Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wheelhouse Finds Integrity and Expansion at WUIS

By Courtney Westlake

Like most media outlets, national public radio has its fair share of challenges, but during a time when commercial radio is struggling, public radio is expanding and continuing to find its niche. WUIS is no exception.

"It's making yourself relevant and trying to offer something that goes along with public radio's quality of providing programming people can't find elsewhere but still providing in-depth news," said Bill Wheelhouse, general manager of WUIS.

Wheelhouse has been general manager at the station for two years, after previously spending ten years as a statehouse news reporter for all public radio stations in Illinois. WUIS has about ten staff members, and are looking to expand the station and modernize the facility, Wheelhouse said.

"The real challenge is that technology keeps changing and will be changing, and the audience is going to continue to fragment," he said. "We keep hoping to adapt with the technology while sticking with our core principles."

HD radio is now making it possible for WUIS to broadcast in digital. Audience members with special receivers can pick up extra channels, and WUIS hopes to eventually be broadcasting three channels.

Public radio has an average audience age of 50 years old. One of the new channels for HD radio listeners will be a "form of alternative programming" geared toward a younger audience, Wheelhouse said, to attract the younger demographic to tune in.

"We want to do that with quality and public radio integrity, but we have to have something in public radio that caters to that age group," he said. "So our second station will be to serve the students of the university and also those under 35, or under 50 even, around the region."

Wheelhouse said now as a manager, he plans to keep a strong emphasis on news after spending years as a reporter, but also wants to bring "alternative forms of music to the radio that aren't necessarily commercial successes," he said. What he likes best about public radio is "being in it," he said.

"It has integrity," Wheelhouse said. "In public radio, you still find the true commitment to journalism."