The University of Memphis’ campus radio station, WUMR “The Jazz Lover” 91.7 FM, has come back from Thanksgiving Break aiming to keep itself alive through donations from its listeners.
WUMR’s annual Jazz for the Holidays Radiothon kicked off Sunday, as the station opened its phone lines for jazz lovers around the world to call in and donate all week. General Manager Malvin Massey said because WUMR has no sales department, fundraiser donations are crucial in keeping the station up and running.
“These radiothons are really the only way we can raise money,” Massey said. “The biggest expense for a radio station is getting it put together, the transmitter, broadcast equipment, tower rental and use and most of that stuff is a one-time thing. Right now we’re making it, but we don’t know how long we can keep going at the rate we’re going.”
Radiothons are on-air radio fundraising campaigns where DJs and on-air talents ask listeners to call in and pledge money to the station, oftentimes in exchange for gifts or prizes. WUMR’s on-air staff will be on the phones for the Jazz for the Holidays Radiothon every day from 7 a.m. to midnight until Dec. 2, offering prizes such as concert tickets, station apparel and CDs.
WUMR’s first on-air fundraiser, the Jazz in June Radiothon, occurred in 2004 to raise $30,000 to support the salary for a new program director. They were unable to raise the full amount in the first two attempts, so WUMR added the Jazz for the Holidays Radiothon in 2005 and finally reached their goal. Since then, the station has hosted two radiothons each year to pay for the ongoing expenses of operation.
Massey said each dollar goes “a long way” in maintaining the station from general repairs and licensing to play each song to basic everyday necessities, such as copy paper and electricity. He said having more student workers and volunteers around the station would greatly lessen the financial pressure.
“Our biggest problem is that right now we don’t have the base of students that we used to have when we had (the) broadcast communication discipline in the communication department,” Massey said. “We have to hire temporary employees to fill some of the positions we used to have for students, and we have to pay those salaries. Once we can get back a base of students, or our function is directly tied to student tuition and graduation, then we’ll be back on a steady footing.”
Former U of M music business major and current WUMR program director Shelby McCall said getting involved with the station as an undergrad helped her improve her communications skills and land a separate broadcasting job with ESPN. McCall said WUMR is important to the U of M’s student body as it’s a “great learning environment” that teaches skills in communication and presentation that are invaluable to any student, regardless of major.
“If it can get me a job, then it can get another student who probably needs more money than I do another job,” McCall said. “I want students to have the same opportunity that I had through here, and we need money in order to do that.”
Michael J. Rhodes, WUMR’s broadcast engineer, said maintaining and upgrading the equipment necessary to run the station such as the transmitter, which broadcasts the station’s signal across the airwaves, is a constant and “costly” effort.
“We have an analog transmitter, which is basically almost outdated, but if we went with a digital transmitter, you’re talking about $75,000 to $100,000,” Rhodes said. “We have ongoing costs all year long. A person donating to the radio station, they can easily just come into the radio station and look around, and you’ll see where your money’s going.”
Local listeners can pledge to WUMR all day all week by calling 1-901-678-4000. Out-of-town callers can dial 1-877-955-5299 to pledge. Donations can also be made online via WUMR’s web page at www.memphis.edu/wumr by pressing “Make A Gift.”
WUMR volunteer, Courtney Penilton answers phones for the Jazz for the Holidays Radiothon. She hopes receive more pledges towards this year's goal of $10,000.
Fund's raised by WUMR's Jazz for the Holidays Radiothon will go to purchasing and repairing studio equipment such as this switcher board. Maintaining a radio station as an around-the-clock effort due to many costly and recurring expenses.
WUMR FM 91.7 will be transitioning to a new partnership with Crosstown Concource and The Daily Memphian. Changes will include a broader range of music and a new location.