by Lori Serb
WEFT has been a terrestrial radio station since 1981. WEFT began webcasting in 2007. WEFT contributes to artist royalties through both of these avenues. A snapshot of recent programming includes a live set by electric blues guitarist Cash McCall, a wedding officiated in the studio on air, and the world premiere of a previously unknown and unheard recording of a 1964 speech given in London by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These in addition to locally produced weekly public affairs programs like “Disability Beat,” “The Prairie Monk” and “Smile Politely Radio” distinguish WEFT from anything else on the radio dial.
The WEFT program grid is voted on by a group of elected members that make up the Programming Committee. Our foundation building blocks of Jazz, Blues and World music each make up at least 10 hours of programming a week; but each program is created by an individual producer called an airshifter, who has wisdom, experience and passion that influence their choices of material from a wide variety of sources to make each program very distinct from another in the same genre. WEFT’s diverse programming schedule would not be possible if the station was part of a media conglomerate that dictates programming from the top down.
I accepted the Station Manager position on July 1, 2014, after being an active volunteer for 17 years. I was originally drawn to WEFT’s unique soundscape and driven by a desire to contribute to the public affairs and music programming offered. In the process, I have expanded my knowledge of the local community and the global community I am part of.
WEFT has a modest operating budget of $110,753. Finding new sources of funding for our basic operating expenses is a top priority as WEFT moves forward into a new era without 60% of our budget coming from one grant. WEFT is one of a growing number of Community Radio stations no longer receiving money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, due to its modified requirements that stations raise a non-federal income level of $300,000 to be eligible for $71,000 from the CPB. And while we have received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council last year, applicants this year were recently informed that there will be less money available for Fiscal Year 2016 awards.
In October WEFT began to have transmitter trouble. On October 26, our transmitter suddenly failed and WEFT was off the air. The station’s transmitter, replaced in 2008, was assessed by volunteers, and the decision was made to purchase two essential circuit boards, costing $2000, and WEFT was back on the air the evening of Halloween.
We again went off the air in November, due to different equipment failing in the broadcasting chain to the transmitter. We were able get our signal back on the air, but more problems in the broadcasting chain and at the transmitter were identified, including a need to improve the cooling system. Our Power To The Tower campaign began in December and so far has raised $13,000.
To illustrate that WEFT community radio is truly powered by the people, listeners who contribute to the Power To The Tower campaign are being recognized by name on our website. This month we were able to use a large portion of that money raised to purchase one of the four power supply units that need to be replaced. When the weather warms up we will need to repair the transmitter de-icer; the damage area could be anywhere up to 325 feet up the antenna. Back on the ground, the 10kW Transmitter, which requires large amounts of electrical power, generates a lot of heat, which is taxing the room’s current cooling system.
WEFT will kick off our Spring Pledge Drive on March 29. While we had many discussions, we ultimately decided to keep the annual membership at $40. To meet our budget without the CPB grant, WEFT needs 733 financial contributions from listeners at our Frequency Level of $90.10. We need to double our Community Partner pool of local businesses that underwrite programming. We are exploring other financial possibilities in The Center for Car Donations program, grants and fundraising events.
WEFT will be a venue participating in the 13th Annual Boneyard Arts Festival, with scheduled tours of the station on Friday April 10 and Saturday April 11. WEFT will be in the second week of our Spring Pledge Drive at that time, and I see the tours as an opportunity to meet many of our supporters in person, and for them to share their fondest WEFT memories. More details will be available soon.
WEFT’s 24/7 artistic contributions are enjoyed by the ears, but during the 13th Annual Boneyard Arts Festival weekend, visitors to WEFT can indulge in the visual artistry of WEFT. We will have a lot of memorabilia on display around the station from our 34 years of broadcasting. These include original pieces by local artist and longtime airshifter Edli B’n Hadd, host of “Incoming Wounded,” presenting experimental soundscapes to the airwaves every Sunday from 12 a.m. until 5 a.m. If you have been a financial supporter of WEFT over the years, you probably own at least one of his memorable WEFT t-shirts.
Our other featured artist is WEFT Courier host Doug Olive. Every third Saturday of the month, from 1-2 p.m., Doug takes a look at political theory and its sociology during “Speaking of Democracy.” As a visual artist, Doug is inspired by landscapes and works with acrylic and pastels, and will also be displaying some of his photography at the station.
Many art pieces, including some retro WEFT t-shirts, will be available for purchase, with a portion of all proceeds going directly to WEFT’s basic operating expenses.
While WEFT is currently focused on the immediate future and reflecting on how far we have come, I would very much like WEFT to move forward in the direction of making our quality programming accessible anytime through podcasts. I would like to renovate our back studio to allow for more on-site radio production and training capabilities for the community; and to develop a local newsroom to better serve our local listening community. I hope our listeners will join me in rolling up our sleeves and giving time, money and skills to make these dreams a reality.