Public Radio 90 Hits the Half-Century Mark
April 15 is not only tax day; it also marks the 50thanniversary of the first broadcast by WNMR-FM from Lee Hall. What began as an “underground student station” similar to Radio X, with five hours of programming per day, evolved into WNMU-FM, a professional Public Broadcasting affiliate that is on the air 24/7.
“Technology has allowed us to broadcast around the clock,” said Evelyn Massaro, station manager. She worked at the station as a student, was later hired as a full-time employee, then left the area for several years before returning as station manager. “When we went from a staff of 13 to six, we needed to use computers to run programming overnight and on weekends. We also stream the programming live on our website.”
There have been many changes since 1963. The station’s first broadcast was in April of that year, but the construction permit was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in February. Massaro said as far as the FCC is concerned, once the permit is issued, the station is awarded.
There were two periods in its history when Public Radio 90 was nearly shut down. The first was in 1983. “Everyone was pink-slipped and we had a big ‘Friends to Save WNMU-FM’ drive to raise the $35,000 we needed,” Massaro added. The second was in 2003 as part of campus-wide cost-saving recommendations. “The university announced the stations were going to close and listeners and viewers came through again. We live on a fiscal cliff and try to keep from falling with strong fingers and bungee cords. We have to do a lot on a shoestring.”
The 50-year celebration will reflect that budget-conscious mentality. No major events are planned at this time. The station has designed an anniversary logo to feature online, in programming guides and on thank-you gifts for listener contributions. Station personnel are helping to coordinate an “Evening at the Archives” event focused on Public Radio 90’s history on Thursday, March 14 (see related story in this issue). They are also talking about it on air and encouraging loyal listeners to record “Happy Anniversary” messages for broadcast. Call 227-6500 to participate. And unlike live radio, more than one take is allowed to get it just right. Massaro said the station is also planning possible fundraising trips to join the studio audiences of the programs “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”
WNMU-FM was broadcast on cable originally, then over the air. Massaro said early coverage was sketchy, even in Marquette. As the signal extended to a wider geographical area, the station’s role expanded as well.
“Public Radio 90 is important to this region,” Massaro said. “The loyalty to the station is incredible—much more than it was with the public station I worked with in Tampa. It seems everybody around here has heard of Public Radio 90. Our goal is to continue the tradition of making good radio for listeners and promoting what’s going on in their backyards. In Houghton, the station was acquired by Minnesota Public Radio so there’s very little local focus anymore. We’re still here for the local audience. It’s all about longevity. When I hear a business has been around 50 years, I may not get excited, but I think to myself, ‘They must be doing something right.’ That’s what I hope people have been thinking about us.”