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Jazz station WSIE adds blues in bid to become self-sustaining


Money problems are forcing a St. Louis-area jazz radio station to expand its format.

“We've not been able to monetize the jazz format so we've chosen to expand that a little bit by adding blues,” says Doug McIlhagga, the executive director of marketing and communications for Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville. The university runs WSIE, which started broadcasting in 1970.

The effort to bring in more money started roughly one year ago. A mandate from the chancellor’s office called for the station to be self-sustaining within three years and that prompted a programming review.

McIlhagga insists jazz music is not going away at the station. The addition of blues should help attract more support, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of more drastic measures by university leaders in the future.

“There is always consideration from the board of trustees, considering whatever the financial situation is for the university system, as to what assets they might decide to monetize at any point in time,” says McIlhagga.

The station is already operating with what can be considered a bare bones staff. There are two-full time workers, a part-timer and usually at least 10 students. Efforts are underway to increase student involvement.

WSIE’s funding crunch comes as a budget impasse continues at the Illinois statehouse. Lawmakers have not been able to agree on a statewide spending plan for 10 months and that has prompted public universities to make tough financial decisions.

But McIlhagga says the radio station’s issues go beyond the budget battle in Springfield.

“Well, it has something to do with the budget situation. But the current crisis hasn’t had any impact on our operations on a day-to-day basis.”

It relates to the edict issued by the chancellor’s office around this time last year.

“This is an approach that came a year ago from knowing that as we move forward in the years to come, state appropriation to public universities in the state of Illinois will continue to decline.”

The station is not giving up without a fight.

It is running announcements every hour seeking financial support to help, “keep WSIE on the air.”

Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.