Columbus City Schools’ WCBE now offering less NPR, more local programs

Years after its former principal general came under fire for falsifying bills to cover up his debts, Columbus City Schools public radio station WCBE (90.5-FM) has launched a new programming format that focuses more heavily on local music and Opportunities for the district’s students to focus on.

The new programming, which launched Wednesday morning, features less NPR news and talk and features more local musicians and artists with roots in the Columbus area, as well as programs that “shine a spotlight on the activities of community organizations and nonprofits,” according to Greg Moebius, general manager of WCBE.

Moebius told The Dispatch Thursday that the county-owned station — housed at the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center near downtown — will continue to provide NPR “top-of-the-hour news updates,” as well as national music programs like World Cafe it continues to be an NPR-affiliated station.

“These will continue to exist, we just had to step back and look at the affordability of our long-form news and information programs and we had to phase them out to become a more sustainable operation,” Moebius said.

Among the higher-priced NPR programs dropped from the station’s schedule were popular programs such as 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 the financial scandal

WCBE’s financial problems contributed to the reformatting

In February 2019, county officials discovered that former WCBE director general Dan Mushalko had falsified bills to hide the station’s $870,000 in debt, which it owed primarily to NPR.

The district transferred the $870,000 to the station in Spring 2019 and then $768,500 in June 2020 to help cover the station’s operating deficit.

Moebius said the broadcaster has since faced the challenge of finding funds to replace those it lost due to its financial woes.

“That’s when this plan started to formulate, to get rid of our more expensive programs and also to require more locally segregated, locally hosted and produced programs,” he said.

More:Former WCBE radio manager gets probation for changing bills

Columbus City’s chief communications officer, Scott Wortman, told The Dispatch Thursday that the district has committed approximately $680,000 from its general fund to support WCBE’s operations for fiscal year 2022, and that all that NPR was owed was repaid.

“WCBE has a good standing with NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” Wortman said.

Wortman added that the plan to create a financially sustainable model is an opportunity to significantly reduce paid programming while focusing more on community-driven programming.

“The coming together of these two parts is a challenge and an opportunity that we’re really excited about,” Wortman said.

Outside of district funding, Moebius hopes to grow the station’s revenue with underwriters and members they hope to attract with their programming, which supports local artists and the rest of their music presentation.

“We believe that they will respond with their financial contributions and support us so that we can become a more sustainable operation,” he said.

Look back:Documents provide insight into WCBE’s sales talks

Students play a role in the redesigned station

Wortman said the model for the new program came from WAPS (91.3 The Summit), a non-profit educational radio station in Akron.

Not only has the WCBE launched student-centric programs like its City League podcast, which features the school district’s current and former student athletes, but the station’s new model 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 those opportunities to other schools across the city. He said one of the goals of the refocused programming is to amplify students’ voices.

“For example, Beechcroft (high school) just started an audio and video production pilot program,” Wortman said. “So we have a lot of different things in the works. I’m really excited to see what that looks like and what that means for our students.”

Wortman added that there is also a 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 get students involved.

“We think we can be a national model for what that looks like, how we take a county-owned radio station and really integrate it with what we’re doing on the academic side of things and provide 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 [email protected]. Sign up for Extra Credit, the weekly newsletter from the education team, here.

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