Is WEFT a Sinking Ship?
By: Sandra Ahten
Sandra Ahten is an artist and activist as well as a business owner and grandmother. Her primary community work is primarily around both prison issues and independent media.
Disclaimer: Although I am on the Board of Directors for WEFT, this is my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Board of Directors, staff or volunteers for WEFT/Prairie Air Incorporated.
Community radio station WEFT 90.1FM is, as I write, in the midst of our $20,000 fall pledge drive. Combined with the spring drive, fundraisers, gifts from supporters, underwriting from local businesses and about $3000 from the Illinois Arts Council we might get to the $125,000 needed to keep us out of red ink next year. WEFT has roughly $33,000 in the bank but has operated about $15,000 in the red for the last two years, meaning we have two years to turn the ship around before the building (which we own) would (likely) have to be sold.
I’m gonna hit you with a little more doom and gloom before I tell you why we are not a sinking ship and why you should care.
WEFT has two big problems. One is the same one that every community radio station is facing: how to stay relevant in the era of options like Satellite radio and “on demand listening” –Pandora, Soundcloud, podcasts, etc, etc. The other is a dirty little secret that is much harder to address. WEFT has weathered some rough personnel issues. It’s not easy to keep 80+ volunteers, many with strong wills and strong voices, happy. A very high tolerance for disrespect has caused good volunteers to disengage or became just minimally involved over the years.
Now the (really) good news!
Lainey Emmons has been employed with WEFT since April, and got a vote of confidence in August from the Board of Directors that propelled her into an interim Station Manager position. This despite the fact that she had little radio experience. Why? Lainey proved herself to be a bridge builder, and the board had committed to “making the volunteer experience a positive experience.” Lainey has a Master’s degree with a focus on volunteer management and sponsorship attainment. She is putting her positive attitude, fresh energy, vision, determination, fundraising, and exceptional organizational and analytical skills to work for WEFT. The recent success of WEFTfest (our 35th birthday party which was co-sponsored by Seven Saints) is just one example.
Working her magic with attaining new volunteers and interns and connecting with existing volunteers, Lainey has launched SOUNDhouse Concerts, a monthly friend-raiser/fundraiser series being held to spotlight another non-profit each month in addition to WEFT.
You don’t need to be near your radio. Anyone can listen on their smart device. I do so using the “Tunein” app. Many public affairs programs are available through the WEFT podcast subscription, including the weekly five-minute shows from Black Lives Matter and Amy Hassinger’s The Literary Life. In addition, we have an association with WRFU 104.5 FM and with UPTV (cable channel 6), which air a handful of WEFT programs on their broadcast and YouTube channels. One of those programs is CU Progressive News, which is produced in association with the Public i.
But what about music?
Because of royalty issues we cannot have music podcasts, so that great Surfabilly show had to be caught live or it was lost forever. But no longer! Now you can listen to each and every WEFT program for up to two weeks through the Radio Free America link from www.weft.org. WEFT volunteers are keeping the Monday night WEFT Sessions tradition going with a live music in the building every Monday night at 10pm… also replayed on UPTV and youtube.
Community radio is exceptional and worth saving. You may have a dozen ways to listen to Democracy Now! But it’s rare that one who is not in the know will stumble across it, as I did as I tuned into WEFT to hear that great mix of commercial-free locally-grown eclectic music. That and listening to WEFT’s Saturday morning lineup helped shape my political views. That’s why I love WEFT. Others love it for the blues, jazz, world music, the poetry, the passion. I urge you to listen and (re)discover why you love WEFT.
A few years ago the station lost its Corporation for Public Broadcast grant because the CPB moved toward funding larger or consolidated stations. WEFT was not able to meet the base amount that CPB would then match. Some of us have a dream that we will one day be able to get that match again. We are scheming and planning! But in the meantime we are relying on you to keep us on the air through a one-time or monthly donation. (www.weft.org/donate).
WEFT history and future
WEFT had its beginnings in 1975, as community members began work to create a new radio station. In 1980 WEFT began to broadcast on the local cable TV network and acquired studio space at 113 N. Market Street in Champaign. On September 26, 1981, WEFT went on the air as an FM radio station, broadcasting at 90.1 FM. Initially WEFT was a less than 1,000-watt station.
In 1988, WEFT acquired a 10,000-watt transmitter and began to broadcast in stereo. This move extended the broadcast coverage area significantly, with the signal reaching up to 40 miles. In 1991, WEFT/Prairie Air Inc. purchased the building at 113 N. Market Street and within 9 years paid off the mortgage.
We plan to keep evolving. It’s the board’s plan to keep WEFT a “terrestrial” station and not go off the air or go to an internet-only station. It’s our intention to do that without losing the building. But there are no guarantees in these ever-changing times. We urge you to follow us on Facebook (WEFT Community Radio) and Twitter and listen as often as possible so you can stay tuned in as we continue to steer the ship toward our goals. If you would like to be on our Community Advisory Board or get involved in any capacity, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-398-9066.