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College stations create radio proving grounds

Public radio stations WBJC, WCVT, WEAA and WJHU have a lot in common: the era in which they were founded, programming and call letter changes, voices that were heard on more than one frequency, and all their roots run back to local academic institutions. 

On this episode of Wavelength: The evolution of college and university-affiliated stations in the 1970s.

Guests and voices heard in this episode:

Lamont Germany
Steve Curran
Sandi Mallory
Clint Coleman
Jud French
Maria Broom
Edmund Newman
Dr. Jason Loviglio
John Patti
Jim Armstrong
Stu Lumsden
Isisara Bey
Paul Hartman
Ward Kemp

Thank you to John Patti, Joe Evelius, Steve Curran and Stu Lumsden for sharing airchecks with us for this episode.

Correction: John Patti is incorrectly cited as the voice of the WBJC sign-on at the 4:24 mark. If you recognize the voice, please let us know by emailing [email protected].


Lamont Germany, WEAA: When I finally got to college, there was a radio station being born on campus so I, along with a lot of other students at the time, walked in the door and asked ‘What do I need to do?’

Steve Curran, WCVT: Everyday was an adventure. Every day was fun. Everyday was a challenge. Every day the fire bell rang, so to speak. You know, there was an emergency of some kind. But it was always fun, and it was always exciting.

Sandi Mallory, WEAA: You know what, it was the type of station that you felt like ‘I make a difference of what I’m doing.’

Clint Coleman, WBJC: I call it a spawning ground for really talented people. I wasn’t one of them (laughs) but I’d like to think that I trained quite a few.

Jud French, WJHU: You know, I felt like we were leaving a lasting legacy to the community.

Maria Broom, host: This is Wavelength: Baltimore’s Public Radio Journey from Your Public Studios, a monthly podcast series made possible by PNC Bank. I’m your host Maria Broom.

Over six episodes, you’ll learn the origin stories of WYPR, WTMD, WEAA and WBJC, and hear how they became trusted sources for news, music, the arts, and more. Plus, we’ll look at what’s next for local public radio.

As you’ll discover over the course of this series, these stations have a lot in common: the era in which they were founded, voices that were heard on more than one frequency, and evolutions in programming and call letters. And all of their roots run back to local academic institutions.

Dr. Jason Loviglio, Associate Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, stresses the importance of college radio.

Dr. Jason Loviglio: College radio is such an important story, and it’s not as well told as it should be. It was such an important proving ground for so many people who’ve gone on to become journalists on-air, personalities, talent, in radio, television, and other media. College radio had the virtue of being accessible. A place to experiment. But it also had the great fortune of being able to invent formats that the current commercial and public landscape of radio wasn’t doing justice to. It just simply wasn’t enough new music, cutting-edge music being played on the air in most metropolitan areas. So not only were students learning on the job how to be real media professionals, but they were teaching the industry something and I think we may be in a similar moment with podcasting where a group of dedicated amateurs have helped to create something that has now been discovered by large corporate interests to be remarkably popular and incredibly valuable.

Maria Broom: We’ll hear more from Dr. Loviglio later in this episode and from station employees from the 70s who are going to tell the story of local college radio.

But first, let’s take it back to 1951.

‘Too Young’ by Nat King Cole was at the top of the charts. I Love Lucy was on many Americans’ television sets. The Korean War was in the news. And WBJC hit the airwaves. It broadcast classical music and arts programming from the campus of Baltimore Junior College, now Baltimore City Community College.

Before it landed at 91.5 on the FM dial, WBJC could be found on 88.1. Fast-forward to the early 70s and WBJC broadcasts a diverse mix of music and news. Here’s audio of a sign-on by then-host John Patti.

John Patti: This is public radio WJBC FM in Baltimore, Maryland operating on an assigned carrier frequency of 91.5 MHZ, FM channel 218 with an effective radiated power of 17,500 watts as authorized by the Federal Communications Commission. Affiliated with ABC and the National Public Radio network, our studios and transmitter are located on the campus of the Community College of Baltimore.

Maria Broom: Let’s turn the story over to two former WBJC employees: First, host Jim Armstrong and then, Director of News and Public Affairs Clint Coleman.

Jim Armstrong: I’m Jim Armstrong. I was formerly at WBJC, WCBM, KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, and WTMD here in Towson. Some friends of mine were part of the radio station WBJC then, and they had been on and operating and I was going to school at Baltimore Junior College. At that time, the school had a radio and television curriculum, so I started to get involved with them and hanging out there and at their radio station, which was a full studio but only broadcast to campus. And as I, you know, began volunteering at BJC–this was back in 1972. Back in those days, there were only a couple of paid staff. Most of us were student volunteers. And so one day somebody didn't show up because we were doing a program in the afternoon called Jazz in Stereo. And Brian McDonald, who was the program director at the time, looked at me, as you know, I'm standing around and he said, ‘Alright, you're going to do the show.” And I’m like “Wait, wait, what?” And that's how I got started.

Clint Coleman: Everybody worked. (laughs) Everybody worked. Everybody had a show.

[Soundbite of Clint Coleman WBJC aircheck.] Clint Coleman: This is WBJC, Baltimore. The radio station of the Community College of Baltimore.

