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Is WCBU in Danger of Losing its Home, Falling Under CPB Minimum Staffing Levels?

Peoria Public Radio station is facing a host of challenges

PEORIA, Ill. — The future of a public radio station licensed to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., is in question, according to an article reported by Steve Tarter for the Journal Star on May 22.

The pending demolition of its studio’s current location and a continued lack of investment have prompted some to ask what will happen to Peoria Public Radio’s WCBU(FM) after 2019.

According to the article, the worries extend beyond a lack of relocation plans (or at least a lack of disclosure of these plans) — significant in and of itself because of the challenges and costs of moving legacy equipment. This was confirmed by Bradley Communications professor Ed Lamoureux, who said that University President Gary Roberts told a University Senate meeting that the numbers for relocation didn’t look good, but alluded to exploration of other options, as well as potential tough decisions down the road.

WCBU is also experiencing the staffing pinch that confronts many other radio stations. Notably, the station’s broadcast engineer Bill Porter has served as the interim general manager for three years, in addition to his engineering duties for WCBU and sister station WTVP(TV). Additionally, the station is down to five full-time employees, after Operations Manager Daryl Scott left the station earlier in May; he had been with the station for 12 years, according to the Journal Star. There has also been turnover among the reporters at WCBU.

Some suggested that the answer to the station’s staffing challenges lies in tapping the student body and perhaps relocating to a building already housing the communications department. However, others noted that even the comms department has already de-emphasized the radio portion of its curriculum, and student labor is not a true replacement for committed and experienced staffers.

It’s important to note that five full-time employees is the minimum number required for stations to be eligible for Corporation of Public Broadcasting funding; what will happen if another employee departs the station? Also, keep in mind that comparable local public stations like WIUM(FM) and WGLT(FM) had 13 full-time staffers, Tarter reports.

In addition, WCBU’s financials don’t look good — the 2017 fiscal year ended down more than $600,000; the station’s operating budget is $1.1 million.

Unfortunately, WCBU is one of many stations, public and for-profit, to experience these issues. What will it take to reverse the trend?