CHAMPAIGN — Since 1981, WEFT Community radio 90.1 has been run mainly by volunteers. It has, for much of that time, had a single paid station manager.
The station plays jazz, blues, world music, as well as other styles commercial-free 24/7 from a small studio in downtown Champaign.
It plays music and other programming not found elsewhere, including old-time country, gospel, Celtic, jazz and reggae. There is also public-affairs programming.
But the station is always hurting for money.
“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been phasing out support for small community radio stations for a number of years,” said Vicki Niswander, who hosts a public-affairs program on disability issues called "Disability Beat."
The station now survives without a station manager and is 100 percent volunteer.
And its volunteers love their work.
It’s a labor of love for Andrew Duncanson of thhe Kilborn Alley Blues Band, who just finished playing Albert King on his "Tuesday Blues" show.
“We have a massive collection of CDs, most of them free from small labels who want to promote their artists,” he said.
Craig Koslofsky, a University of Illinois history professor, was sitting in the library of 30,000 CDs — the shelves full.
“I play jazz,” said Koslofsky, who has been at WEFT for 21 years. “This is a volunteer station for grown-ups.”
“Nobody does live the way we do,” Koslofsky said, with weekly sessions on Monday night (WEFT Sessions) that are also now on CDs.
In its time, Koslofsky said, WEFT has had its headline airshifters, he noted, including the late reggae and ganja promoter Chef Ra, and the late “Old Timer” Kent McConkey, who, with his folksy-to-the-max patter and classic country, had a legion of listeners.
Also on the shelves, live music on Friday night.
Barb Trumpinski-Roberts is a veteran airshifter.
“I first heard WEFT in November of 1983. They were doing an on-air auction as a fundraiser, and they were playing women’s music. I knew right then that WEFT was special. I was part of a women’s news show called Feminist Effusion and did a show called Song of the Soul in the ’80s,” she said.
She became part of the Womyn Making Waves collective in the early 2000s and has been doing a show called "I Can Hear Music" for about a year.
Many of the airshifters slowly grow into their roles. Niswander has been a member of WEFT since the late ’90s.
"In 2005, I decided to go through airshifter training and began subbing. It was so much fun, and I learned so much that I decided to propose a program of my own called 'Disability Beat,'" she said.
Niswander has an adult daughter with a disability, and her program, which airs at 5 p.m. Mondays, focuses on issues of social justice, community inclusion and resources. She and her husband, Mark, also host a second program of music called "WEFT Weekender," she added.
“I look at WEFT as the most unknown and underutilized resource in our community,” she said. “My husband and I have visited a number of community radio stations across the country and as active members share that info with the board and membership to encourage improvements and other development to assist WEFT in being a valued part of the media landscape in the area.”
Even though there is no paid staff, there are still bills to pay.
“Given the struggles that we’ve had, we are very fortunate that WEFT is still alive and kicking,” she said.
A current pledge drive has raised more than $12,000, Koslofsky said. “Ninety percent comes from user donations.”
He said WEFT needs to raise $20,000 in each of the drives, and is working on getting a new antenna up.
The old antenna, which is 30 years old, has been condemned.
Bill Taylor, a founding member of WEFT, said a new antenna could be here mid-November. The total cost for parts and labor could be between $40,000 and $60,000.