Illinois stations consider management agreement to preserve Peoria’s WCBU

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Two public radio stations in Illinois are discussing a possible partnership that would lead to a management change for a Peoria broadcaster.

Leaders at WCBU in Peoria, Ill., and licensee Bradley University are in talks with WGLT in Normal, Ill., which is owned by Illinois State University. The leading scenario under discussion would involve WGLT entering into an agreement to manage WCBU, said R.C. McBride, WGLT’s GM.

Bradley University announced in the fall that it would demolish the building on its campus housing WCBU and that it couldn’t afford the $700,000 cost of moving the station’s studios. In fiscal year 2018, the university provided the station with nearly $170,000 in direct operating support, according to WCBU’s most recent audited financial statement.

Discussions began after McBride learned of Bradley’s plans. “WGLT’s original intention was simply to see if we could help, and things have evolved from there,” he said.

McBride added that it is “extremely important” that the stations “retain individual identities and serve their respective communities, and the goal of any partnership would allow both stations to become more financially sustainable and increase their individual service offerings,” he said.

“If such a partnership occurs, business and overhead efficiencies at both stations should allow both to eventually invest more in content production,” McBride said.

“We are pleased with the progress of the discussion and feel the intentions, mission and values of WGLT and its staff align directly with those of WCBU,” said Zach Gorman, Bradley University’s chief information officer. “The joint conversations bring forth great ideas for the long-term sustainability of both stations.”

Conversations have been “on hold,” however, because the partial shutdown of the federal government was affecting the FCC, Gorman said in a Jan. 21 update on WCBU’s website

The university’s intention “is to maintain and hopefully enhance public radio in the Peoria area while reducing expenses for both WGLT and WCBU,” Gorman said. He said he expects WCBU will remain on campus, but that it will occupy smaller studios because an agreement with WGLT would eliminate duplicated equipment.

“Any of the drastically reduced moving costs would be addressed by the agreement,” he said.

Staffing requirements for WCBU under the proposed agreement “have not been identified yet,” Gorman said.

WCBU interim GM Bill Porter said the partnership “has the potential to be a very positive venture” for the two stations by “improving economies of scale” and freeing up resources.

“Our discussions have produced some innovative ideas concerning new ways to provide enhanced services to our listeners in central Illinois, especially in the area of programming and local news,” he said.

Gorman said he expects a management agreement for WCBU to be in place before the fall deadline for tearing down the station’s building.

The university had also discussed a partnership with WILL in Urbana, Ill., but it “didn’t pan out,” according to the university.

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