WILL to Lose Weather Staff, Amid Changes Announced Due to State Funding Cuts


Illinois Public Media announced staff cuts and programming changes for WILL Radio and TV Thursday, including the elimination of its weather department.

Illinois Public Media General Manager Mark Leonard says the layoffs and programming changes come in response to continued cuts in Illinois Arts Council funding, one of the main sources of government funding for WILL --- which also receives funding from underwriters, grants, and donations from listeners and viewers.

Leonard says the decision to eliminate the weather department was one of the hardest ones to make, given the long tradition of weather programming at WILL. The department, featuring Mike Sola and meteorologist Ed Kieser, provides regular weather forecasts for WILL Radio and TV and the WILL website. But Leonard says some sort of programming cutback was unavoidable.

"We have taken all of the lesser, invisible cuts that we could make, and we are now longer able to absorb cuts in funding without it being visible to our listeners", said Leonard. "And our weather service is something that WILL has to underwrite at a cost of $100,000 per year --- funds that we no longer have."

Leonard says Illinois Arts Council funding for WILL has been cut nearly 300-thousand dollars since 2006 --- including a 110-thousand dollar reduction this fiscal year. In addition, the WILL has not yet received any of its promised funding for this year. Leonard says he hopes there will be no more cuts in Arts Council funding next year. But he says, "if we see an additional cut or elimination of that funding, it may be necessary to make additional cuts."

In other changes, NPR's flagship news programs, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", will begin running on WILL-FM as well as WILL-AM, beginning in April. Leonard says the move will bring the programs to an audience west of Champaign-Urbana, where the WILL-AM signal is weak. WILL-FM is also dropping jazz, folk and programming from its weekend schedule, in favor of more classical music --- although Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" will remain.

Leonard says he expects there to be criticism of the changes from WILL's listeners and viewers, and perhaps a drop in contributions..

"We understand that any sort of programming change of this magnitude is going to cause some listeners to object", says Leonard, "and we that some people will, perhaps, want to withhold their membership contributions. We're asking for them to be patient, to listen to the new services. And we hope that they'll understand that WILL is making a careful investment of their membership dollars and will continue to do that."

Besides the phasing out of the weather department, the layoffs include staff in radio programming and operations, the art department and TV production.

At the same time, Illinois Public Media will add three new staff positions, including one person to be the local host of "Morning Edition" on WILL, another to work on content for the stations' website, and a third position in the Development Department.

Leonard will discuss the staff layoffs and program changes at WILL on WILL-AM''s "Focus 580" with David Inge. The interview airs live on Monday, February 15th at 11 AM CST, and will be archived on the WILL website.

Story source: AP