WORT celebrates 38 years of community radio with a party at High Noon Saloon this Saturday, Dec. 7. Local bands the Jimmys, Earl Foss & the Brown Derby and Icarus Himself will perform, and birthday cake will be served. But the station's diverse musical offerings are just a slice of what makes it integral to Madison's media landscape.
"We're so fortunate that Madison values good music and free expression," says WORT news director Molly Stentz, noting that the event will celebrate "the vibrancy of independent media in Madison."
"We always love to hear from listeners and alumni, near and far," she adds. "Our birthday is a great chance to hear from them and reflect on where we've been and what we've done. We have former programmers and WORT listeners all over the world."
Like many traditional media outlets, WORT has faced the challenge of delivering a strong, independent voice in new and creative ways using digital tools.
"We're essentially operating a second station online now, and it's been challenging to adjust our operations and budget to meet the new digital demands," Stentz says. "We need more and better computers, fast Internet and new software, but also new ways of thinking."
To that end, WORT has begun experimenting with digital-only content, posting permanent audio archives for some of its programs to SoundCloud, live-streaming concerts and sharing stories via social media.
"Personally, I want to see us do more data journalism projects, to harness available computing power to find and tell stories that can simply be too complex to do with just audio," Stentz explains. "I want to see us do more multimedia projects, use the visual medium that the web provides and provide opportunities for people to interact with us and each other."
The station's grassroots energy is more valuable than ever, too.
"I've had many people tell me that they consider WORT to be the original social network," Stentz says. "We were crowdsourcing before anyone had heard of the term. We were so deeply engaged with the community that we had a wide network of sources to draw upon for our news stories, our talk programs, our music collections. There were just so many different people...hanging out in the studios, dropping by, participating. That was unusual for a radio station."
Stentz says blogs, YouTube and other digital resources have made media become a more interactive and democratic resource. And that puts the new era of journalism in WORT's wheelhouse.
"[It] has challenged us to examine...how we can gather resources and form partnerships in order to be relevant," she says. "I think the next few years will be very interesting as we figure out how to do that."