WILL eliminates weather department

Ed Kieser, meteorologist at WILL, a public broadcasting station owned by the University, has been in his position for more than 22 years. But on Thursday he and Weather Producer Mike Sola, who has worked for eight years, learned that WILL was eliminating its weather department and would not be renewing their contracts.

Kieser said the decision is due to a tight budget, the result of the state not following through on its financial obligations. Unfortunately, he said, this decision affects his job.

“As long as the state continues its actions, things will get worse,” Kieser said.

Mark Leonard, general manager of Illinois Public Media, said the cuts will go into effect April 1.

However, Kieser’s and Sola’s contracts do not expire for up to one year due to notice rights, Leonard said. WILL will be using them in other roles, Leonard said.

WILL gets its funding from the Illinois Arts Council, the University, a federal grant, member support and other fundraisers.

The Illinois Arts Council, a government agency that encourages development of the arts throughout the state, gave $220,000 to WILL for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Leonard said. But the council has cut WILL funding $300,000 since 2006, including cutting $110,000 this year, Leonard said.

Leonard said the University has told the station to prepare for a five percent funding reduction. The station has to anticipate what will happen next, Leonard said, because the funding situation is not going to stabilize given the state’s economic climate.

“We do not expect next year to be a good year,” he added.

Leonard said the decision to cut the weather department was difficult, but the station had to make cuts somewhere. Local weather, which costs WILL $140,000 to operate, is more expensive than national programs. Leonard said people have other options, such as using the Internet, to get weather information.

However, Kieser said he felt there is something lost by just getting the weather from the Internet; viewers trusted Kieser and Sola, who provided a unique and reliable service. If the station had the funding, it would not be making this decision, he said.

“The service we provided goes way beyond that (Web sites),” he said. “We are actual people and more accurate than the Web.”

Sola said the station will still broadcast national weather services.

Other changes being made at WILL include the elimination of seven other staff positions, including a full-time and a part-time TV producer, a radio programmer, part-time TV announcer, graphic designer and a radio technical director.

The station is also changing its radio to a “dual format,” which means it will broadcast National Public Radio programs on FM and AM frequencies. Previously, NPR programs were only available on AM radio. Another change is the creation of a web developer as a staff position.

Kieser said the comments from viewers and listeners regarding the elimination of the weather department have made his career rewarding.

“The one thing that’s been rewarding is the feedback we’ve received on the impact we’ve had on people’s lives,” Sola said.