If you mention Tom Teuber’s name to folks in the broadcasting and music industries you will hear stories about the great stations he has programmed such as WMET, Chicago, WCMF, Rochester and especially WMMM, Madison. You will also hear about people he has hired, mentored and stayed in touch with over a forty-plus-year career.
But you might not know what Teuber is doing now. He is the volunteer Program Director at WVMO, a 100-watt noncom LPFM in Monona, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison.
WVMO is an exciting example of a new breed of community radio: consistent, professional sound and a hyper focus on serving the local community. Rather than dwell on partisan politics and strident opinions like many old-school Pacifica-type stations, WVMO is a music curator and convener that brings people together.
THE WVMO STORY
About 9 years ago Tom Teuber had left WMMM and was working as a consultant for clients such as Kurt Hanson’s AccuRadio [link]. He was getting his radio jones fed by doing volunteer airshifts at WSUM, the excellent college station at the University of Wisconsin. Teuber had a long relationship with WSUM – he helped them solve a nasty tower zoning problem that led to WSUM going on the air.
One day he was getting his car serviced and got a call from a frequent listener to him on WMMM: Paul Meyer, an engineer at Wisconsin Public Radio. Kelly told Teuber that he and several other residents of Monona were planning to file for a new LPFM license. Meyer asked Teuber to be involved which he did.
The City of Monona turned out to be a great place to start a new station because they had the money to pay for the lengthy application and construction of the station. The City gets cable access fees in exchange for right-of-ways on Monona’s cable TV systems. Many municipalities suck up this money but Monona did not. They saved the cable access proceeds and then dedicated some of the funds to build WVMO.
As the application slowly made its way through the FCC, Teuber took an essential role in the planning for what is now WVMO. Through his contacts with highly-skilled broadcasters who choose to live in Madison (and a bit of luck) he helped convene the staff, prepared programming and planned to rollout of WVMO. The station signed on in August 2015.
|Will Nimmow, Paul Meyer and Lindsay Wood Davis|
While waiting for the FCC to approve the application, Teuber planned the new station with help from other Madison radio veterans such as Meyer, former radio executive and consultant Lindsay Wood Davis and Bob Miller, the mayor of Monona. Miller used to run the ABC-TV affiliate and has an intuitive feel for communications He has an encyclopedic knowledge of how to get things done in a government setting.
Miller helped solve logistics issues such as the tower site (on top of city hall) and space to house the station (a conference room in city hall). Today WVMO’s studio is the first thing a visitor sees when entering Monona City Hall. Miller does on-air play-by-play of Monona Grove High School football games.
When the FCC finally approved the construction permit for the station, WVMO The Voice of Monona went on the air with a paid staff of one person: City of Monona Media coordinator Will Nimmow. Nimmow is also in charge of Monoma’s cable TV access channels and online outreach to city residents.
Teuber credits WVMO's successful application and smooth debut to Lindsay Wood Davis, a Monona resident who is about to be inducted into the aforementioned Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Teuber worked with Davis to craft the station’s brand and recruit volunteers to be part of WMVO. Today the station has nearly 50 volunteers.
“We had no idea when we started doing it for real how the community would respond or if any volunteers would show up,” Teuber says. “We were really pleased with the turnout for our first community meeting. Lots of people came with good ideas.”
WVMO can be heard everywhere in Monona (coverage map on the left) including at the city cop shop. The police chief told Mayor Miller, “The station [is] the hold music on the phone system.”
WVMO’S PROGRAMMING STRATEGY
Rather than having a hodge-podge schedule of volunteer vanity shows, Teuber employed the basics of successful radio stations whether they are noncoms or commercial stations: Consistent programming, local service and plenty of spice from volunteer hosts who know what they are talking about.
Madison is a very competitive radio market with heritage noncommercial stations including NPR News, Classical music and talk on two Wisconsin Public Radio stations, established old-school community station WORT, College Rock WSUM (which I consider the best college station in the nation) and WNWC, a very successful CCM noncom.
Radio folks will recognize WVMO’s program clock: Three breaks per hour whether volunteers are on the air or hours when programming is voice-tracked. The stop sets are very brief and many include quick PSA’s about the city and area.
|Jonathan W. Little|
One niche not being served was Americana music, a popular on noncom stations nationwide. But WMVO had almost no programming budget, so Teuber asked for a favor from legendary Madison broadcaster Jonathan W. Little who Teuber knew through AccuRadio in Chicago. Little developed a 24/7 Americana format known as The Train [link].
Little agreed to help and donated several hundred Americana tunes from his format library. This allowed Teuber to provide listeners with a consistent, fulltime professional air sound. Then WMVO added a handful of volunteer hosts with deep knowledge and broadcasting chops.
For example, Teuber recruited Bruce Ravid, a UW graduate with many years of experience at Capitol Records and progressive rock stations in Southern California. Ravid is still living in LA. His three-hour indie rock showcase Go Deep is on WVMO.
Teuber doesn’t worry about occasional on-air flubs: We’re a baby and will occasionally spit up on ourselves.
THE POWER OF POLKA
One of the most popular volunteer programs on WVMO came about almost by accident. In the Spring of 2015, Teuber tells about reading about a forthcoming book about Wisconsin's polka culture:
I tracked down the author, Richard March, and asked if he'd be interested in hosting such a show. Little did I know that for many years he had hosted a show on Wisconsin Public Radio called Down Home Dairyland. Since it was canceled 10 or 15 years ago, it had been missing from the airwaves. Rick agreed to bring it back and a few weeks later, before we were even on the air, he sent me several completed programs all produced and ready to go!
Marsh’s book Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka is considered a definitive source on Polka music in America. Down Home Dairyland is now heart on small network noncom stations.
TEUBER NOT A NONCOM ROOKIE
In some ways WVMO is Teuber’s return to public radio. He claims to be the first voice on WXXI, Rochester. At WXXI he did the morning drive shift at WXXI in the days before NPR began Morning Edition. In the 1990s, Teuber produced The Best Game in Town, an entertainment guide. He also was an occasional contributor to The Wild Room featuring Ira Glass and Gary Covino. The Wild Room later morphed into This American Life.
Tom Teuber has been part of lots of great radio. Creating and programming WVMO is among his proudest achivements:
I know I could make a lot more money doing other things, but I am not in this to get rich. I am very comfortable now. This just the next step in my career and I love it.