St. Louis Jazz Station 88.7 FM Is in Danger of Going Under Due to COVID-19


General Manager Jason Church, center, says that COVID-19 has badly affected the station's underwriting efforts. - VIA WSIE
  • General Manager Jason Church, center, says that COVID-19 has badly affected the station's underwriting efforts.

After nearly 50 years as a community radio station serving the St. Louis region, WSIE (88.7 FM), the area's only source of 24/7 jazz on the FM dial, is in danger of being knocked off the air thanks to COVID-19.

The station, branded "The Sound" in 2016 after decades spent hosting jazz music, is owned by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and is used as a training ground for the school's Mass Communications department, with students working alongside its small but dedicated staff. For years it received an appropriation from the state totalling about $140,000 annually, according to a 2016 article by the Belleville News-Democrat, which covered the bulk of its $181,000 per year in operating costs.

But as the state of Illinois faced down a budget crisis in recent years, the station stopped receiving that appropriation. SIUE instructed WSIE in 2016 to become self-sustaining by 2017, and by 2018 the state funds dried up.

“After the loss of our state funding in 2018, our staff, which consists of myself as general manager, our full-time chief engineer, Carlos Bedoya, and our part-time fundraiser, Stephanie Lewis, rallied to recover as quickly as possible," General Manager Jason Church says. "Although we still hadn’t recovered entirely from the absence of state funding, the increases in underwriting support from local businesses, along with donations from our loyal listeners and a new focus on grant applications had us well on our way.”

Then, as with pretty much every story told in 2020, COVID-19 came along to wreak some havoc. Church says the station saw an immediate decrease in financial support as lockdowns meant to control the spread of the virus took a toll on the economy both locally and globally.

"Unfortunately, many of our underwriters were forced to pull their contributions to the station, as many had to reduce services or close entirely during the shutdown," Church says. "We also saw a marked decline in regular listener donations. This combination has set WSIE up for a loss of around $100,000 this year and a desperate need of funding.

"Without the loss coverage," he says, "this station may go off the air for good.”

That would be a major loss for local lovers of jazz, R&B and blues music. With its 2016 rebrand from The Jazz Station to The Sound came expanded programming, in keeping with the outsize influence jazz has had on the music scene locally and nationally in recent years. Pre-2016 the station was more likely to play music that would strictly get the nod from jazz purists, but in the years since it's not uncommon to hear the likes of Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane alongside David Sanborn and George Benson, with a little Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin on the side.

The station is a supporter of local artists as well — you can hear celebrated singer/songwriter Tonina there, as well as the Funky Butt Brass Band and many others.

In order to try to dig itself out of the hole, the station launched a fundraiser, seeking to raise some $100,000 by June 30. At present those efforts have brought in approximately $30,000, but Church is optimistic that they'll reach their goal.

"If we received just $5 from 20,000 donors, we’ll reach our goal. If we received just $10 from 10,000 donors, we’d be set," Church says. "So it’s literally going to take a community to save this wonderful community radio station, and it’s our hope that spreading the word far and wide will help do the trick.”

That's our hope as well. If you're able, consider donating to WSIE here.
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