In a story published today by the Belleville News-Democrat, Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift is quoted as saying that radio station WSIE (88.7 FM) will retain its jazz format.
The fate of the university owned station has been in question for months, as a committee appointed by Vandegrift studied station operations and debated whether to preserve WSIE's status as the only jazz radio station in the St. Louis area, or to go in another direction. The story by BN-D reporter Elizabeth Donald says that the announcement, made by Vandegrift on Wednesday in his annual address, was "greeted with applause in the crowded hall."
While the chancellor's statement certainly seems like welcome news for area jazz fans, there are many details yet to be resolved, starting with exactly what sort of programming will be featured on the "new" WSIE.
For many years, the station featured a mix of syndicated jazz programs and local shows hosted by hometown DJs such as Ross Gentile and E.B. Stevenson. Earlier this year, Gentile, Stevenson and the rest of the local on-air staff were let go, supposedly for budgetary reasons. Since then, the station has featured all syndicated programming, with virtually no live, local material except for twice-hourly newscasts.
The decision to sack the local DJs, combined with general uncertainty over the station's future, has created some ill will with local jazz fans, as demonstrated by the tone of many of the messages on the "Save 88.7 The Jazz Station" Facebook group. And what the university seems to have in mind for WSIE may not placate its most vociferous critics.
Under the new plan, outlined for the BN-D by SIUE director of marketing Elizabeth Keserauskis, WSIE will now be part of the marketing department instead of mass communications, and "will be used as a marketing tool for the university." SIUE's jazz program, which consists of 35 students, four full-time and four adjunct faculty members, will be featured on the "new" WSIE, but there also will be "regular features spotlighting other programs on campus," the story said. "Keserauskis said her vision of WSIE's new direction will include spotlighting SIUE programs, increased broadcasting of SIUE's athletic programs -- garnering more interest now that the university is in Division I -- coaches' shows and 'other things that are not unusual in a Division I school'."
Given that WSIE has been starved for resources in recent years, more attention (and funding) from university authorities could be a good thing. But if the station becomes nothing but a 24-hour promotional vehicle, it could alienate what remains of its once-loyal audience. Time will tell - but for now, you can read the whole story from the BN-D here, and, if you like, use the comments section below to express your opinions and thoughts about what ought to happen next with WSIE.
(Edited after posting to correct a misspelled name.)