Ypsilanti’s WEMU radio station sees significant audience growth during pandemic



Increased hunger for local news, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, could be behind a sharp increase in audiences for Eastern Michigan University’s radio station, 89.1 WEMU-FM. The station’s audience increased by 32% between fall 2020 and spring 2021.

“That’s 7,000 more listeners,” says Molly Motherwell, CEO of WEMU.

Motherwell says it was natural for listeners to seek out smaller outlets with more hyper-local information during a pandemic. As there is no local TV channel or daily newspaper covering the Ypsilanti region, UEMU’s local COVID coverage has proven to be invaluable to listeners, she says. This included weekly discussions with Washtenaw County Health Department Communications and Health Promotion Administrator Susan Cerniglia, as well as segments with U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell and Washtenaw County United Way staff. .

“These are programs specific to our community, what people can do and what’s going on here, rather than just the stories everyone was broadcasting about what’s going on nationally or statewide. hyper-local journalism’s impact cannot be overlooked, ”Motherwell said.

On the flip side, she says the station’s constant dose of jazz and blues music also provided an “escape” for local listeners who were weary of the news.

“News weariness is real,” Motherwell says. “With civil unrest and elections on top of a pandemic, you are reaching a saturation point.”

Motherwell says she was also encouraged by the fact that listening remained high as pandemic restrictions were lifted and people began to return to the office.

“Radio at all levels, especially public radio, has increased during the pandemic,” she said. “But some other stations went down and we didn’t. We kept growing and growing and attracting new people.”

A list of UEMO programs, including the weekly On the Ground Ypsilanti segment, is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti township and project manager for On the Ypsilanti field. She joined Focus as a journalist in early 2017 and occasionally contributes to other Press group publications. You can reach her at [email protected].

Photo courtesy of UEMOA.


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