Will Bradley University’s vital NPR radio station, WCBU-FM, survive as it is, or is it ultimately doomed to morph into a second WGLT or worse?
That’s the question, but there are no clear answers yet.
WCBU, branded as Peoria Public Radio, has 30,000 listeners who like its news and talk shows on one HD channel, and 24-hour classical music on the other HD channel.
Bradley’s administration announced last summer that they were demolishing WCBU’s studios in Jobst Hall to make way for a new building which would have no room for the station.
Why? Because it’s too expensive to move the old equipment, and Bradley is tired of paying about $300,000 a year to subsidizing the station’s expenses. “It’s not sustainable,” they said, but have not released any documents on the station’s finances aside from the required reports.
So Bradley is negotiating a “partnership” with WGLT-FM at Illinois State University in Bloomington/Normal. The theory is that WCBU can broadcast on WGLT’s infrastructure, saving money. Bradley will retain the FCC license to use the public airways, according to the university. The license must be renewed by December, 2020.
At a recent meeting, WGLT’s manager, R.C. McBride, said WCBU will not change its programming or branding. But Bradley negotiator Zack Gorman in interviews has ducked programming questions and said changes likely will occur.
When the concern that WCBU would leave Peoria came up at a recent Peoria City Council meeting, the council quickly voted to support the station and keep it in Peoria.
The contract between the two universities will tell the final tale. Since ISU is a public university the document will be available to the public. That’s when 30,000 WCBU listeners will know whether their favorite programs will survive or vanish.
The Save Peoria Public Radio ad hoc group wants the contract to be made public as soon as it is finalized.
Requiring the trustees of the two universities to vote on whether to accept it would also indicate transparency for this change in the use of the public’s airways.
The ISU trustees next meet 9 a.m. Feb. 22 in the Bone Student Center on the campus. An agenda item allows the public to speak.
The Bradley trustees meet in Chicago at the private Union League Club on Feb. 7. There’s likely no way to speak with them there. Bradley’s lack of transparency on the NPR station’s fate has generated concern from the station’s listeners, donors and underwriters.
Like the City Council, the station’s supporters want WCBU to stay in Peoria, preferably as a community radio station.
They will wait to see what happens to the station. Final alternatives that could be pursued to save Peoria Public Radio include forming a not-for-profit organization to collect money to challenge the FCC license.
The Facebook page Save Peoria Public Radio has updates and comments on the ongoing drama.
Elaine Hopkins, Peoria