KWBU flourishes despite tough industry times

Joe Riley, KWBU President and CEO records a broadcast at the station Wednesday in the LL Sam’s complex on La Salle Avenue. Rob bradfield | Staff Writer
Joe Riley, KWBU President and CEO records a broadcast at the station Wednesday in the LL Sam’s complex on La Salle Avenue.
Rob bradfield | Staff Writer

By Rob Bradfield
Staff Writer

Anyone trying to prove that radio was on the decline would be hard pressed to find proof at KWBU.

The station first came on air in 2000 as an affiliate of National Public Radio and Public Radio International broadcasting on FM band 103.3 and local television Channel 4.

Since then, the television station has shut down, but KWBU radio has increased its audience.

Among the reasons for its success in a market the size of Waco are public radio’s ability to adapt to new technology, the station’s relationship to the Waco community and its partnership with Baylor, KWBU president and CEO Joe Riley said.

“Radio is still strong, and will be certainly for the near future,” Riley said.

Each year, KWBU holds three pledge drives to raise almost half of its operating funds. The station has had to increase its efforts recently because of increased cost.

Two years ago, the station lost a programming discount NPR offers its affiliates before they reach 10 years of operation.

This year’s drive came within $1,000 of KWBU’s $45,000 goal. Riley said the number of radio listeners has grown in recent years, and more people, some as far away as Argentina, have been streaming KWBU online. Even with the amount of support the Waco community gives, KWBU still relies on funding from the institution that is its namesake.

“Baylor makes it possible for us to be here, no question about it,” Riley said.

While Baylor gives nearly half the funding for KWBU, the university does not actually own the station. KWBU used to broadcast from Castellaw Communications Center on campus, but has since moved to one of the LL Sam’s buildings on LaSalle Avenue owned by Baylor University.

Riley said the station is actually licensed to the Waco community and is one of the only university-funded stations in the country not to have a university license.

This means KWBU is free to focus on a community-based audience, while Baylor funding helps ensure more popular programming.

The extra funding also means that KWBU can adapt more quickly to changing technology, and the station has already adopted a digital platform for broadcasting.

KWBU and other public radio stations are also looking at expanding their online streaming to increase their market size and appeal to younger listeners.

Far from rendering radio obsolete, station manager Brodie Bashaw said technology has revitalized radio by making it more cost-effective, and allowing broadcasters to work more efficiently in less time.

“Time efficiency is definitely a plus,” Bashaw said. “It especially helps with the small stations.”

In order to broadcast continuously, radio stations used to have night disc jockeys to constantly monitor the broadcasts. Now a minimal staff can program automated broadcasts to play all night long, saving money and man hours.

That does mean there are fewer jobs in the radio business, and Bashaw said all-night DJ is a dying profession, but the KWBU staff offered a solution for the prospective radio personality.

“If you want a job in radio, learn to do news and go to NPR,” Riley said.