PEORIA — As the year winds down, time is also running out on the present location for WCBU-FM 89.9, the city's public radio station located on the Bradley University campus.
The station will be moving in 2019 because its longtime home, Bradley's Jobst Hall, is coming down to make way for the expansive business-engineering complex being built in its place.
But the station, which has been broadcasting from the BU campus since 1970, isn't relocating to another studio on campus. That much has been made clear by university President Gary Roberts.
Concern over the fate of the station has grown ever since Roberts told a University Senate gathering earlier this year that estimates on the cost to move WCBU to a new location were "discouraging" and "not financially feasible." Bradley estimated costs to move the station could run as high as $700,000.
Roberts has since told faculty members that BU was developing a partnership with WGLT-FM 89.1/103.5, the public radio station serving Bloomington-Normal, which already includes Peoria in its listening audience. "The deal is all but done but for a few remaining details," said Roberts in a telephone interview last week.
Details of what that partnership might mean for the Peoria station has some WCBU backers wondering about the station they've supported all these years.
Bradley funds one-third of WCBU's public revenues while local donations from individuals and corporations provide the remaining two-thirds of the station's annual revenues, noted the station website.
Some WCBU supporters feel the university has ignored the public component that makes up public radio. "Bradley owes WCBU's contributing members and underwriters an explanation of past decisions and future plans for the station," said Mary Beth Nebel, owner of I Know You Like a Book, a bookshop in Peoria Heights.
It goes further than station members, those individuals who have donated to the station, asking for a seat at the table, said Nebel. "Allowing fundraising to continue while such uncertainty exists, and accepting nearly one-half million dollars annually from the public — without giving the public timely and comprehensive information — does not put Bradley's actions in a positive light," she said.
Nebel, who's been a WCBU underwriter since 2006 when she opened her bookstore, said she had a chance to talk to Roberts about the future of the radio station when the college president recently dropped off copies of the children's book penned by his wife.
"He told me that nobody under the age of 60 had complained about removing WCBU from the campus," said Nebel.
Peter Kobak, 27, a former member of the Peoria Innovation Team, believes there are plenty of people under that age that are concerned. He set up a website over the summer to garner support for the station.
"When I organized my neighbors, we had over 500 community members step up and show their support for the station in two weeks," he said.
"The community wants to be involved in this process and I believe it would be a missed opportunity for Bradley to leave us out of it before they make a final decision," said Kobak.
Marilyn Copp, the retired owner of Junction Gallery, recalled the role public radio played in her business. "When I came to town in 1976, I was a 33-year-old who decided to start a gallery in the Junction City shopping center. Somebody brought me a radio and I found WCBU," she said.
"The business succeeded for 25 years and I always felt it was my responsibility to keep the station vibrant. I worked the station's phones during fundraisers and we raised over $15,000 for the station in 1994 with a gala auction event," said Copp.
"There's a lot of apprehension out here. If it's going to be a partnership (with WGLT), we don't know what that means. What about local news?" she said.
Copp understands the value of the Bloomington-Normal station but worries about Peoria's identity if WGLT takes over operations. Copp said she and her husband have provided financial support to both WCBU and WGLT over the years.
Peoria attorney Lee Smith thinks Bradley is picking the wrong time to relinquish control of the station. "Local ownership of the news media has evaporated. Our newspaper and radio and television station news coverage is diminished from even a few years ago," he said.
"Public radio can step in with newspapers falling down. It could be a wonderful platform to bring back local news, Bradley, with its academic and student resources, could make up for some of the loss in our local news media," said Smith.
Ken Mills, a former radio manager who now operates a marketing agency in Minneapolis, recently offered these comments in Spark News, his public broadcasting blog, about the WCBU-WGLT connection: "Observers speculate that Roberts wants to find an organization that will take over operation of WCBU via a Public Service Operating Agreement. In this scenario, Bradley would keep the license for WCBU but wouldn't have to pay the cost of moving it to a new location."
Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3260 or email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter@SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.