WORT-FM is a nonprofit, non-commercial radio station that’s been operating for nearly 50 years within Madison and its surrounding areas.
Beyond its 13 staff members — seven full time and six part time — the station operates completely on local volunteer work. According to its website, WORT sees at least 300 volunteers through its doors per week.
“[WORT] would not exist without all of the volunteer labor, knowledge, expertise and creativity that we have,” Chali Pittman, WORT news and public affairs director, told The Daily Cardinal. “Thousands of people have been volunteers at one point or another, and it’s all local – not just Madison, but also suburbs within and even surrounding Dane County.”
WORT’s community creators shape its content, Pittman said.
“We have a very robust network of people who will send us tips and ideas for shows. They submit it, and it gets blasted out to all of our hosts directly,” Pittman said. “You want to be tied to your community and know what they’re thinking.”
WORT has a wide range of programs on a weekly basis, including a comedy show, “Mel & Floyd,” and the “8 O’Clock Buzz,” an hour-long upbeat morning news show with a mix of interviews, news, culture and music.
The nonprofit station receives nearly all its funding from listener donations. Staff members attend local events, concerts and festivals in order to meet and engage with community members and incentivize donations.
The station also reaches out to local businesses that align with its mission statement for additional funding and support. But, given the station is a nonprofit, there are no advertisements.
“Most radio stations you listen to on your radio are commercial, and their goal is to sell you something. Legally, we literally cannot try to sell you anything,” Pittman said.
The station, similar to other public radio stations such as WPR and NPR, utilizes “underwriting,” a scaled-back advertising form to acknowledge local businesses and their support.
WORT doesn’t list prices or give superlative language in its underwriting, and there are no calls to action, just an acknowledgment of support. “We actually probably don’t have a lot of competitors, because I can’t name another radio station that airs an hour-long news broadcast,” Pittman said. “I can’t name another radio station that plays the types of music we play.”
While WORT continues to maintain its radio presence, the station is expanding into other platforms.
“People like to talk about the decline of radio,” Pittman said. “We’re in the biggest audio boom since radios were invented, and it’s called podcasts.”
Especially with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, podcasts have become increasingly popular over the past decade. WORT has uploaded multiple podcasts available on streaming platforms like Spotify, and all the podcasts at this time were broadcasted on air before being uploaded.
WORT’s mission of bettering its community includes providing opportunities for others to learn, according to Pittman.
“The place we really shine right now is assisting other groups and community members with learning the basics of audio and allowing them to use our studio space,” Pittman said.
WORT invites anyone to join the station — no experience required. The station also offers unpaid internships.
“It’s not just a great kind of skill, it’s a great way to meet people and meet your community. I got involved with WORT when I was a student at UW, and I just never left,” Pittman said.
Editor’s note: “Cardinal Call,” a weekly radio segment and podcast run by The Daily Cardinal, airs on WORT-FM.