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Bradley-run NPR station continues strong growth

A fundraising event last weekend proved that forty years later, the WCBU National Public Radio station still has thousands of loyal listeners keeping the operation afloat.

“We fundraise twice a year, and we had one last week that brought in about $126,000, which is a good amount for us,” Executive Director Tom Hunt said.

WCBU, located in Jobst Hall and at 89.9 on the airwaves, is entirely run by Bradley faculty and students. 

“Weʼre all Bradley University employees,” Hunt said. “Most of our funding comes from other sources, but Bradley provides the space and keeps it heated and lit.”

The fundraising events, along with other donations, make up about 50 percent of the stationʼs income. Approximately 12 percent comes from Bradley, and federal grants account for five percent.

“Commercial radio struggled with the economy, but it made a comeback as the economy did, too,” Hunt said. “Public radio is hanging in there. Itʼs relying on fundraising and grants. Bradleyʼs support is stable, but it is limited.”

Hunt, a WCBU employee since 2004, said the operation began with students.

“The first people who ran this station were students and a lot of them stayed after graduation to work,” he said. “Itʼs good resume material, working for a full time news station. We can only take a few students, but the rewards are great and it really opens doors for people when they go to look for work.”

Hunt said the goal of WCBU is to grow the audience.

“Our goal is to appeal to the broadest audience we can,” he said. “Our cumulative audience is 30,000 who tune in at least once a week. The public service mission is to provide the community with a window into Bradley.”

There are three separate avenues that WCBU offers, Hunt said.

“We have WCBU, 89.9, which is news and information,” he said. “Then we have WCBU2, our [high definition] station, which plays 24 hours of classical music a day. And third we have our radio information service, where volunteers come in for eight hours a day and read from the Journal Star or other local magazines and publications.”

The radio information service, or R.I.S., is designed for people who canʼt see or canʼt turn pages of newspapers or magazines.

“Itʼs done through a sub-carrier, and we give these to people who need them,” he said. “We have about 600 to 800 clients who use the R.I.S.”

Hunt said since he has been a part of WCBU, there have been changes made in the programming.

“We have added the digital service and increased the power,” he said. “We are also constantly tweaking the programming schedule. We havenʼt added staff, but the staff we do have is very efficient.”

One thing to remain, Hunt said, has been support from listeners.

“I think there is a tradition in fundraising in public radio, so we just get on the air and ask them to call,” he said.

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