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Come with us to WORT-FM, Madison’s community radio station

Curious about what goes on at our local community radio station? We went to the WORT-FM open house to give you a look inside.

WORT-FM's exterior, including a mural with a trumpet

You can find WORT-FM at 118 S. Bedford St. | Photo by 608today

Since 1975, WORT-FM has been gracing the ears of Madisonians on channel 89.9 with a wide variety of programming as a non-commercial listener-sponsored radio station.

608 WORT window

Windows allow programmers to see into each live recording studio at once. | Photo by 608today

We stopped by the station at 118 S. Bedford St. to chat with Chali Pittman (News, Talk, and Public Affairs Director) about the ins and outs of community radio, and how you can get involved.

An inventory room filled with bookcases of CDs

Whatever genre you prefer, WORT has a CD you’ll like. | Photo by 608today

Q: What types of special programming do you offer?

A: We have a wide variety of programming. We also broadcast live remotes from community events throughout the year (Ex.: Madison/Dane County MLK Holiday Observance and The Friday Buzz, live from Willalby’s).

We host live bands in our Vinyl Library and have a regular community access hour that has a different format each week and is hosted by a member of the listening public (sign up here).

We host events with many community organizations and venues. You can most of this programming listed on our Facebook events page, or on our “WORT’s Happening” news feed on our website.

We’re excited to host our outdoor music festival WORTstock this May at Warner Park, with more details to be announced soon.

A large vinyl record collection spanning across two walls of shelving

The Vinyl Library hosts live local band performances. | Photo by 608today

Q: We met Diego, a Community Access and Development Fellow, at your open house event. What does his role entail?

A: Diego AlegrĂ­a is managing the logistics and curriculum for our first-ever Summer News Collaborative, which is set to launch this May. This initiative will partner with six local organizations centering Black, Native American, Latino, and Hmong communities in their work, to recommend six trainees to WORT.

These trainees will be paid to develop audio skills in recording and editing along with media training. The program will wrap up in July and also provide paths for additional professional development and possible careers in media.

This project is born out of a commitment to be more inclusive. It recognizes that representation of diverse voices in traditional media is still lacking; that journalism still upholds some gatekeeping models; and that some stories are more represented than others.

It also recognizes that everyone benefits when your newsroom is diverse in all ways.

Once the program wraps up the plan is to share it with 200+ community radio stations around the country.

Radio studio set up for for people

One of WORT-FM’s studios. | Photo by 608today

Q: What sets WORT-FM apart from other radio stations?

A: Our programmers have much more creative freedom to pursue their interests and tastes than you’d find at most other radio stations.

Our music programmers select their music. No predetermined, mass-programmed playlists or algorithms are involved. Our talk hosts choose who they want to talk with, and our news reporters cover issues of importance to our community.

This means you’re getting a broadcast unvarnished by corporate or commercial interests, making it more likely that it’s directly applicable to you and your community.

A sign on a door that reads "No beer beyond this point."

The FCC requires that no radio hosts be intoxicated on air. | Photo by 608today

Q: What roles do volunteers play in making community radio magic happen?

A: A cool thing about WORT is that it truly takes a village — in this case, hundreds of on-and off-air volunteers powering the station each week.

Positions have varying levels of time commitment and skills needed. We try our best to match potential volunteers with the right position.

Small reception area of radio station

Stop by WORT-FM to learn how you can get involved. | Photo by 608today

Think:

On-air

  • Deejays share music across all genres
  • Reporters cover local news impacting our community
  • Talk hosts provide a forum for the discussion of public issues

Off-air

  • Scriptwriters
  • Show producers
  • Receptionists
  • Music catalogers
  • Event planners
  • Web posters
  • Fund-raisers
  • Archivists

... and more.

A radio studio with a control board and microphone

Where the magic happens. | Photo by 608today

Q: Are there any high-priority volunteer positions you’re hoping to fill ASAP?

A: We are always accepting new volunteers, and can always find something that aligns with someone’s interests, schedule, and strengths.

One of the best ways to see what we’re looking for is our Current Volunteer Opportunities page. If you don’t have an idea of what you want to do, or have an idea for a role that doesn’t exist yet, we encourage you to fill out our new volunteer application to get the process started.

An office room with shared counter space and three computers

Volunteers covering local news have a dedicated research area in WORT. | Photo by 608today

Q: What if someone is interested in volunteering, but doesn’t have much prior experience?

Fantastic! We’re a community resource, and we provide one-on-one, hands-on training when you start volunteering with us. All you need is the time for the position and the passion to learn.

You’ll be trained on the requisite skills for the position, and you’ll take those skills with you to future employment and personal creative endeavors.

A low-impact way to get involved is with our winter fundraiser. The pledge drive runs from Feb. 26-March 10 and we always need phone answerers. Shifts range from early in the morning into the evening, lasting two to three hours, and no experience is necessary.

A tech board taking up half of an entire interior wall

Any tech junkies out there? Inquire about tech volunteer opportunities. | Photo by 608today

Q: What does WORT-FM hope to look like in 5-10 years?

This question was answered by WORT-FM Board of Directors President, Stu Levitan.

A: Key goals for the next decade include more robust online offerings and expansion into video, including live performances of local bands performing in our Vinyl Library.

Other goals include an increased community impact by our award-winning news and public affairs department; even greater diversity among our volunteers, staff, and board; and a more attractive station facade, especially through a new exterior mural (this is expected to be ready much sooner than in the next decade).