Wednesday, April 5, 2006

USM's Radio days: WMPG launches election coverage

Published in the Portland Phoenix

WMPG-FM (90.9 and 104.1 FM) has launched news coverage of the upcoming elections, with the first installment already aired and posted online at the station’s Web site,

While the community-minded, donation-funded station, based at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, already has several talk and public-affairs programs on its regular schedule, “none of them are really news reporting, per se,” says program director Dave Bunker.

The new effort comes in part as a result of a listener survey taken last fall, in which nearly 80 percent of the 400 respondents said they would be at least “somewhat” interested in hearing local news produced on WMPG, Bunker says, noting that more than 50 percent of the respondents expressed “strong” interest in WMPG launching news coverage.

However, “radio news is the single most expensive and time-consuming . . . radio to make,” Bunker says.

So without the money or the production space or the production staff, Bunker’s approach is a bit toned down, using some of the station’s senior volunteer-producers as editors and putting together an editorial process for handling stories to air in the weeks before the June 13 primaries and the November 7 general election.

The focus will be on state and local races, with particular attention to those in greater Portland, Bunker says, though the first edition, aired in late March and reported by WMPG volunteer Erik Eisele (also a Phoenix intern this semester), focused on the US Senate race for the seat now occupied by Republican Olympia Snowe. She is running for re-election, and two Democrats, Jean Hay Bright and Eric Mehnert, will be in the primary seeking to oppose her.

Bunker says he hopes to be able to schedule reports to start at specific times each day, especially in the immediate lead-up to the election days, though he stressed that the reports will be only as long or as short as they need to be, with “no filler” to make the spots last a pre-defined amount of time.

“I want it to be substantive,” Bunker says. “It may eventually lead to having a full-fledged news department,” and he is very aware that “you only get one chance to establish your credibility.”