Starting February 1, there will be a new sound on Champaign-Urbana airwaves. Illinois Public Media is launching Illinois Soul, which will focus on amplifying Black voices and music.
Morning Edition host Kimberly Schofield spoke about the launch of Illinois Soul with Jill Clements, Assistant Corporate Support Director at IPM, and Reginald Hardwick, IPM’s News and Public Affairs Director.
Kimberly Schofield: Jill, thank you for joining me. Tell me: what is Illinois Soul?
Jill Clements: Illinois Soul will be a groundbreaking format created to attract Black adult audiences to public media. We’re going to be featuring high quality Black NPR news talk shows and we’re going to marry that with neo soul, smooth jazz, R&B, and throwback so we cannot wait.
KS: That’ll be really fun. Reginald, where will listeners be able to hear it?
Reginald Hardwick: Illinois Soul will be part of our portfolio here at Illinois Public Media. People will be able to hear it on FM 101.1 here in Champaign-Urbana. And outside of the twin cities, you can tune it in on a high definition radio at FM 90.9. HD 2. We’ll also stream it on illinoissoul.org and all of that starts on February 1st. Now here’s what’s really important for our classical music listeners: the classical music you hear now on 101.1 is now being streamed online at will.illinois.edu and that will continue in February. And this change will not change any of the classical programming on 90.9 HD 1. So if you love your classical music on 90.9 – very important – it’s not going anywhere.
KS: Okay, so fear not to our classical music listeners. Jill, what kind of music will people be able to hear on Illinois Soul and when will they be able to hear it?
JC: Monday through Friday we’ll feature smooth jazz, R&B, and neo soul. On the weekend, we’ll continue and add specialty programming there including gospel.
KS: Okay, Reginald, what about news?
RH: Well, great news for people listening to Morning Edition here on WILL: you’ll get to hear Michel Martin, Kimberly Schofield, plus world, national, and local news on Illinois Soul. We’re starting the day with news because Black communities are huge news consumers, according to both national and local surveys. And also, what makes us excited about Illinois Soul, we’ll be showcasing Black hosted NPR programs such as 1A, Code Switch, It’s Been a Minute, Reveal, Jazz Night in America, and more. Think of it like your TV streaming services like Peacock, or Paramount or PBS Passport. We have all this content that’s very familiar all together in one place. And one other thing I want to mention, public media like NPR, PBS, and even here in Illinois…public media is for everyone. But there is a terrible track record of reaching Black and Brown audiences, even with shows that explore race like Code Switch. So this radio format allows us to do that. We are doing a format that no one else in the country is doing right now.
KS: And Jill, why target Black audiences at this time?
JC: The need is great. The desert is there. And again, as Reginald was mentioning, this was part of our mission: to engage and inspire all communities. So again, 89% of African American adults ages 25-54 consume radio on a weekly basis. So this has always been our medium from the beginning of time. And even with all these different options that people have today, radio is still number one for Black audiences.
KS: Reginald, will there be local programming?
RH: Yes. In addition to hearing your local news and weather Monday through Friday mornings, we will create a weekly local news magazine. And so we plan to get to the heart of things happening in the Black community in central Illinois. Going beyond the headlines, whether we’re talking about education, politics, or even the environment. If we’re talking about violence, we’re going to talk about how trauma and mental health are part of the root causes. And you may not know this, but there are 141,000 Black-owned businesses in our state of Illinois, but only a tiny percentage actually have more than one employee. And the reasons are vast: from redlining to a lack of financial and emotional resources. What’s important about Illinois Soul is we’re going to have programming that we’re talking with experts to empower the audience with helpful information. And we’ll also have a segment where people can leave a voicemail and share something good happening in the community.
KS: That’ll be really nice to hear. Owen Henderson and I have been doing WILL Call where we talk about the arts that are happening in the central Illinois area. Is there going to be any specific coverage about Black arts or events happening at all?
RH: Yes, we’ve heard from people in the community that they don’t know when Black arts events are happening in Illinois, so we’ll have snapshots of arts events and local Black history during the music and news programs.
KS: Jill, you’re a townie, born and raised in Champaign. Why is this station important for this area?
JC: It’s important to connect us with all the things going on in this community. A common thread that you hear from people, especially people moving into this town, is you’re trying to find your people, your tribe, your vibe, and there’s not a newspaper that helps you do that. There’s not any media platform to help you do that. So that will happen with Illinois Soul, and also it’s a way for this community to be seen, heard and celebrated. So we look forward to doing that 24/7.
KS: Reginald, you’ve lived all over the country. You’ve worked in TV newsrooms in Dallas and Denver before coming all the way here to IPM. Why do you think this station is important?
RH: You know, about three years ago, we were talking about the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. And it was a racial reckoning in America, including the media. It would have been easy for us just to put our Black Lives Matter slogan on our website and vow to work on more diversity. But here at Illinois Public Media we’ve vowed to really put work in and create an audio service that elevates the voices and culture of the central Illinois Black community, and really hear from the voices that have really gone unheard for decades.