John Bell, Director of Development and Marketing for WSKG, modestly reports that 31,000 people across northern Pennsylvania, the southern tier and Finger Lakes listen to the Morning Edition with Sarah Gager and NPR each week. Located in a vintage ‘50s former school in a residential neighborhood near Binghamton, John can watch neighborhood families sledding in the old school playground while working.
After growing up in the D.C. area, John first fell for public radio at Penn State about 18 years ago. Once hooked, he traveled to Portland, Oregon, to try an off-campus public radio setting. “Yes, Ithaca and Portland seem very similar,” he said.
Having worked in and savored radio in a large university and a hipster heaven station, John’s next gig was three years in Dallas, Texas, at a gigantic station. When WSKG had the vision to recruit nationally, John brought his varied experiences in public radio to our area.
Each day, John works with WSKG current and prospective member donors and community sponsors. His days may include a donation of a car, work expanding the donor program, following up on pledge drives and more. All of us recognize the names of businesses that are important supporters of the programming we love. Currently, about 11,000 donors support the 31,000 listeners and viewers who depend on WSKG for National Public Radio and Public Television. “WSKG punches above its weight. It’s a plucky little station, which has a huge impact on our community.”
Once COVID challenged our lives, WSKG riveted its energies to education: “We quickly created all-day PBS TV educational programs for all ages, all interests, in all subject matter. Families without high-speed internet, or no broadband needed immediate access, and WSKG stepped up and stepped forward.”
There are scheduling grids for programs available each day. Need to teach social studies to your new home officemate in fifth grade, or science or math or art or music? Quit your corporate job to teach your three preschool grandchildren in your lovely Brooktondale home? “Jackie Stapleton champions our educational outreach; 5,000 lesson plans were distributed to schools and families hosting their scholars at home or at school. Go to WSKG.org. Hit ‘For Education.’ You will see the button on the homepage ‘Learn at Home!’ You can peruse the monthly schedule and review the support materials for teachers (credentialed or homegrown). And there’s lots of support for all teachers.”
WSKG understands there may be kids in the class, plus kids on their computer at home — all with one teacher. Or kids at home without a teacher and not in a class. Teachers in the classroom, without the support of other teachers and admin nearby. Lots of people trying to learn wherever they are. “That’s who we are creating materials for right now, when the need is unexpected, when the need is greatest.”
Enough about our young scholars. How about their elders? Nancy Codding, head of WSKG Science Education, created the popular Sci-Pub. (Getting together to chat science in a pub!) Popular pub nights focused on ticks, genetics, the DNA of love and all things in between. Then COVID! Surprise! John reports that Sci-Pub is more popular than ever. “More people are tuning in to chat with their drink in hand.” (Non-alcohol is fine and no one should drink and drive if you imbibe alcohol.) Now more people can access Sci-Pub from their computers than we could ever gather in a bar anywhere in the WSKG region.
Above and beyond societal scholars (all of us), WSKG offers daily and nightly news. “Riveting election news! Daily Briefings! Local news! National news! Worldwide BBC news!” John likes kids, but he also loves the news.
What’s in it for those who aren’t seeking education or news? John points out that WSKG also hosts a station dedicated to sharing a wide array of music all day long and into the night. Tired of Baroque? Take a break with the latest COVID news on BBC. Turn into Philip Glass on WSKG Classical. Lots of options, whether you listen to the radio or stream online or through the WSKG app.
WSKG is part of a larger network across this land of ours. “All the stations are independent. We all tithe dues to reap the benefits of our NPR family. This set up permits us access to the crucial news and arts that are offered anywhere in the nation, while freeing up each public station to focus on its own home community.” And WSKG reflects the colorful character of this community’s components: Ithaca, Binghamton, Elmira, Corning, Cooperstown, with coverage of 21 counties, including Northern PA and the Finger Lakes. “We are able to select the programming WSKG listeners want to hear from PBS and NPR offerings.”
When COVID is a memory, John Bell will be up to take in the sites of Ithaca. And we’ll know where to rendezvous. An insider, John will share it with us on WSKG. John, over and out for now from Ithaca.