A message from WTMD General Manager & Program Director Scott Mullins

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many challenges for WTMD, Towson University’s listener supported public radio station, and we’ve responded with several key changes in the ways we serve our community.

A balancing act

On Thursday, March 12, we made the difficult decision to suspend our Spring Membership Drive. This is one of our major annual fund drives, and we rely greatly on the dollars raised from it to meet our annual budget. However, we knew it was the right decision given the unprecedented circumstances, and we have heard from numerous listeners and underwriters who appreciate and support the decision.

Through it all, we have kept our listeners and the community at the forefront of every programming decision we have made. We know our listeners come to us for music, but also some information via our NPR news headlines, so we needed to strike a balance of providing both the escape of music and the need to keep abreast of the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a delicate balance: We need to provide enough current events to keep people informed while also being a musical refuge where listeners can escape current events.

We believe that WTMD has achieved this balance of music and news by changing the overall tonality and delivery of the station. There are several new features that have drawn our listeners even closer, and thus created what we now refer to as “WTMD, Your RadiOasis.” This term has resonated with our listeners and makes WTMD’s role clear in these troubling times.

Programming changes at WTMD

After meeting the logistical challenges of dispersing WTMD staff to work from home, we have been able to create new programming elements and features, online concerts and, in essence, a re-branding of the station without missing a beat.

WTMD immediately increased the frequency of NPR news headlines to the top of each hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday. We have also, in general, loosened up the request line in order to generate more of a two-way line of communication with listeners. The jocks will take requests and read listener comments on the air. This has helped create an intimate atmosphere and sense of community. The number to call is 410-704-8936.

We’ve also made these programming updates to support our community of listeners and local musicians.

  • Weasel’s Wild Weekend & Young at Heart radio marathons on HD2
    We reprogrammed our HD2 channel, which had formerly been all Baltimore music 24/7. We wanted to do something for the parents with kids out of school and stuck at home. So we programmed the mornings, 6am-noon, with rebroadcasts of our popular family show “Young at Heart with Lisa Mathews.” From noon to midnight, we programmed archived editions of our extremely popular “Weasel’s Wild Weekend” with legendary radio host/musicologist Jonathan “Weasel” Gilbert. Weasel is celebrating 50 years on the air in the DC/Baltimore area, the last 10 of which have been here on WTMD. These changes run 7 days a week on our HD2. The response has been very positive, with many listeners telling us they keep it on all day, and that the mornings with “Young at Heart” has been a real gift for them and their kids. Other stations in our industry, including WFUV in New York City, have shared our Young at Heart marathon with their listeners and encouraged them to stream it.

  • Debuted “A Sound Prescription
    Listeners can now submit a list of songs that they turn to for comfort during times of stress. These include songs they love and want to share with others during these uncertain times. Three times a day—once each air-shift—we play a three-song set from one listener and send it out as our “Sound Prescription” to help with stress relief, cabin fever, etc.
  • Introduced a new feature called “Home School”
    Every weekday in the 10 a.m. hour, midday host Sam Gallant calls class to session and, as “Professor” Sam, introduces a set of music about various topics such as math, geography, science, biology, etc. For example, a recent topic was science and Professor Sam played “The Sound of Science” by the Beastie Boys, “Show Me How This Thing Works” by Cracker, and “Stuck On You” from Josh Ritter. This plays off the idea of schools being closed and allows for some out-of-the-ordinary song sets.
  • “From the Vault” replaces live performances
    Since we are no longer able to host live performance events, we turned to our extensive archives of previous live performances to create and launch our new “From The Vault” series. This reminds listeners of the important role that live performance events play at WTMD and provides some comfort by allowing listeners to reflect on the many opportunities that WTMD has provided for them to experience live music—and will provide once again in the days to come. We have drawn from Live Lunch, Evenings With and various in-studio artist visits to create this ongoing feature that airs at various time throughout the day.
  • “Cabin Fever Concerts” supports Baltimore musicians
    We also launched WTMD’s “WTMD’s Cabin Fever Concerts,” our way to extend our support of Baltimore musicians who have taken a huge hit to their income with all public performances cancelled for the near future. Each Cabin Fever Concert is a live performance from the home of the artist. Musicians also give us a look inside their living and creative spaces by showing us things like “What’s in Your Refrigerator,” or sharing a favorite recipe or mixing up a cocktail, in addition to a live music performance. We give the artists’ PayPal and/or Venmo information so that listeners/viewers can give them some support. This series is presented on Facebook, with additional social media promotion via Twitter and Instagram.
  • Livestream Saturday Morning Tunes on Facebook
    Since the next few months of our Saturday Morning Tunes Family Concert Series had to be cancelled, we launched Saturday Morning Tunes Livestreams featuring popular family musicians. The series launched with a show by kindie rocker Jumpin’ Jamie on April 18 and will continue every Saturday morning for the next several weeks. These shows are educational and interactive, and feature music that parents can also enjoy.

Changes beyond the radio

We’ve also increased WTMD’s social media engagement in new and creative ways. Since we can’t connect with our audience in person at live events, we’ve ramped up our presence on social media, posting multiple times per day and having dialogues with listeners and fans on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. WTMD is also generating and posting videos on social media more than ever before. We’ve launched a weekly series of short videos, “What Would WTMD Stand For Without You,” where we re-imagine WTMD’s call letters as “Work Those Muscles, Dude” and “Witness the Masters Dojo.” And we’ve asked the artists behind the Cabin Fever Concert series to take short, funny selfie videos about how they’re coping with stay-at-home orders. Our goal is to hopefully give people a chuckle in these stressful times and remind us that we’re all in this together.

On March 30, we sent out the first of our new email series, Mindful Mondays. Every Monday morning an email goes out to all of our subscribers full of good news, resources and content to start the week off on a positive note. Mindful Mondays is just a nice touchpoint from WTMD to let our listeners know we are thinking of them and hope they are doing well right now. Each email contains:

  • resources for local artists and musicians
  • music to meditate by recommendations from the air staff
  • links to current programming content, including free online concert streams
  • a nice note from the station
  • no business—meaning no asks for money (except during fund drive)

Supporting WTMD and area musicians

WTMD is a 501(c)(3) member supported non-profit. Our two main funding sources are underwriting sponsors and membership donations. Our underwriting clients are primarily local, small businesses—especially bars and restaurants. In addition, the spring is when we sign up many sponsors for our 1st Thursday Festival Series that runs May through September. The 4th quarter is the largest revenue generating quarter for underwriting. There is a potential loss of $300k for underwriting, which is almost one third of their budget.

To help meet this underwriting crisis, we have:

  • Extended low-cost and even free underwriting announcements for many of our local, longtime clients who are now struggling. This allows them to keep their name in front of the public and create a sense of goodwill with the client.
  • Added sponsors to the Cabin Fever Concert Series, which lets us pay the artists for their performances.

Last week, we held a fund drive to counteract the lost funding from March, and it was a huge success. For this fund drive, we teamed up with the Baltimore Artist Relief Fund and we will be donating 10% of every contribution to that fund to help Baltimore area musicians.

With such a significant loss of revenue, we have also taken several steps to help keep WTMD functioning financially while avoiding layoffs. We have applied for the Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grant Fund, the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan Grant, and the Paycheck Protection Program. As of April 20, we still have not received any additional funding from these sources.

We know that we are creating deep and meaningful connections with our listeners and business supporters, and we are giving them some relief during this stressful and scary time. We are proud of all the changes and adaptations that we have made and are continuing to make. And with the overwhelmingly positive feedback and continued financial support from our listeners, we are seeing signs that our hard work is paying off.