WEAA Planning Return to Its Roots

by: P. Kenneth Burns Special to the AFRO
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Morgan State University radio station WEAA (88.9 FM) is in the process of shaking things up.  And listeners could hear students in the university’s journalism program deliver the news on air as soon as the fall.

It’s part of a plan to give students more hands on experience at the station.

“We’re making a concerted effort now to ensure that students have a significant opportunity to take what they learn in the classroom into our radio station and participate in the programming of that station,” DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan’s School of Global Journalism and Communication, told the AFRO.

WEAA became part of Morgan’s revamped journalism program that was launched in the fall of 2013.  It is one of the few Historically Black Colleges and Universities with a journalism school.

Wickham said there was “a great disconnect” between the station and the program’s mission to educate students on how to be journalists.  The station is professionally staffed with students serving as interns.

“[Students] weren’t on the air in any significant way; they weren’t taking those broadcast and journalism skills that they have been getting in our classroom,” Wickham said.

Wickham said while the station will aim to create more opportunities for students to be on air, WEAA will still have a strong music base.  But he did not commit to whether the station will continue its heavy emphasis on jazz during the week.

“Everything is up for analysis,” Wickham added.

“The new GM is doing an assessment of all our staff.  I don’t think you’re going to see a wholesale of our professional staff; that’s just not going to happen.”

The moves and proposed changes have prompted concerns among the professional staff, according to a source at the station who wished to remain anonymous.

The future plans of WEAA became public when the station announced that long-time Baltimore talk show host Marc Steiner would be ending his daily talk show on the station at the end of July.

Steiner joined WEAA in 2008 after 15 years with WJHU which later became WYPR.  WEAA management at the time wanted to increase the news and public affair output at the station.

Wickham said the station is paying $100,000 a year to Steiner for his show plus an additional $9,000 a year for a producer. Steiner is also allowed to keep all of the money he sells in underwriting for his show.

“Marc Steiner brought a good show to our station but we are a student learning lab,” he said while adding the station, mostly funded by the university, could not afford the costs anymore.

The stations interim GM, Mireille Grangenois has been tasked with getting the station’s finances in order and to “build a bridge” between the classroom and the station.

Grangenois was previously publisher the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Previous career stops as an executive include the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. Grangenois replaced Michele Williams.

Wickham’s bigger plan to put students on the air is a return to WEAA’s roots when the station began broadcasting in 1977. He emphasized several times that the focus of the station is to train students.”

“We conditioned some people to think that WEAA’s role is simply to be a provider of entertainment to a community beyond the university; it’s not that,” Wickham said.

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