The gift of a radio station from Mid-West Family Broadcasting, Eau Claire to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation will mean expanded educational opportunities for UW-Eau Claire students and new avenues for university outreach to a wider audience.
Mid-West Family Broadcasting and the UW-Eau Claire Foundation announced the gift March 8. The gift includes the radio license, transmitter, tower and related equipment for operation of the commercial station 99.9 WDRK-FM. The approximate value of the gift is $1 million.
"As a part of the community, Mid-West Family Broadcasting is honored to work with the UW-Eau Claire Foundation to further the university's mission to foster students' active citizenship and lifelong inquiry," said Lynn Bieritz, general manager of Mid-West Family Broadcasting, Eau Claire. "We are very excited to see students develop their talents and possibly enter the vibrant broadcast industry in the future. At the same time, we are excited to announce that Mid-West Family now owns a new radio station, 98.1 WISM. We are excited about what lies ahead — for UW-Eau Claire, for our listeners in this market and for the future of radio."
Mid-West Family Broadcasting's recent acquisition of 98.1 WISM-FM resulted in the opportunity to transfer ownership of 99.9 WDRK-FM, ensuring the company stays within its federally mandated limit on stations it can own in a single market. Mid-West Family Broadcasting, Eau Claire also owns 104.5 WAXX-FM, 94.1 WIAL-FM, 92.9 WECL-FM, 790 WAYY-AM and 1150 WEAQ-AM.
The 99.9 WDRK-FM tower and transmitter are located near Bloomer.
"When we were approached about this gift, we took a close look to determine how this asset could provide value to UW-Eau Claire students and the university as a whole," said Kimera Way, UW-Eau Claire Foundation president. "We are excited to be a part of this because the radio capacity will enable the university to offer another avenue for student engagement and learning as well as provide a venue where we can better tell the Blugold story. I'm pleased to be able to facilitate the addition of another resource for the university's benefit."
The radio station will be owned and operated by Blugold Radio LLC, a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The process of transferring the station ownership to Blugold Radio, which includes obtaining Federal Communications Commission approvals, is expected to be completed by July 1. While 99.9 WDRK is currently under a commercial license, Blugold Radio is applying for a noncommercial license that will help maximize benefits from key partnerships with UW-Eau Claire, Blugold athletics and Wisconsin Public Radio at the outset, Way said. Way added that Blugold Radio is now working on creating the programming format and partnerships that will allow the station to establish a specific brand early on in its operations.
The Mid-West Family Broadcasting gift will increase options for students through UW-Eau Claire's department of communication and journalism, further expanding the department's long tradition of providing students with hands-on learning opportunities through class projects, student media work experiences and internships.
"This gift will enable us to provide additional high-impact applied learning for students in the journalism and integrated strategic communication majors and minors, and our multimedia minor," said Dr. Mary Hoffman, professor and chair of the communication and journalism department. "Students will have the opportunity to produce a wide variety of programming, serve the community by reporting on community news and interests, and assemble extensive portfolios to use as they seek employment following graduation. We are most grateful for the opportunities presented by this gift."
It is Blugold Radio's intent for 99.9 WDRK-FM to be the official radio presence for Blugold athletics, Way said. Dan Schumacher, UW-Eau Claire athletics director, said the radio station will provide an opportunity for Blugold athletics to merge academic experiential learning in broadcast journalism and greater coverage of NCAA Division III college athletics.
"The 99.9 WDRK-FM signal will give Blugold athletics a large radio reach in the Chippewa Valley and a great enhancement to the Blugold sports network of digital, web, radio and TV media platforms," Schumacher said.
UW-Eau Claire's current partnership with Wisconsin Public Radio, which includes student-produced programming on 89.7 WUEC-FM, also will be expanded as Blugold Radio takes ownership of 99.9 WDRK-FM. WPR is proposing a plan to provide programming from its News and Classical Network for periods of the day on 99.9 WDRK, said Dean Kallenbach, senior regional manager for Wisconsin Public Radio who also has worked for more than a decade with UW-Eau Claire student programmers on 89.7 WUEC-FM.
"Adding WDRK as a News and Classical Network affiliate would help us fill a gap on the signal of that network that we've been seeking to fill for two decades in Barron County and southern Washburn County," Kallenbach said. "We're very excited at the prospect of finally providing both the News and Classical Network and the issues-talk Ideas Network (through 88.3 WHWC-Menomonie/Eau Claire) to listeners in Rice Lake, Chetek, Barron and other communities in that area. I'm a native of Barron County, and I know a lot of folks in that area who will be thrilled to finally get Wisconsin's version of the NPR newsmagazines "Morning Edition' and 'All Things Considered,' as well as midday classical music hosted from WPR."
"The gift Midwest Family Broadcasting made to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation is truly generous," Kallenbach added. "It will have the effect of being a gift to the Chippewa Valley community as a whole, providing more options for in-depth news, cultural programming and university outreach, while giving students the option to venture into new areas of broadcasting. We at WPR are excited to be invited to be a significant part of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation's development of WDRK."
For more information, contact Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, at 715-836-5180 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Lynn Bieritz, general manager of Mid-West Family Broadcasting, Eau Claire, at 715-832-1530 or email@example.com.
Photo caption: Kiri Salinas, a junior journalism major at UW-Eau Claire, works in the radio broadcast studio in the university’s Communication and Journalism Center.