‘It’s a lifeline’: Radio station makes changes to keep on air, provide information and sense of normalcy

MADISON, Wis. – As everyone makes life adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic, area radio stations are making changes, too.

Community radio station WORT 89.9 FM is limiting entrance to its downtown station to only paid staff, meaning its music, talk and news volunteer programmers are setting up shop and working from home.

“I think we’re a lifeline for our community,” said Chali Pittman, Talk and News Director. “We do have a sense of consistency because programmers are still doing new shows. It might be a little different in terms of audio fidelity sometimes, but it’s the same voices you know, and it’s a sense of comfort.”

Pittman said reporters are still filing stories and other programmers are still selecting broadcasts or creating new content.

“We mean a lot to the community, we’ve been hearing every time something intense happens. This is most intense of most things that have happened,” Music Directory Sybil Augustine said.

WORT staff have overcome challenges to stay safely broadcasting before, including a 2018 shooting that injured a DJ.

“We did what we could immediately to secure the safety of our volunteers while continuing to preserve the radio station and be there for the community, and that’s what we’re doing now,” Augustine said.

When so many things feel up in the air, it’s comforting to know radio waves are there, too.

“The more fresh programming or programming we’ve chosen like that, that people know someone is still here doing it right now, the more sense of normalcy we can give to people’s lives, and that’s very important,” Augustine said.

Augustine said WORT is planning to deliver announcements of how the community can still come together at this time, such as a 7 p.m. wave to others each night.

Midwest Family Broadcasting said its building is limiting who can enter it, as well.