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Monday, November 28, 2022

Columbus City Schools' WCBE now offering less NPR, more local programs – The Columbus Dispatch

Years after its former general manager came under fire for falsifying invoices to hide its debt, Columbus City Schools’ public radio station WCBE (90.5-FM) has launched a new programming format intended to focus more on local music and opportunities for the district’s students.
The new programming, launched Wednesday morning, includes less NPR news and talk and features more local musicians and artists with Columbus-area roots as well as programs “spotlighting the activities of community organizations and nonprofits,” according to WCBE general manager Greg Moebius.
Moebius told The Dispatch on Thursday that the district-owned station — housed at Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center near Downtown — will still feature NPR “top-of-the-hour news updates” as well as national music programming like World Cafe, since it continues to be an NPR-affiliated station.
“Those will continue, we just had to step back and take a look at the affordability of our long-form news and information programs, and we had to do away with those to become a more sustainable operation,” Moebius said.
Among the more expensive NPR programming removed from the station’s schedule were popular programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace.
Look Back:Will Columbus City Schools sell NPR station WCBE? It’s still unclear, 2 1/2 years after financial scandal
In February 2019, district officials found that former WCBE general manager Dan Mushalko falsified invoices to hide the station’s $870,000 in debt, which it mostly owed to NPR.
The district transferred the $870,000 to the station in the spring 2019, and then $768,500 in June 2020 to pay off the station’s operating deficit.
Moebius said that since then, the station had faced challenges of finding funds to replace those that they had lost due to its financial troubles.
“That’s when this plan started to formulate to do away with our more expensive programs and to request more locally separate, locally hosted and produced programs as well,” he said.
More:Former manager of WCBE radio gets probation for altering invoices
Scott Wortman, Columbus City’s chief communications officer, told The Dispatch on Thursday that the district transferred around $680,000 from its general fund to support the operations of WCBE for the 2022 fiscal year, and that everything that was owed to NPR was paid back.
“WCBE is in good standing with NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” Wortman said.
Wortman added that the plan to create a financially sustainable model was an opportunity to significantly reduce the paid programming while focusing more on community-driven programming.
“It’s just those two pieces meeting together is a challenge and an opportunity that we’re really excited about,” Wortman said.
Outside of district funding, Moebius said they hope to grow the station’s revenue with underwriters as well as members who they hope to attract with their programming that supports local artists and the rest of its music presentation.
“We believe they will answer with and support us with their financial contributions to allow us to become a more sustainable operation,” he said.
Look Back:Documents give look at WCBE’s sale talks
Wortman said the model for the new programming came from WAPS ( 91.3 The Summit), a noncommercial education radio station in Akron.
Not only has WCBE started student-focused programming like its City League podcast — which features the school district’s current and former student athletes — but the new model of the station would allow for more student interaction and education.
Wortman said this would include involving students in Fort Hayes’ audio and video production programs, but also expanding these opportunities to other schools across the city. He said that one of the goals of the refocused programming is to amplify student voices.
“As an example, Beechcroft (High School) just started a pilot audio and video production program,” Wortman said. “So we have a lot of different things in the works. I’m really excited about what that looks like and what that means for our students.”
Wortman added that there is also curriculum that is in “various stages of implementation,” such as a podcasting class. In a presentation earlier this year to the school board’s finance and appropriations committee, field trips, tours and programs at WCBE for students were also ways to involve students.
“We think we can be a national model for what this looks like, for how we take a district-owned radio station and really integrate it into what we’re doing on the academic side of things, and providing opportunities for students,” Wortman said.
Michael Lee is a K-12 education reporter for The Columbus Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter@leem386 or email him atmylee@dispatch.com. Sign up Extra Credit, the education team’s weekly newsletter,here.

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