We love to share stories about college radio history and in this guest post (part two of two), Greg Barman gives the back story on campus radio at Indiana University, which dates back to the launch of a carrier current station in 1962 (read more about that in part one). Today, students run low power FM station WIUX-LP. Station alumni are gearing up for their 9th on-air reunion on July 24 and in preparation for that, here’s a closer look at the current state of WIUX and the back story behind the WIUS reunions (WIUS was the moniker for a campus-wide network of stations beginning in 1967). – Jennifer Waits
The Reunions Go On The Air
Relations between the WIUS alumni and the WIUX student staff would grow stronger in 2007, thanks to an idea from station alums Neil Bolding of Indianapolis and Don Worsham, now a veteran audio engineer in Los Angeles. Why not have an on-air alumni weekend, during which the alumni become DJs again and play the old tunes, interspersed with old spots, jingles and airchecks from back in the day? We would pick a summer weekend, between class sessions when little else was happening on campus or in town, and when WIUX staffers might welcome a break anyway. Could it be done? Would alumni travel to participate? Would people listen?
The student station managers agreed, and the first on-air Alumni Weekend occurred in August 2007. Former WIUSers showed up, and the great music and memories flowed. It was a blast! It came off so well that the next group of station managers enthusiastically agreed to a second on-air Alumni Weekend in 2008. It has happened every summer since. As many as 50 alumni, family and other hangers-on from California to North Carolina show up each year. It is part reunion, part picnic, part beer blast and part Retro Rock Radio.
From the technical standpoint, these WIUS reunions are BIG productions made possible by all the equipment we schlep in to re-create this kind of radio. The WIUX control room isn’t set up for multi-source, tight format rock radio, so it’s quite a sight as we invade the station and start connecting all kinds of extra gear. Like – cart machines! Really! Until recently, we brought in old cart machines with refurbished carts for old spots, promos, jingles and aircheck bits. (The students, by the way, thought the cart machines were pretty cool.) For music, we bring in a computer database loaded with several thousand oldies and the OTS-DJ automation system, although many of the alumni bring in their own CD mini-libraries anyway. We add remote start buttons to the CD players to enable tight cues. And, then there are the jingles (listen here). We commissioned a set of PAMS jingles produced by JAM Creative Productions. They sing, “Thank you IU for the memories,” and “Here’s to ‘QAD and ‘FQR, cheers for friends near and far.” As the reunions progressed, some of the analog gear has given way to digital gear and converted audio, although the programming remains distinctly analog-era.
Every alumni DJ has his/her own style and type of show. We don’t try to enforce a format clock on everyone – that would be like herding a bunch of old cats! My shows are a mix of Top 40 hits, old soul music and early ’70s album rock. One of Chicago radio’s best known reporters shows up every year to relive his Frankie B. Rhodes IU [Indiana University] persona, playing good-time ’60s rock ‘n’ roll. One of the reunion organizers becomes mellow “Dave K,” playing “underground” album rock. Three alums named Pat, Bill and Jim do the “PB&J Show.” We do a Saturday night all-request oldies show hosted by half-dozen or so people, where the old stories and jokes run out of control. In recent years, we have added some IU sports talk shows, with younger alumni. We also play news clips from the 1972 station fire, to keep that memory alive. The Alumni Weekend gets audience response, from local listeners and from those on our webstream, with calls and emails, and the event creates talk around town. We also receive local print news coverage during an otherwise lazy Bloomington summer. In 2013 community station WITT-FM in Indianapolis began rebroadcasting much of the alumni weekends, for which we gladly provide them a live IP audio feed. Not bad for a station whose staff once considered a signal a block from the nearest dorm a major victory.
The Friendships & The Future
WIUX is now the largest student activity on the IU-Bloomington campus, and you may be wondering what the students are thinking as they witness this annual spectacle, during which a bunch of old farts take over their station. To our surprise, many seem to enjoy it. They hang out at the station with us, and join us as we re-visit some of Bloomington’s classic beer haunts, such as Nick’s English Hut. Just as we once asked Louisville radio personalities for pointers, we’re happy to provide current staff with career advice and war stories. Sometimes the alumni provide other assistance. A few years ago during an especially hot and humid summer, as we all noticed the studio air conditioners beginning to fail, we took up a quick cash collection, then purchased and installed several new A/C units, for which the students seemed extremely grateful! It’s certainly faster than the University procurement process and may have saved some of the equipment.
Carolyn Suna, the 2014-15 WIUX student General Manager, says she loves the Alumni Weekend and how it connects the alumni with the current students. “Last year, one of my favorite memories of the weekend was sitting in the studio during the request show and hearing eight alums sing Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’ in the newly-christened studio,” Suna said. “It was truly a magical experience.”
And what do the student radio folks offer us in return? To start with, a unique and fun-filled platform for annual reunions. I’m not sure these reunions would attract so much devotion every year if the on-air component didn’t exist. These special reunions have made longtime friendships even stronger, and have given us something more than a past college radio experience to hang on to – it’s the enjoyment of doing our style of radio again, together. Plus – as you may have guessed – it gives us a chance to relive our youth, ever so briefly. And with an audience!
So now you know why WIUS has never really left us, why we come back, and why we alumni are protective of WIUX as it faces new challenges. Remember that “temporary” home the station moved into in 1973? It lasted 41 years! In early 2014 the University decided to reconstruct the entire block to make way for a new fraternity house, and gave the station three months notice to move. The alumni helped lobby the University to find a suitable new “temporary” home for the station and we helped wire the new studios. The first broadcast from the new station house was the 2014 Alumni Weekend. In fact, it was the same DJ who put the previous “temporary” quarters on the air in 1973. Currently, as IU seeks to reorganize its student media organizations, some fear that WIUX’s long-standing independent operation and spirit could be jeopardized. We hope not. The students can see the results of that spirit in the careers and lives we have built, in the friendships that have lasted for 50 years, and in the new cross-generational friendships that have begun.
After all these years, we keep hearing the voices in our heads. They still say, “The Big 620. WIUS, Bloomington, Indiana!”
Listen in for the next WIUS/WIUX reunion, from Friday afternoon July 24 through Sunday afternoon July 26, streaming worldwide at www.wiux.org and over the air on 99.1 FM WIUX-LP Bloomington, Ind. and 91.9 FM, WITT Zionsville/Indianapolis.
Greg Barman is currently a Technical Recruiter in Denver, Colorado. Post-WIUS, he’s had 25+ years experience as a DJ, news reporter/anchor/News Director and talk show producer in commercial and non-commercial radio. He is a volunteer Board of Directors member for KOMF, a new community LPFM radio station under construction in Denver.