BY: JACOB BLAIR
Every week nearly 65,000 people tune-in to a radio station that broadcasts from right here on Eastern’s campus.
The radio station is WEKU, which focuses on public radio, airing programs such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as contributing their own local and state news.
WEKU reaches more people on a weekly basis than any other university organization, Charles Compton, WEKU’s news director, said.
The station is also pulling its best ratings since 2005.
According to Compton the station’s future may be under question despite its recent success.
“Public radio has a problem,” Compton said. “We need to bring young people into the system.”
Compton said most public radio listeners are middle-aged or older; there isn’t a lot of young listeners.
To help generate interest among a younger demographic, Compton is looking to launch a student chapter for budding young radio journalists and others interested in public radio.
The chapter, which will be a student version of Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), plans to get off the ground next week, with its first organizational meeting at 4 p.m. Feb. 20, in Combs 302.
Anyone who wishes to get involved is welcomed to attend, Compton said.
If all goes well, the Eastern chapter will be one of only two student PRNDI chapters in the nation.
The other will be launched at Fordham University in New York, Compton said, adding he will serve as the adviser for the Eastern group.
“It takes a lot to jump from college into public radio reporting,” Compton said. “This is to bridge the gap and also to help students get employed.”
Compton said he believes the local PRNDI chapter will help foster a greater appreciation for radio news, perhaps even extending to where WEKU and other local news organizations, such as The Progress, will share news stories.
Roger Duvall, the station’s general manager, said student volunteers and interns don’t have to be journalism or broadcasting majors to work in radio.
“We want students who want to work, students who want to explore,” Duvall said. “We would go to the job fairs. We got students who were looking for a job. The best student employees are the ones who walked in the door and said they loved public radio from growing up while listening to it.”
Duvall pointed to a previous student who worked for him at the University of Alabama public radio station who was working on a master’s degree in anthropology.
Compton said former Eastern student, Emily Bowyer, won a “Best Student Newscaster” award from the national PRNDI chapter in 2010.
Boyer, who got her first taste of public radio at WEKU, went on to work at Iowa Public Radio as a reporter and fill-in host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
John Hingsbergen, associate manager and program director, recalled times when his previous radio station at Miami University of Ohio used overnight board operators who were students.
Those days are all but gone thanks to the digitalization of radio equipment. Overnight programming can be mixed and setup during the day, so no student worker has to be present overnight.
Hingsbergen said he believes that with public radio, student volunteers have more flexibility with the content that is produced, compared to a commercial radio station.
“Most commercial radio stations are automated now,” Hingsbergen said. “In an operation here, they’re going to get a little bit of news, creating a talk show and other programming.”
Compton said WEKU makes Eastern unique and helps broaden the opportunities available to students.
“I think that folks don’t realize what kind of treasure we have here,” Compton said. “We are a leader in public radio journalism. We do it on a shoestring budget, and we are very good stewards with the resources we are offered. We are committed to the very best of Eastern’s culture, service and commitment to excellence.”