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Illinois Public Media General Manager Mark Leonard announced today steps the organization’s leadership will take to address ongoing budget concerns and ensure that Illinois Public Media is sustainable in a new financial and technological environment. Changes include:
· Elimination of nine staff positions
· Phasing out the weather department, resulting in the elimination of in-house forecasts for WILL Radio and WILL-TV. Weather reports and severe weather coverage will continue, provided by regular radio staff using National Weather Service information.
· A change in format for WILL-FM, which will become a dual-format radio station April 1, adding news programs from National Public Radio to its classical music line-up, while expanding classical music on the weekends and retaining its locally produced music programs
· Shifting WILL-AM staff responsibilities to provide more in-depth coverage of local issues, informed by outreach projects in the community
· Addition of three staff positions, including a Web developer, in critical areas or areas with potential for revenue growth
The changes are a continuation of a reorganization, begun last summer, designed to make Illinois Public Media competitive as the Web and other new technologies are playing increasingly larger roles in media, Leonard said. “We cannot continue to do things the way we’ve done them in the past,” he said. “If we do, we’re spreading ourselves too thin across too many projects. And we’ll miss the opportunities that technology offers to provide public media in new ways.”
In addition, Illinois Public Media is making changes to ensure that its services can continue in a time of shrinking state support, he said.
Illinois Public Media has been operating with a deficit during the current fiscal year as a result of $110,000 in budget cuts from the Illinois Arts Council that were announced in October, he said. Since 2006, Illinois Public Media’s annual arts council funding has decreased by more than $280,000, and the overall state funding picture continues to be bleak. “We’re cutting deeply enough with these changes that we hope no more cuts will be needed next year,” Leonard said. “In the past, as our state funding decreased, we’ve relied mostly on attrition to downsize and automation to cut costs. Most of these changes have been invisible to the public. But now we have to make changes that viewers and listeners will notice.”
Without the steadfast financial support of members, who have been contributing at about the same rate as last year despite the bad economy, WILL-TV’s and WILL radio’s budget situation would be worse, he said.
Leonard will appear on WILL-AM’s Focus 580 at 11: 06 a.m. Monday, Feb. 15, to take questions from listeners about the changes. The Illinois Public Media Web site at will.illinois.edu has a list of frequently asked questions with more information.
WILL Radio and WILL-TV will eliminate their independent weather service, which has employed a full-time meteorologist and other full- and part-time staff. “We are proud of our long tradition of weather coverage. Ed Kieser, Mike Sola, and their staff have for years dedicated themselves to making sure our listeners knew when severe weather threatened as well as bringing them day-to-day forecasts. But now that in-depth weather information is available on the Web and elsewhere, we believe that our limited resources must be applied to other areas,” said Leonard.
Providing full-service weather costs Illinois Public Media $140,000 a year, and only $40,000 of that cost is underwritten by businesses, Leonard said. WILL Radio on-air staff will continue to update listeners on the weather using forecasts and warnings from the National Weather Service. The radio severe weather coverage plan is still in place, with on-air staff providing updates and warnings when needed.
With the new dual format, WILL-FM will still air classical music, but also simulcast the NPR news magazine programs being broadcast on WILL-AM 580, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, both of which contain local WILL-AM newscasts.
In part, the FM format is changing to provide national and local news to areas west of Champaign-Urbana where the signal for WILL’s news and information station, WILL-AM, doesn’t reach, Leonard said. Because of AM’s limited coverage area to the west and the fact that WILL-AM must reduce power after dark, many potential listeners cannot receive NPR’s signature news magazines, he said. “We’re taking our strongest NPR programs, along with our local news, and offering them on our FM station where they can be heard by more people.”
“WILL-AM’s signal is strong north and south, but it’s so limited to the west that people in southwestern Champaign and beyond have trouble receiving it,” Leonard said. WILL wants to serve Mahomet, Monticello and other communities with news and information.
Trusted local and national news reporting is more important than ever, and some news sources are struggling to remain viable, he said. That makes it essential that sources such as public media continue to be available. The reorganization plan will allow WILL-AM staff to spend more time on issue-oriented reporting based on what producers learn from projects in the community.
“Our commitment to classical music on WILL-FM remains strong, and classical music will continue to make up a large portion of our FM schedule,” Leonard said. “In fact, we’ll be adding 27 more hours of classical music on the weekends.” Jazz, folk and other music formats on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons will be replaced by classical music from the C-24 classical music service. FM is already airing music from C-24 in the mid-morning and afternoon on weekdays, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. The station will realize a cost savings by replacing individual programs with the C-24 service at additional times.
WILL’s locally hosted weekday morning music program with Vic Di Geronimo will move from early morning to 9 a.m.-noon when more people are listening to classical music, he said. Other locally produced and hosted FM music programs, Live and Local with Kevin Kelly, Prairie Performances, Afternoon at the Opera, Classics by Request and Classics of the Phonograph will continue at their current times.
“We know classical music is important to our FM listeners,” he said. “We don’t believe we can sustain our classical music service without changes in our format to increase our audience and our fundraising.”
On WILL-AM, David Inge and Celeste Quinn will continue to host weekday local talk and news magazines. Beginning April 1, the 10 a.m.-noon morning show will be renamed Focus, and The Afternoon Magazine will begin airing from noon-1 p.m. The syndicated radio show, Fresh Air, will begin airing at 1 p.m. in addition to 7 p.m. At 2 p.m. WILL-AM will air a new one-hour program of enhanced agriculture and business coverage, hosted by Illinois Public Media agriculture director Dave Dickey and Closing Market Report host Todd Gleason.