30th Anniversary - Thanks For The Memories!
WUIS: Thirty years of compelling stories, memorable moments, personal journeys, and professional opportunities. From a few of those who’ve dashed into the newsroom with only seconds to spare, urged listeners to give, camped at the station overnight just to read the school closings, hosted programs, paced the halls, managed the planned and handled the unexpected, we share a few memorable moments and perspectives on 30 years of public radio from those who along their life’s journey have been a part of ours.
It was the fundraisers, say both Jeanne Enlow Urbanek and Marcella Bobinsky (formerly Kielser), that left indelible impressions on those two as well as more than a few others. Although Jeanne shared the details, both vividly recalled one particular Saturday evening on the "pitch patio." "I’ll never forget the fundraiser that was held right after, Marci Kiesler (the station's first development director) returned from maternity leave. Marci and I were pitching on Saturday night, and we had reached our fundraising goal early in the evening. It used to be that we would celebrate with Champaign when the goal was met. Marci hadn't had a touch of alcohol for several months and almost never had anything to drink before that. But we were celebrating, so she had a little Champaign.
"The microphones went on, Marci took a deep breath to begin her pitch, but instead of speaking she burped so loudly it just echoed in the headphones… well no one could talk we were laughing so hard…George Woolard, who was running master control, was mortified. He went on the air and tried to explain that the station was having technical problems. Then in walked Brad Swanson. To this day I can still see him standing there, hands on his hips, staring us down and demanding an explanation." As you might have guessed, those celebratory Champaign toasts were retired thereafter.
Linda Devocelle, who now lives and works in Colorado, worked in the WUIS (then WSSR) news room during the early to mid 80s. She and another reporter would alternate delivering the noon news. “One day the other reporter that I worked with had a particularly bad newscast. She was making mistake after mistake. So at the end of the newscast instead of giving her own name, she signed off under another reporter’s name. I thought Rich (Bradley) was going to go through the roof."
Dianna "Krash" Kirby was a student worker at WUIS from 1977-1980. It was after she fell asleep during the one of the all-night fundraisers that she earned the nickname "Krash." In the early days, reports Dianna, student workers would stay at the station all night during the snowstorms so that they could report the school closings and keep an ear on the transmitter.
Jim Grimes who served as the first operations director for the station also remembers those particularly harsh winters during the 70s. "We had several winters with heavy snows and very cold temperatures. I can remember driving from home through the country to get to the radio station, and the drifts were taller than the car. A couple of us came in one snowy day, and the University was shutting down. The roads were closing, but we decided to stay and ride out the storm. At a time like that you realize it’s good to keep a lot of change on hand for the vending machine. And ever since, I’ve kept a jar of peanut butter nearby."
Jim Howard was with the station as a student in the early to mid 1980s and returned as a staff member from 1989-1995. His days at WUIS prepared him well for the early mornings he now works as an associate editor and producer for National Public Radio.
“My most searing memory is from the Republican Convention in Houston. Rich Bradley called me at my hotel room early one morning to see where I was for the 5 A.M. morning satellite feed from the convention. I had spent the entire previous day and the night working at the Astrodome (where the convention was being held) and had gone back to the hotel to rest for about an hour before the feed. I sat down for what I thought was only a moment and heard the phone ring. I had dozed off and Rich was calling because we had only 20 minutes until feed time, but our hotel was about 35 minutes from the convention center.
"I flew out of the hotel, squealed my tires out of the parking garage and raced to the convention center, bypassed the security gates at the parking lot and sprinted to the back of the hall and the Illinois Public Radio work station. We got the feed up with seconds to spare. Whenever I was supposed to fill-in for Rich on Morning Edition I never slept well the night before out of fear of oversleeping. Now, I think of those days every time I work the Morning Edition shift at NPR directing Carl Kassel’s newscasts. My alarm goes off at 2:30 A.M."
Jacqueline Gerber came to Springfield in 1987 to clerk in the Appellate Court, but her first love was public radio, and it didn’t take her long to link up with the station. "I got in touch with Brad (Swanson) about six months after I arrived, and I proposed myself as a vacation host. Within a month or two I was subbing on the air for Mark Siebert. I met Bill Hickerson who was doing the jazz show, and I would sit in with Bill and shoot the breeze with him and University instructor Dave Olson. I eventually got a regular gig on Saturday and Sunday, and I did that for a very long time." Today Jackie is morning drive host for the commercial classical station WCLV in Cleveland, OH.
Bill Fallon, board operator from 1979-1981, remembers the WSSR Megahertz slow pitch softball team that Bill and fellow students Jim Ash and Dan Arnold founded. “We went on to win the (then) SSU Intramural league championship in 1980 & 1981. The team was made up of many WSSR student workers with a little help from their friends." The team still keeps in touch and celebrated its 25th reunion last summer.
For Jiffy Johnson, a former and current employee of the station, the many locally produced programs that WUIS aired in the early days stand out in her mind, including: In the Consumer's Interest, Legally Speaking, Voices of Illinois, I'm Not Your Girl Anymore, Mulligan Stew, the “interminable” state fair coverage that could be heard on 91.9 FM for at least 10 days every August for many years, “We would all trudge around the fairgrounds gathering stories and drinking lemon shakeups.” She also remembers a few major programming special events including the local appearance of A Prairie Home Companion on May 24, 1989, the Whad'ya Know live performance in November 1992, and the Car Talk linkup with the WUIS studios Jan. on 21, 1990
WUIS has certainly matured over the past three decades, and its growth into a premier public radio station is a genuine source of pride and fond recollections for many who have been a part of its history. David Farrell, one of the most recognizable fundraising voices of WUIS, has been pitching for the station for some 25 years. He has watched WUIS and public radio in general evolve from a fledgling operation into a frontline news media player that has widely expanded its reach and depth. "Three words describe what the station has become over the last 30 years: fresh, adaptable, and energized. It’s established but not stale, and today it is widely recognized as a primary source of news, entertainment, knowledge, information, and arts programming."
While the programs, the events, and the voices have changed over the past 30 years, the indelible impression of WSSR, WSSU, and WUIS on many who have passed through the station remain. To all of you …
"Thanks for the memory."