WEMU and Northside Grill hosted their annual Valentine’s Day event on Saturday morning at the restaurant to give the public a chance to meet their favorite on-air personalities and donate to the radio station.
Northside Grill opened in Ann Arbor in 1993 and Jim Koli, the owner, was a fan of the radio station and contacted WEMU and offered to help support the local station.
WEMU host of The Roots Music Project, Jeremy Baldwin, said their staff comes to Northside Grill once a year to do this event and the idea is to celebrate the radio station, work with the restaurant and ask guests to give tips to the station.
“Since we are a public radio station, our biggest source of funding is listeners and the public,” said Baldwin. “Usually we’re on the radio and we're talking over their airwaves, but here we can come right to the public and ask for some tips to help us out and to keep things operating.”
Baldwin said a big percentage of WEMU’s funds come from events where they can raise money by collecting from the public.
“Of course we do the typical fundraiser several times a year on air, but then we do events like this,” he said. “It goes towards operating costs, it goes towards paying the staff, up keep with the equipment, all the basic day to day operating of the station. Every little bit helps to pay for that stuff. It's very nuts and bolts stuff.”
Baldwin said the event is fun and he enjoys the social aspect as well.
“It's nice to see people, talk to people face-to-face and for them to see you, and just to interact and ask questions,” Baldwin said. “These people are the reason that we exist so it's actually nice to meet them.”
WEMU jazz host and operators manager Michael Jewett said the event gives the WEMU staff the opportunity to connect with the community and thank listeners. He said that working in radio, it is important to connect with people and the audience.
“Radio is like this interpersonal thing, but people are like listening to the radio,” Jewett said. “So to be able to meet people in-person is a great way to reinforce that relationship. People hear you on the radio but seeing you is a whole other thing.”
WEMU general manager Molly Motherwell said WEMU is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and the station faces challenges from being in a very diverse market.
“This is a very, very crowded market for public radio,” Motherwell said. There’s seven stations that reach this area. We're [WEMU] the only one that is exclusive to Washtenaw County. We're also the only one that has a lot of local programming, especially local music. It is really important for us to get out and connect with the community and establish those relationships that go beyond listening and sending in a check.”
Motherwell said that WEMU has incredibly loyal listeners that were waiting outside before the restaurant opened to come to this event.
“We had a full house [at the restaurant] at 7:15 a.m.,” said Motherwell. “They are very loyal to our station. There's a lot of choices in this area and we want them to choose us. Reaching out and establishing those relationships really does it.”
She said the turn out of the event has been great and it's been standing room only all day.
“We have over $1,500 already,” Motherwell said. “The most we've ever raised at this event is about $1,900 and we had $1,500 by 11 a.m., so we're probably well past that now. We are really hoping this is the year we go over the $2,000 mark.”
Betty Kirksey, a listener of WEMU, said she has been listening to the station for decades.
“I like the kind of music, especially the blues that Michael plays,” said Kirksey. “I listen to it mostly in the car except for Sunday afternoons, I always listen to Jessica's show from 3-5 p.m. while I'm cooking.”
Web Kirksey, another frequent listener of WEMU, said WEMU is one of the only jazz stations that has been around for a long time. He tunes in often to listen to the jazz music.
“It's close by and plays good music,” said Kirksey. “Michael Jewett is probably my favorite disc jockey but they are all great.”