Since its founding in 1970, Peoria Public Radio (WCBU 89.9FM) has been a fixture in central Illinois. Their small but mighty staff is a primary reason the station, headquartered at Bradley University, has sustained itself through uncertain times. We asked each staff member to reflect on their work and personal hobbies to get a better understanding of the personalities that make Peoria Public Radio tick.
Here’s the who’s who:
- Bill Porter, interim executive director/chief engineer
- Kristine Aberle, underwriting representative
- Cindy Dermody, underwriting manager
- Nathan Irwin, program director
- Tanya Koonce, news director
- Kristin McHugh, news producer
- Daniel Musisi, operations manager
- Mary Jane Noe, administrative support
- Lisa Polnitz, administrative support
- Lee Wenger, radio information service director
What do you love about your job?
Porter: I love the educational mission of public broadcasting. I feel like we are providing healthy content and information to our listeners.
Irwin: I’ve always loved the performance aspect of being on the air every day— the challenge of planning each station break and then delivering it as best I can. It’s analogous to the thrill of giving a live stage performance.
Aberle: I like talking to business owners to let them know how public radio can help their business.
Wenger: Running our Radio Information Service for the blind and visually impaired is rewarding because it’s a unique service in central Illinois for an underserved population, and it’s supported by grants from the Illinois State Library and PNC Bank.
Koonce: I love getting to meet people when I’m out covering stories. My job has allowed me to get to know my community and some of the interesting people in it, in such a special way.
Dermody: I enjoy helping our underwriters get their message out to our listeners. Along the way, I learn something new every day about various businesses.
What are your biggest challenges?
Porter: The media industry has evolved immensely during the past 20 years, due to the rise of the internet, social media and the change in how consumers access news, entertainment and shopping. All stations, including WCBU, are forced to adapt in order to survive.
McHugh: Short staffing is one of our biggest challenges. It’s difficult to cover routine meetings in Peoria—let alone breaking news—with one full-time news director, two part-time reporters and the occasional intern. This isn’t just a WCBU problem. Newsrooms in markets of all sizes are trying to do more with less staff.
Koonce: The last few years, there have been some social shifts in how our culture sees, accepts and aligns with news. It’s unfortunate the term “enemy of the people” has been associated with news reporters. That’s raised some safety concerns in certain situations.
Wenger: As with all public media, funding and education are the biggest challenges, and they are interconnected. From ratings services, we know approximately how many listeners we have and how much time they spend listening to Peoria Public Radio. They are wonderfully loyal and engaged, but only about 10 to 20 percent of them support the station financially, leading me to believe the rest just don’t understand that members make up the largest single source of the money we use to buy the programs they listen to so faithfully.
Aberle: There are a lot of people who are not familiar with our station.
Why is public radio important?
McHugh: We live in a world where information on Facebook, Twitter and other social media is viewed as news—even if the information is incorrect or false. Public radio programming breaks through the clutter. There are very few media outlets that will spend an hour presenting a sound-rich documentary on a domestic or international issue.
Musisi: It’s important because of its unique approach to delivering stories, news and information. It offers a window to different cultures, people, places and ideas. It makes an effort to deliver unbiased information and encourages the listener to take that information, perform their own analysis, and come to their own conclusions.
What do you do in your free time?
Wenger: I’ve been singing with the Morton Civic Chorus for 33 years. Our annual May concert at Bradley’s Hartmann Center Theatre raises money for local patients with chronic kidney disease through the Central Illinois Memorial Kidney Fund, helping with expenses not covered by any insurance.
Dermody: I am on the board of Women In Leadership and the Heart of Illinois chapter of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Association. I am also active in the Peoria Alumnae chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Additionally, I prepare food for funeral luncheons at the church I attend, and I am a volunteer for the Survivors for Life program through OSF Centers for Breast Health.
Irwin: Away from the microphone, I’m most likely to be found rehearsing a play or musical with one of the area’s community theaters. I’ve been fortunate to be on stage with Corn Stock Theatre, Peoria Players, Many Lights Theatre and The Great Work Begins. I also sing with the Bradley Community Chorus from time to time.
Polnitz: I love to write, so I combine that with my passion for helping people to produce content that may provide others with a message that will help them in their life.
McHugh: I spend approximately 500 hours a year designing or decorating Christmas trees. For the past two years, I have chaired the designer decorating committee for Crittenton Centers’ annual Festival of Trees fundraiser. I also lead a group of volunteers from my former employer, the Iowa Architectural Foundation, in decorating a tree and room space for the Festival of Trees and Lights event in Des Moines. In 2018, I added the Springfield (Illinois) Festival of Trees to my decorating resume.
What is one thing people don’t know about you?
Porter: Most people know that I was a full-time touring musician for years, but not everyone knows that I’m an Eagle Scout.
Dermody: While in high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I placed second in the city for free-throw shooting.
Aberle: I like accessorizing homes and clothes, and I do home staging and design on the side.
Musisi: I was the White House DJ for President Obama’s first term in office. In his first four years, I worked a handful of events, including the 2013 Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball. My wife and I had the honor of meeting and speaking with Barack and Michelle Obama multiple times, and we made many magical memories during that time.
McHugh: I LOVE to watch or stream curling bonspiels.
Noe: I am a Eucharistic minister at St. Mary’s Church in Metamora.
Koonce: If I didn’t do news for a living, I could probably be a handyman. My husband and I have fairly traditional roles at home, but I have my own toolbox, and he would tell you I’m better with a hammer and screwdriver.
Polnitz: I am an author and have published two books. PM