PEORIA — Supporters of Peoria's public radio station heard more on Wednesday about plans for WCBU-FM's future partnership with its public radio counterpart in Bloomington-Normal.

The station's advisory board, led by chairwoman Ambra Haake, held its first meeting of the year but topping the agenda was an update on what lies ahead for the station since its present home, Jobst Hall, will be demolished this fall.

Bradley University's Zach Gorman, the school's chief information officer, and spokeswoman Renee Charles along with R.C. McBride, general manager of Bloomington's WGLT-FM (89.1), answered questions from the board as well from members of the public at a meeting held on the Bradley campus.

Although the partnership has not been finalized, some details were furnished. "The call letters, the tower — will all stick around. We've identified space on the (Bradley) campus for a studio," said Gorman. "Peoria public radio is not going anywhere," he said.

The arrangement with WGLT is in line with other cost-saving partnerships that involve public radio stations in Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota, said Gorman, adding that WTVP-TV, Peoria's public television station, now partners with the University of Illinois. 

"Our intent is to keep staff and programming in Peoria," said Charles.

Bill Porter, WCBU's interim general manager since 2015, also sought to allay some of the concerns that have been raised. "We're not going to a jazz format or be a commercial station. We're going to stay on 89.9 (on the dial)," he said.

McBride, a former program director at WJBC in Bloomington, a station he described as "one of the last great public service stations," was upbeat about the Peoria station's future. "We're not just planning to maintain WCBU but grow it. I'd like to see a Peoria 'Sound Ideas' once we have the staff to sustain it," he said, referring to a local news program aired on WGLT.

Longtime board member Joan Ruppman asked about the disparity between radio staffs at the two public radio stations, noting that WGLT, located on the Illinois State University campus, had 21 employees while the Bradley station only had five.

McBride said that the station used students and part-timers to complement 13 full-time employees. He said that ISU had been fortunate "in weathering the storm in Illinois" and that enrollment was up at the school.

Gorman said uncertainty about the station's future put a freeze on hiring at WCBU in recent years. "We didn't want to bring someone in if we weren't sure about things. That wouldn't be fair," he said.

Diane Hahn, manager of the Mackinaw Valley Winery and a newly-appointed member of the advisory board, questioned a comment made by Bradley President Gary Roberts at last year's Thanksgiving community luncheon. Roberts said that the radio station "had nothing to do with the school's mission."

Charles said the president was referring to the station not being part of the school's academic plan. "Gary's a WCBU listener. He doesn't want to see it leave Peoria," she said.

John Brady, a Peoria attorney and WCBU listener, took Bradley to task for failing to provide the public with information about the change in 2018. "I'm disappointed the way Bradley handled this. There's no excuse for that. It's important not just to have a studio here but local journalism here," he said.

Brady said he was impressed with WGLT's website and the station's news coverage. "I'm not concerned with the collaboration. The future could be bright, but I look forward to more transparency," he said.

One of the issues raised regarding the school's support of the radio station has involved finances. Roberts informed faculty in October that Bradley enrolled 243 fewer students than planned for the 2018-2019 academic year. That translated to a revenue loss of almost $4 million, he said.

Gorman said that Bradley's direct and indirect support of WCBU amounts to about $350,000 a year. "The station's been running in the red for several years," he said.

McBride said that the Illinois State station has had its own financial problems. "Four years ago we were $400,000 in the red, but for the past three years we've been in the black," he said.

"The media landscape has changed more in the last five years than the previous 50," said McBride, explaining that one of the options under consideration was putting classical music on 103.5, the dial position presently used by WGLT in the Peoria market.

In answer to At Large City Councilwoman Beth Jensen's question about when the partnership might be completed, Gorman said it wasn't clear yet. "But we need to have this done. The building's coming down in the fall," he said.

Steve Tarter covers city and county government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Follow him at Twitter@SteveTarter and facebook.com/tartersource.