Making It Work: How WVXU stayed on air during the pandemic

Maryanne at mic.JPG
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 11:04:33-04

CINCINNATI — Whether you knew it or not, many of the familiar voices you heard on 91.7 WVXU's airwaves this past year likely weren’t coming from inside the CET building on Central Parkway.

“We had a lot of people just that turned their homes into studios and were broadcasting from their closets,” said Maryanne Zeleznik, the vice president of news for Cincinnati Public Radio, where she also gets behind the mic for Morning Edition.

Zeleznik was one of very few who still came into the station each day.

“We did have one person on staff who did get COVID," Zeleznik said. "We had to get everybody out of the building so we could clean it and the rest of us had to quarantine. So even I was broadcasting from my closet for a couple of weeks, which was interesting. Overall, it went very smoothly.”

More daily content went online, a byproduct of changing habits mostly due to a lack of commute, as the station wanted to be a constant connection for its listeners. Gathering news transitioned from face-to-face interaction to Zoom, which made some stories and interviews easier to get because distance no longer mattered.

What did matter: The family connection built not only between hosts and listeners but also those listeners who became volunteers with a shared goal of supporting public radio.

“Some of our volunteers have been here for 20, 25 years. And they volunteer here, and they volunteer downstairs at CET. So it's kind of a family atmosphere," said Sherri Mancini, vice president of development. But those volunteers could no longer come into the building during an ever-important time for the station -- the fund drives.

“The first time we did a fund drive during the pandemic, there were no pledges from seven to eight in the morning. And that, that was a long hour,” Mancini said.

It got better, and Mancini said something else put in place about a decade ago made a huge impact in helping them make it work. The sustaining membership program currently has about 11,000 people who make monthly donations, some as little as $5. That helped Cincinnati Public Radio push through.

They still need more listener support, as that is what will keep them going, and their goal is to celebrate bringing back volunteers to help with fund drives by September.

Zeleznik said there was one major thing the pandemic taught her.

“Something may come your way you're not planning on. But you know what, we are way more flexible than we give ourselves credit for. And I think that's what the pandemic proved.”