society. You can imagine my disappointment when Gary Roberts, Bradley University president, visited my bookstore in late October and stated that no one under the age of 60 had complained about his decision to remove WCBU from Bradley’s campus.
Apparently, lack of complaints from those aged 59 and under has given Roberts validation to abandon the station.
Ironically, the demise of WCBU is occurring at a time when National Public Radio is experiencing a surge in listeners. NPR broadcasters are extraordinarily popular and are regular commentators on national news programs and as guest speakers at public events. NPR is the largest producer of podcasts in the nation. Podcasts have become a vital communication tool for young listeners who are technology savvy. NPR has focused on bringing young people into the fold by promoting “Generation Listen,” an initiative for young people to share the importance of listening through all sorts of social media platforms.
Bradley fails to understand that it receives national recognition whenever a news story or an event originates from this area. In April of 2016, “Morning Edition” (one of NPR’s flagship programs) broadcast live from I Know You Like A Book. (I still receive comments from out-of-town visitors who heard that particular program). NPR personalities such as Diane Rehm and David Greene have made appearances here and have promoted the station and Bradley on their programs. Story Corps gave Peorians the opportunity to record their personal stories for radio archives.
Bradley has apparently made a unilateral decision that radio broadcasting does not enhance its academic offerings. Synergies between radio and online communications, as well as technology, engineering, business and marketing should be explored.
Finally, some may say the radio station’s fundraising campaigns detract from the University’s fundraising efforts. This should not be an “us against them” situation. The station’s very existence gives Bradley a national connection, and WCBU’s fundraising actually raises community awareness of Bradley. We cannot assume that contributors to WCBU will automatically reallocate their gift giving to Bradley.
Make a difference: Voice your concerns.
To contact Bradley directly about WCBU, call or email the office of the president: Swords Hall 200,
(309) 677-3167; firstname.lastname@example.org.