The University Record, March 11, 1998

Michigan Radio thrives with new format, programming

By Jane R. Elgass

The "sleeping giant" sleeps no more.

Floundering two years ago with a $265,000 deficit and a $1.5 million budget, low staff morale, a failing format and the prospect of losing its Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) funding, Michigan Radio was in desperate straits.

With a potential audience of 6 million listeners but a much smaller actual audience, the station had been dubbed the "sleeping giant" by cohorts. Donovan Reynolds knew that incremental changes wouldn't save the day. Drastic steps had to be taken.

The risky transition to a news and information format began in July 1996 and has been a resounding success, Reynolds told the Regents at their February meeting.

"We no longer are the sleeping giant, but rather a model for format change," said Donovan, who is director of broadcasting.

CPB funding is assured, the accumulated deficit has been eliminated, the budget stands at $2.15 million and listeners are up 30 percent--an astonishing feat by industry standards. A motivated staff is receiving accolades at the state and national level. And WUOM now has a larger share of listeners in Washtenaw County than does WEMU.

But Reynolds isn't resting on those laurels.

WUOM is launching a capital campaign to fund a complete re-equipping of the station that is located on the top floor of the LS&A Building.

The station was built in 1948, and some of the original equipment is still in use. "The studios are totally antiquated," Reynolds said, "and while that is charming, we're amazed we're operational. We need to move to the digital age."

Reynolds noted that the new equipment will enable Michigan Radio to become a national production center, with programs originating here. The present setup doesn't allow that. Prior to the transition, the station broadcast a mix of National Public Radio (NPR) news programs in the early morning and late afternoon, with classical music filling out the rest of the day.

Today, NPR and other programs fill the daytime roster, with classical music beginning in the late evening and continuing overnight. That approach has given the station a consistent audience across the day, with 35 percent of the listeners saying WUOM is their favored station.

In mid-April, the station will launch an early afternoon (1-2 p.m.) talk show with host Todd Mundt that is designed "to showcase the University, the people who are here and those who come to visit campus," Reynolds said.