Thanks to an inspired collaboration between the University and the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, the community once again has a local news radio show.
Announcer Dave Horger in the WBGU sound booth.
For nearly 28 years, the citizens of Bowling Green heard the friendly voice of Dave Horger on WFOB-FM keeping them up to date, including announcements of happenings on the BGSU campus. That was until last spring, when the station, located in Fostoria, decided to discontinue its broadcast from Bowling Green.
“That left me out of a job and the city without any sort of morning broadcast to give them the local news and sports and other information,” said Horger, adding he was taken by surprise by the station’s announcement. “There were numerous people in town who were even more upset about it than I was,” he recalled. “We have a thriving community with a (NCAA) Division I university but no city-based radio station. I kept thinking, ‘How can we salvage this?’”
While riding his bicycle early one Saturday it dawned on him that Bowling Green did have a radio station: WBGU-FM 88.1 on campus. Horger reasoned that, while the station is student operated, it was unlikely that many students would be interested in the 6 a.m. disc jockey spot.
He consulted with Elaine Skoog, executive director of the chamber of commerce, about possible support, and Dr. Ewart Skinner, chair of the telecommunications department, which oversees the station; both were enthusiastic. “It’s a great idea,” Skoog said. “When Dave’s show left, we no longer had a presence in Bowling Green. The goal (of the chamber) was to bring that back.”
The timing was serendipitous, said Skinner. The telecommunications department had wanted for years to establish community links but had not found the right avenue. “Our goals in the process were twofold: to bring the station closer to the community and to maintain professionally oriented community-engaged student leadership of the organization,” he said.
The chamber approached the University's Broadcasting Advisory Committee, and later, the students who run the station, with a proposal: The chamber would produce a weekday broadcast from 6-9 a.m. and donate it to the University, with Dave Horger as the announcer. BGSU students could gain hands-on experience working on the show. The station would benefit from the agreement, the School of Communication Studies and WBGU-FM could “use the radio production as an opportunity to link classroom instruction to the practical and professional work of producing a professional news program,” Skinner said, and the station would have a strong, lasting and mutually beneficial link to the Bowling Green community.
“We took the proposal to the student board, and they were kind enough to approve it,” Horger said. “It would not have been possible without their OK.”
“At first we were skeptical because 15 hours a week is a lot of time,” said WBGU Program Director Stephen Merrill, a master’s degree student in communication studies. “We knew Dave Horger had a strong reputation as a good voice in the community. But he comes from a commercial background, and we’re not—we weren’t sure how those two would meld and mesh. But when we looked at the economic value we decided it was worth pursuing.”
Much of the credit for working out the partnership goes to station advisor Dave Moody, Skinner said. “He was key in ‘liaising’ between me, the students and the chamber, and his expertise in marketing and sales were also instrumental in establishing the contract,” which has been reviewed and redrafted by the station's FCC legal representative in Washington, D.C., the University's legal team and the chamber of commerce's legal representatives.
Since its June 4 debut, the morning show—with a format of weather, global and local news, events and some music—has enjoyed strong support from the community.
Students to gain hands-on experience
Student involvement is developing through the help of Moody, Skinner said.
“The potential is really good” for student participation, Merrill said. “The hope is that in the next year we’ll really improve upon the amount of student involvement and have some student-produced segments. We’d like to get into some hard news coverage and a regular city beat.”
Moody is working out the internship relationships, Skinner said. For now, the student board is concentrating on working with student media groups such as the BG Radio News Organization that are dedicated to broadcast media, Merrill explained.
In a world of interactive media, the show “is old-fashioned, but it works because we’re limited to sound bites at the top of the hour with our NPR programming,” Merrill said. “This gives us reliable local news on the radio.”
“In the future we’d like to develop NPR-quality programs for a wider regional audience,” Skinner said.
While as a nonprofit institution the University cannot accept advertising, it can accept sponsorships, and area businesses have been supportive, Skoog said. Steven Keys, owner of an Allstate insurance agency in Bowling Green, said, “I like the idea of local information being distributed, and I’m happy to help provide local news.”
“We wanted to provide a service to the community,” Horger summed up. “That’s really what this is all about.”
Thus far, the experience has been “very positive,” Skoog said. “It’s a perfect fit. And contrary to the perception that students would not be interested in this kind of a format, our research has shown that there’s a population of students who do care about this.”