Music-loving individuals like Baub Alred, who is featured in this story, have kept the community-run WEFT radio station going all these years. Volunteers like him come and go, but they have given this radio station a forever feel in C-U. I’m glad I got to catch the action in the studio one night in January of 2017.
On the 100 block of North Market Street, tucked just away from the brighter lights and bustling activity of downtown Champaign, is a community radio station called WEFT, 90.1 FM, which has been in operation since 1981.
It’s 11:45 p.m. on a cold and desolate January night. Not a soul is around, but WEFT is alive. Like every night, music is being released into the world via this gem of a diverse radio station, making the atmosphere warmer.
Just minutes before his shift, 41-year-old WEFT DJ and Champaign resident Baub Alred waits in the station’s Great Hall area, where bands play live every Monday night and thousands of CDs are stacked tall on shelves that reach the ceiling. Alred is nearly six feet tall and hefty, with a cherub face that has a light beard adorning it. He sports round pinkish glasses and has a full head of orange-blonde hair that’s reminiscent of Scott Weiland’s look during the Stone Temple Pilots’ Core–Purple era.
We enter the studio and hear the searing guitar on Michael Kiwanuka’s song “The Final Frame” winding down the final seconds of Bleecker Street, a show that precedes Alred’s and features singer-songwriters.
The song ends and the sterile ringing of a phone from analog times of yore fills the room. People of the Generation X age and older would recognize the sound from the Ma Bell era.
“Hell-o!” says a female voice, all valley girl and excitable.
“What’s up, girl?” asks a man’s voice. “What happened after Tony dumped you?”
“Girl, I’m over it. I went from heartbreak to hate!”
Cue some surf music and Alred’s first words of the very early morning to those in C-U who might be listening: “Welcome to From Heartbreak to Hate. This is our reform-school girls show, so this is all bad girls doing bad things. This show is uncensored, so beware.”
The DJ kicks it off with a catchy new-wave rock tune called “The Professionals” from the 1982 film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.
Not long after Alred’s show starts, fellow WEFT volunteer Todd Hunter pops his head into the studio. “You may want to know,” he tells Alred, “Todd [Durnil] seems to have figured out that it looks like nothing has recorded since 11 this morning.”
“So, if you’re planning on, like, an awesome show, you might want to record it some other way.”
“Okay, yeah. I’ll do that.”
Hunter relates to Alred the day’s many tensions via email among station volunteers, which may have led to no one noticing that WEFT shows weren’t getting streamed on Radio Free America like usual. Alred takes the news in stride, knowing he is a relative newbie at WEFT, and that he can post songs from tonight’s show on his online Mixcloud page. Still, he’s a little put off by the news: “I do get a lot of listens on Radio Free America, so it’s kind of a bummer.”
As the rock director at WEFT, Alred has a plethora of music at his disposal. He loves all-female punk music and plays loads of it on the radio, along with female alternative and goth. The music spans from the 1970s onward.
Alred’s From Heartbreak to Hate show is named after the first tune he ever played on the program by the Scottish band Angelfish, which was fronted by lead singer Shirley Manson, who went on to sing in the more popular indie band Garbage.
The groups Alred gives exposure to on WEFT are angry and anti-authority. In his eyes, they are musical ambassadors who scream, rant, and warble for the causes he cares deeply about: domestic abuse and women’s rights.
“I just have always kind of felt like female music was a little bit more outside than male-dominated music. The basis of a lot of these songs are the same things we have going on now where they don’t have equal rights, still. So that affects me. That’s kind of why I relate to it,” he says.
“I just have always kind of felt like female music was a little bit more outside than male-dominated music. The basis of a lot of these songs are the same things we have going on now where they don’t have equal rights, still. So that affects me. That’s kind of why I relate to it.”-Baub Alred
Alred’s art hobby is inspired by the music he listens to and vice versa. After years of comic book-style sketching he’s delved into female-based digital art, which he labels “pop surrealism.” His online images are razor sharp, colorful, and evocative, women at the center of scenes that range from dream-like fairy tales to the depths of hell.
Hailing from Springfield, Missouri, Alred is an enthusiast of horror movies who works as an office support associate in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. His parents divorced when he was a year old but stayed together for several more years following the supposed split.
From a young age, Alred watched his father behave abusively toward his mother. Eventually Alred, his sister, and their mother escaped the mistreatment when his mom’s sisters arrived from Kentucky in the middle of the night to take them away—minus the family’s patriarch.
The trio decided to stay in Henderson, near the Indiana border, and Alred lived in Kentucky until he was 15. He resided in a trailer park among many types of people and loved it. Alred’s family allowed him to be himself, and so he did, carousing with his many female cousins and hanging out with older kids who spent time near the town’s laundromat. At this stage of his life, the future WEFT DJ sought out trouble where he could find it.
“It was actually a really great environment,” says Alred, who as a child and teen spoke his mind and never backed down from a fight.
Alred’s family later moved to Roodhouse, Illinois, where he suddenly found himself in a rural, more stifling locale. As an adult, Alred describes himself as “pissed-off happy,” at peace with who he is and still evolving. But as a kid he could get depressed, angry, and argumentative with authority figures.
Being gay didn’t make his life any easier, but he dealt with it.
“People would obviously make fun of me, but I really didn’t care. So people just stopped making fun of me,” he says.
Alred has been with his current partner, Barry, for more than 10 years and has always felt blessed his family didn’t spurn him for who he is.
Despite his talk of rebelliousness and disestablishment, Alred comes off as an easygoing guy. His on-air persona lacks pizzazz, but he gets the job done without wasteful banter and by playing music for a cause, music that has meant something to him for a long time.
The tech-savvy DJ is not religious, but he has taught Sunday school in the past and recognizes the value that religion plays in the lives of his friends and family. Alred has all sorts of diverse friends whom he respects for their multiplicity and various interests.
“I have very religious friends. And I have very anti-religion friends. And if I had a party, they would have to get along at my party,” he says.
It was anything but a party in Alred’s view the day after Donald Trump won the presidency. He says he went through “five sets of emotions” the night of the election, but the next day he woke up with a focused attitude, asking himself how society could improve and then taking the lead to comfort the crying and broken colleagues in his office.
Perhaps it’s his Midwestern roots and Kentucky upbringing that helped Alred recognize that Trump appealed to a middle-class majority that his Democratic opponent may have ignored or taken for granted.
“Until a person can get every single disenfranchised group of people together, you’re going to have polarizing politics,” he says, admitting that such a development likely won’t happen in his lifetime. Nonetheless, Alred is trying to at least hit some of the notes of his empathetic goals, one song at a time.
Photo and video by Sal Nudo
This story and several others by Sal are available to read in the book Far From Mars: Nine Creative Nonfiction Stories Featuring People and Places in Champaign-Urbana.