Illinois Public Media to launch new radio station focused on news and culture authentically reflecting the Black experience
Illinois Public Media is proud to announce the launch of Illinois Soul, a new radio station highlighting Black experiences, celebrating Black culture, elevating Black voices, and showcasing Black music.
“Public media is uniquely positioned in today’s media landscape to meet the needs of its community in ways that commercial media might not, and this new service will not only celebrate Black voices, history, and culture, it will connect listeners to the issues that matter most to those across our region.” said Moss Bresnahan, executive director for Illinois Public Media. “We are so excited to launch Illinois Soul, bringing the best in jazz, R&B, and gospel to our listeners, with a unique focus on the Black community.”
This new audio service will make its on-air debut February 1, 2024, at the start of Black History Month and will be broadcast on WILL-FM 101.1 and available to stream live at illinoissoul.org. Illinois Soul will bring central Illinois and beyond a new 24/7 public media audio service featuring exceptional, Black-hosted NPR news programs — such as Code Switch and It’s Been a Minute — alongside other popular programs from Will Downing to Robert Glasper, mixed with smooth jazz, neo soul, R&B, and throwback jams.
“On a national level, Illinois Soul will be the ground-breaking format for attracting Black adult audiences to public media by featuring high-quality Black NPR news talk shows married with neo-soul, smooth jazz, and R&B music,” said Jill Clements, assistant corporate support director at Illinois Public Media and internal driving force behind Illinois Soul. “We’re also proud to be a part of the local community engagement efforts for better connecting the University of Illinois and Black communities.”
Most importantly, with the launch of Illinois Soul comes a new local community affairs program, airing each week and highlighting issues important to Black adult audiences in central Illinois.
“I'm very excited to help develop a new weekly broadcast and other programs that bring Black communities together to discuss issues and, more importantly, discuss solutions and ways to empower the community,” said Reginald Hardwick, director of news and public affairs at Illinois Public Media. “We didn't just create the station inside the walls of IPM. We had important input from community advisors, hundreds of community surveys, and dozens of face-to-face events. We've done our homework.”
Illinois Public Media’s work in creating Illinois Soul is rooted in the idea of intentionally changing the media landscape with the support and guidance from respected Black community leaders and Black University of Illinois professionals who are advocating for the mission of the station and for its listeners.
“The importance of Black voices and perspectives is more important today than ever. This radio avenue and social media platform are critical life supports to tell the Black communities’ story and builds, empowers, and informs communities of Black values and contributions,” said Tracy Parsons, community advisory member for Illinois Soul and Community Coalition facilitator.
Nielsen research shows Black Americans listen to radio and podcasts longer than other communities. [1-2] Additionally, the Black population is among the fastest growing across the listening area, while Black narratives, images, and culture are not reflected consistently in mainstream media. Over the past two decades, Black-owned media companies have disappeared in central Illinois leaving these communities underserved.
"The contribution of Black People in the media should be affirmed and celebrated in every community. When there is no representation of Black Voice in media, there is a gap in history,” said Shandra Summerville, community advisory member for Illinois Soul and cultural and linguistic competence coordinator at Champaign County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Illinois Public Media recognizes this media imbalance and sees this as an important opportunity to unapologetically fill the gap by providing a platform that celebrates Black experiences, Black culture, and Black voices.
“After the murder of George Floyd, there was a racial reckoning in America, including the media. It would have been easy to put up a slogan and vow to 'work on' more diversity. But here at Illinois Public Media, we've put the work into creating an audio service that elevates the voices and culture of central Illinois' Black community,” continued Hardwick.
According to feedback from more than 350 surveys distributed and filled out locally – along with conversations at nearly 30 public events – a local Black media service will be important for amplifying Black stories, connecting communities, and celebrating Black excellence. Illinois Soul begins broadcasting full time February 1, 2024, on WILL-FM 101.1 and 90.9 HD 2 as well as streaming live at illinoissoul.org. FM 101.1’s current all classical lineup is now available as a 24/7 classical stream at will.illinois.edu.
As of February 1, 2024:
WILL-FM 90.9 (90.9 FM HD) programming remains unchanged with 100+ hours of classical
WILL-AM 580 (90.9 FM HD 3) programming remains unchanged
WILL-FM 101.1 (90.9 FM HD 2) format moves from 24/7 Classical to Illinois Soul
24/7 Classical available to stream at will.illinois.edu or via smart speaker
 Nielsen, “How Black audiences are engaging with audio more than ever”
 Illinois Department of Public Health, “Population by Race for Illinois and its Counties”