We haven’t been able to clear the air much on what has been going on with our community radio station which is home of The Dumb Records Radio Show, WQNA, since it was announced that the station was being sold by The Capitol Area Career Center a month or so ago now. There has been a lot happening behind the scenes of WQNA since that announcement and there have been a few meetings even inside our very own space with station DJs as far as discussion for any options of continuing the station in some form or another.
We did get the chance to sit down with station director of 20 years Jim Pemberton on our radio show a couple of weeks ago to discuss in detail where WQNA as a station currently stands and what could happen as far as the station continuing. Jim seems confident that the station at this point will be continuing in some form or another (even if it is just online only), and things will be playing out in coming weeks and months. We were finally able to type up most of the interview which you can find below, also stream the whole entire episode on the player embedded directly below for the full interview.
For the past forty years that the station has existed it has been owned and operated by the board of governors of the Capitol Area Career Center, which is the school that the station is located in. And they have allowed us as community volunteers to basically do whatever we wanted for the past twenty years, which if you think about it is just plain crazy. That doesn’t happen anywhere else. The fact that we can do this for the past twenty years with almost a completely free hand is astonishing. For a lot of understandable reasons they have decided they are going to sell the radio station. The reason they had the radio station to begin with was to act as a teaching tool for high school students and in some cases early college students to learn broadcasting and to possibly take those skills into a professional job in communications. To make a long story short the enrollment has been dropping steadily – not just with the program here but throughout the country. There are a lot of reasons why that has happened. It had gotten to a point about six months ago where they told us “look, we are going to try to get the numbers up, we would prefer to keep the station if we can, but if we can’t keep the numbers up we might not be able to justify keeping it.” Well, the numbers did not come up so it was decided that they were in fact going to sell the radio station.
So what does that mean for us? Well, what I can say now at this particular juncture I am 99.999% certain that the WQNA format that you are listening to now – the same programs, the same jocks, the whole bit… is going to continue in some form. Now what does that some form mean? Does that mean we continue as an internet only radio station? Does that mean we continue as an FM station on another frequency? OR does that mean we continue as 88.3 FM right here where we are now? That it is too soon to say. But I can tell you – and you (Brian) can vouch for this because you have been in the meetings – I can tell you that all three possibilities are being discussed. Meetings have happened, negotiations have happened. We have met specifically with the board that runs CACC, and I won’t go into specifics as far as what was discussed but I will tell you that we did meet with them and it did go very well, it was very positive. So, something good will come out of this. I’m not sure which good thing it will be, but like I say I am almost entirely certain that one way or another we are going to keep doing this even after the station is sold by the CACC, it might be still on 88.3, it might be another place on the dial, or it might be internet only. Either way, what we are doing now is kind of getting the legal end of it taken care of. Several of us have been involved with getting that done, we are working on getting 501c3 non for profit status that we would be able to operate either this station or another station or the internet thing as a non-for-profit, legit, charitable endeavor and keep it running kind of as it is now like a community-based, not for profit radio station. One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is could you, if you were to take ownership of the station, could you turn it into a commercial station and sell advertising? No, we could not do that. And the reason we couldn’t is because the way the FCC has set it up is that everything on the FM dial at 91.9 or lower is considered the “non-commercial band.” So you’ll notice – 91.9 that’s where WUIS is, right below that you’ve got WLUJ which is a Christian station, you got WILL the classical station out of Urbana – all of them non-commercial stations. So, because we are 88.3 on the dial on the non-commercial band, we will always be a non-commercial radio station so that’s how we will have to operate it. So to do that, even if it’s just internet only, we’re still going to have to get money together and that’s going to have to mean soliciting funds, and that’s got to mean we’ve got to do everything transparently and to the board. And if the question is asked us “what’s my money going to”, we can answer that question. So what we’re doing now is we’re getting the 501C3 stuff taken care of – it’s a slog – you know it takes a little while to do this, but one of the things you can do while you are waiting for your application to go through (which it should, as long as you do your paperwork right you should be okay), you can get another organization that has 501C3 status to potentially sponsor you and act as your umbrella to vouch for you. We think, I’m not going to say who because it’s not official yet, we think we found the organization that’s willing to do that for us. So once that goes through we actually can start saying “alright, this is the amount of money we are shooting for.” We can say “alright, if we can’t buy the radio station we are at least going to keep it going as an internet station or go elsewhere on the dial.” So we’ve got a plan B and a plan C if plan A doesn’t come through. It’s not going to be the easiest thing we did, it’s going to be a tall mountain because it’s going to require quite a bit of money. For example if we were able to get ahold of this place we are going to have to pay the purchase price, and plus there’s going to be location to another building, there’s going to be equipment upgrades, there are things in this building that are held together with duct tape and spit. It wouldn’t be easy, but I’m not entirely convinced we couldn’t do it. That’s the thing, nobody wants to give up. When the hammer kind of fell everybody was like “alright, what are we going to do about this?” I have been asked from people so many times – the biggest question they have asked is “what can I do?” Even right now there is not an easy answer to that because a few more dominoes have to fall into place, but once that happens, once we are able to go out and legally ask for a specific amount of money, and we can say this is what we are going to try to do, then we can talk about it.
The people who have been our audience for the past twenty years and still are are what make it all worth it.
– Jim Pemberton, WQNA Station Director