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Dave Chappelle providing new home for Yellow Springs' WYSO-FM

Artist's rendering of addition designed by architect Max Crome to historic Union Schoolhouse in Yellow Springs for WYSO-FM.
Courtesy WYSO-FM
An artist's rendering of addition designed by architect Max Crome to historic Union Schoolhouse in Yellow Springs for WYSO-FM.

Historic Union Schoolhouse is being rehabbed for new public radio studios and Chappelle's real estate and production offices.

When public radio station WYSO-FM was looking for a new location after cutting ties with Antioch College, one of the station's longtime listeners stepped up to provide space.

Comedian Dave Chappelle.

"We have a long standing relationship with him," says Luke Dennis, manager of WYSO-FM, which became an independent community radio station in 2018. "He’s been a donor off and on for many years. We know that he listens, especially in the evening to our music shows.

"I’ve known his family for 15 years because my wife taught all of his kids. This is a small town, and there are a lot of relationships that overlap with each other. That’s why I believe he knew to pick up the phone and reach out to us when he heard that we might be forced to look for space outside of the village," Dennis adds.

The clock was ticking. WYSO-FM turned down Antioch's offer to buy its present cramped building with a leaky roof at 150 E. College St. The station's lease expires at the end of 2023.

"This building is falling in around us," Dennis says. "Antioch just doesn’t have the resources to repair it. We don’t want to buy it."

Chappelle offered part of the 1872 schoolhouse — an abandoned eyesore two blocks from the center of town — which Chappelle's Iron Table Holdings real estate company was planning to renovate.

A new 9,000-square foot addition will be built on the east side of the building at 314 Dayton Street. WYSO-FM will use the first floor of the addition, plus 8,000-square feet on the first floor and lower level of the old school. The 17,000-square feet facility will include a 100-seat performance studio/community space. WYSO-FM currently has 12,000-square feet on campus, with a performance space accommodating only 10 chairs.

The remaining 30% of the space — the second floor of the addition with rooftop patio, plus the second and third floors of the original building — will house headquarters for Chappelle's Pilot Boy Productions and Iron Table Holdings.

WYSO-FM, always located on campus, has outgrown its current location. After the license was transferred to the nonprofit Miami Valley Public Media, Dennis was able to allocate resources without approval of the school administration. He's added six staffers, mostly in the newsroom, for a total of 21.

So far the station has raised $1.1 million toward the $2.1-million needed for the purchase and installation of new broadcast equipment and office furniture. Miami Valley Public Media also has submitted a $1 million capital request from the state budget to be adopted by the legislature before July 1. Last month 11 legislators toured the construction site with Chappelle.

Dave Chappelle (front row center in black-and-white coat) led legislators on a tour of the old Union Schoolhouse construction on March 11.
Courtesy WYSO-FM
Dave Chappelle (front row center in black-and-white coat) led legislators on a tour of the old Union Schoolhouse construction on March 11.

"We’re anxiously waiting to hear how that will go," Dennis says. "We have assurances from a number of the local legislative delegation that our project is among their top recommendations. Everyone seems to understand that we’re a community radio station. Everyone seemed really supportive."

Gov. Mike DeWine could not make the tour, but Dennis has spoken to him several times and "he's expressed his support." The governor, a Yellow Springs native, is familiar with the building because he and his wife Fran attended seventh and eighth grades there.

WYSO-FM (91.3) has a hybrid format, mixing NPR's signature shows (Morning Edition, Fresh Air, All Things Considered) with music 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 8 to 11 p.m.

Chappelle played a crucial role in the transition to Miami Valley Public Media. When Dennis asked Chappelle to make a financial donation to cover start-up costs in 2018, Chappelle instead did a benefit comedy concert at Dayton's Schuster Center and gave all the ticket proceeds (over $300,000) to the station, he says.

Now Chappelle again is shaping the station's future.

"We’re not trying to distance ourselves from Antioch, but effectively we are," Dennis says. "We’re moving off the campus into a highly visible location, and this building will be a premiere gathering space for the community. It will allow us to do more teaching and more musical events. The potential is huge for us."

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.