SIUE jazz station to lose state funding

By Kelsey Landis, The Telegraph

While state funding for Illinois public universities remains tied up by an ongoing budget stalemate, appropriations for other services, like SIU-Edwardsville’s jazz station, are drying up altogether.

Central administration at SIU-E charged WSIE “The Jazz Station” managers in April with weaning themselves off of $140,000 in state appropriation funding by 2018. That accounts for nearly 80 percent of the station’s $180,000 total annual operating budget. Amid declining and delayed support from the state for higher education, the university has focused on shifting money to classroom teaching.

“The radio station is somewhat outside of that focus,” said Doug McIlhagga, executive director of university marketing and communications at SIU-E.


But enhancing sponsorships, underwriting and listener support could cover the loss of state and university support, he added.

“In reality, considering the radio station, its value, its placement in the market, that’s an achievable goal.”

The station’s most recent fundraising effort comes in the form of an online campaign on website IndieGoGo, with a goal of raising $10,000. The online effort is a new avenue for raising money, said Greg Conroy, general manager of six years. It comes in addition to two annual fundraisers.

Shifting to a self-sustaining budget driven by fundraisers signifies an overall transformation in the business model, the communications director said.

“The president’s office told us what our focus needs to be, and where we need to change our way of doing business. From our perspective, we said okay, we just need to change our business model,” McIlhagga said.

WSIE (88.7 FM) was founded in September 1970 and originally played an eclectic mix of music chosen by student DJs. In the mid-1980s, the station’s mission shifted under then General Manager Roy Gerritsen, who decided the station would become a purely jazz station to serve an empty niche in the region, Conroy said.

“I still believe in his mission,” Conroy said. “We have a following of people who listen to jazz. That’s what they want to hear. A radio station is supposed to be serving the needs of a region. We serve that purpose.”


Last year, the station began hosting the weekly St. Louis Jazz Talk, a program featuring interviews with and music from local jazz musicians. The station plays local music throughout their 24/7 programming, along with selections from a server that has grown by nearly 6,500 tunes in the past six years. Dick Ulett, president of Clayton Studios and consultant to WSIE, reviews CDs from distributors weekly and decides what will be played.

In addition to broadcasting jazz music, live news and special programming to the entire St. Louis metropolitan area, including southwestern Illinois, the station offers paid, part-time student worker positions in new and sports broadcasting and audio broadcast board operations for SIUE sporting events. The student positions would not be affected by the budget cut, McIlhagga said.

Conroy said the opportunity for students to work at a major regional radio station provides valuable experience both in and outside of mass communications careers.

“Even if they don’t go into radio, it teaches you teamwork, discipline, deadlines, responsibilities, how to do the news, run sports events so our listeners can hear these events,” Conroy said.

Each year, he added, at least one of the 16 or more students working in the station goes on to land a job in radio.

Valerie Sieth is a graduate assistant with the station. She is pursuing her master’s degree in public administration, and says she has developed skills that will help her as she pursues a career in public policy.

“As far as the public affairs programming, it (the station) is an outlet to the community to get information on what’s going on in the local area, as far as the economy, environment, local government, anything that might affect them,” Sieth said.

Learning about that process “will definitely aide in my future career path,” Sieth said.

Dr. Elza Ibroscheva, department of mass communications professor and chair, said many students in the department “experience valuable learning opportunities” by working at the station, some even joining the major specifically to work at the station.

“The radio station is a great learning laboratory for our students who focus on broadcasting,” Ibroscheva said.

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