Delaware news startup adds public radio service

By Mike Janssen

A nonprofit that operates a news site for the state of Delaware has acquired an FM broadcast license and plans to launch a new station by early summer.

Delaware First Media’s purchase of WDDE, a 2,500-watt signal on 91.1 FM, lays the groundwork for the first-ever public radio station to be based in and serve the state of Delaware.

Boudreau, left, heads Delaware First Media, Boosey is set to be g.m. of its station, WDDE, Hansen serves as the new station’s “cheerleader.”

DFM announced its $24,000 purchase from the Salisbury University Foundation in Salisbury, Md., on April 12. The new news/talk station will be based at Delaware State University in Dover and serve the central and southern parts of the state.

Delmarva Public Radio, a service of Salisbury University, received the construction permit for WDDE in a 2007 FCC filing window but opted not to use it. When the permit was on the verge of expiring last year, DFM teamed up with the Maryland pubcaster to save the license by putting WDDE on the air as a rebroadcast of Delmarva Public Radio’s WDSL-FM. The station is now off the air in preparation for its relaunch.

Delaware First Media has operated a news site, delawarefirst.org, covering Delaware since 2010. It was founded by a group of Delaware journalists, some of whom previously worked for Philadelphia’s WHYY. DFM President Micheline Boudreau managed WHYY’s news bureau in Dover and worked for Delaware Tonight, the nightly news program that WHYY produced for decades. Boudreau also helped launch On Point at Boston’s WBUR and produced a daily news show at WRNI in Rhode Island.

Facing cuts in state funding, WHYY canceled the nightly Delaware Tonight in 2009 and started a weekly show covering Delaware news. The broadcaster also closed its Dover bureau and reduced Wilmington-based staff. The decisions upset policymakers, including Gov. Jack Markell and James Baker, the mayor of Wilmington. WHYY’s TV station is licensed to Wilmington.

WHYY’s retrenchment coincided with staff cuts at other media organizations in the state and contributed to a vacuum of coverage of state politics, according to Boudreau. Most coverage of the state comes from news outlets based outside of Delaware, she says.

“We were really concerned about what was going on, as residents of this state,” Boudreau says. Tom Byrne, another former WHYY reporter on the Delaware beat, also joined the effort to launch DFM. He will serve as the new radio station’s news director. General Manager George Boosey formerly served as program director at WBUR and at North Carolina Public Radio.

The team has another public radio veteran as an ally in starting the station: Liane Hansen, former host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. Hansen moved to Delaware’s Bethany Beach last year after retiring from NPR. She gave a presentation at an event in Wilmington, where she met a DFM representative and offered to help get the radio station off the ground.

Hansen says she comes across newsworthy stories every day in Delaware. The lack of state-based media means that “there are stories here that haven’t been told, and haven’t been told to the population here,” Hansen says. “They haven’t heard about themselves.”

Hansen is now serving as WDDE’s “cheerleader,” she says, drumming up interest and support in the community. She is considering taking an on-air role once the station signs on and also wants to help train college students in radio and online journalism.

The station is receiving $75,000 in support from the University of Delaware, already a partner of DFM, and $100,000 in support from Delaware State University, some of which is in-kind. The universities have never collaborated before, according to Boudreau.

Both schools will continue funding the station after its first year if it meets certain fundraising goals.

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