I was not familiar with public radio when I got that job but I got familiar very quickly and fell in love. (laughs)

The learning curve was about doing more than just five minute newcasts. Which in commercial radio is about all you get. But in public radio you’re looking at a half hour newcast, you’re looking at a news, music and information program which is where I started there, and I had three hours to fill. (Laughs) and then they extended it to four hours. And I was doing interviews. For example, I got bombarded by the Iranian students who were enrolled at the community college. They hit me every other day with the kinds of atrocities committed by the Shah of Iran on the people of Iran. Years later, you find out really vividly in color what kinds of atrocities he in fact was committing and so you said, “Boy, I’m kinda glad I gave them that platform to express their views.”

Maria Broom: Many listeners will be familiar with music station WTMD. But before there was WTMD, there was WCVT. And before that, there was WVTS, a carrier current AM station which began operations in 1972 from the campus of then-Towson State College.

You’ll hear the phrase ‘carrier current’ several times in this episode. In a carrier current transmission, electrical wiring carries a low-power radio frequency signal which is then transmitted along electrical conductors. The transmission is picked up by receivers which are connected to the conductors or are placed nearby. Radios within a short distance pick up on the signal.

OK, now back to the story.

Steve Curran was music and program director at WVTS in 1974 when station staff and college administrators put together an FCC application to get an FM license.

Steve Curran: We went and met with our broadcast attorneys in their beautiful marble offices in downtown D.C. and walked through this application. And it was fascinating because I was certainly more on the creative side but–I had to buy a suit to go to this meeting–and we sat with these broadcast attorneys and they walked us through how we had to apply for this license and they did it for next to nothing which was amazing. And John McCarren was our faculty advisor at the time, and everybody has someone in their lives, in their student lives, that touched them or opened the door for them, and I think John McCarren opened more doors for more people that went on to do some amazing things because of his teaching method which was really to make sure that you understood the law, that you understood what a 3rd class license was, that you understood what you can and can’t say on the radio, and certain things about programming and timing, and 30 seconds and 60 seconds and all the increments that come with understanding how broadcasting works, but then aside from that, John just had a good soul, you know? He had that rare ability to really be able to step back and let us do what we did, and the truth is we had no idea what we were doing.

Maria Broom: But they knew enough because in 1975, the FCC license was approved. WVTS became WCVT, “The Communications Voice of Towson” and Steve became the General Manager. The station went on the air in 1976.

Steve Curran: WJZ had just gotten the very first satellite remote truck, and they went live to us when we signed the station on. Jerry Turner introduced us who was the main news anchor at the time, and it was really exciting because the president of the university, and he and I sort of held hands if you will and flipped the switch together at the same time on the air. And it was really fun and fantastic.

Maria Broom: Here’s what Steve sounded like on-air in the 70s.

[Soundbite of WCVT break with Steve Curran] Steve Curran: That’s music from Phlorescent Leech and Eddie who are two former Turtles and members of Frank Zappa’s group, a tune off their first solo album, “Feel Older Now.” Before that Jim Price, and “You Gotta Move.” Manfred Mann in about four minutes with “Meat'' from their first album, and we started everything off with David Bowie from the album Changes and Space Oddity. 10 before 10. You’re listening to WCVT FM in Towson. My name is Steve Curran. I’m with you till 1 o’clock. And a few messages here for you that a magic show for children six to eleven years of age will be held at the Pikesville Branch of the Baltimore Public Library at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 21st. It will be given by a professional musician and perhaps even a buzz. The professional magician’s name is Earl Canal and his company.

Maria Broom: But the station wasn’t done with the FCC yet. Stu Lumsden, who hosted a jazz show as a student, explains a rooftop test that WCVT aced.

Stu Lumdsen: We had been granted a license, but we were required to show proof that we wouldn’t be interfering. I think it was Steve, myself, maybe even John Fisher, John McCarron waltzed up to the top of the residence tower I think it was called, on the roof with a television of the day like a 19 inch television set and tuned to the stations nearest to where the FM band lies and I can’t remember, I used to know it by heart, and then looked to see, we were standing right under the tower so if it was going to be interference, it would be there. And then noted some small interference and then cut a piece of wire to one quarter wavelength of the 89.7 MHZ wave and attached it to the antenna leads on the television set and the interference went away. And then we all nodded, John had a big smile on his face and we left. (laughs)

Maria Broom: Dr. Jason Loviglio, Associate Professor of Media and Communication Studies at UMBC, says that securing FCC licensing was only one of the challenges that college station leaders faced.

Dr. Jason Loviglio: They had to assume a certain amount of legal risk for being in charge of content going out over FCC-regulated airwaves. They had to also navigate any number of complicated relationships with publishing and broadcast rights and music publishing and copyright interests, and so it was a proving ground for so many of the kinds of skills that would become important for media professionals.

Maria Broom: Remember how I said in the beginning that these stations have shared connections? Well in the early 70s, Towson State College and then-Morgan State College planned to share a radio station. But in 1977, Morgan State University got its own signal, WEAA, which stands for–

Lamont Germany: –We Educate African Americans.

Maria Broom: For Lamont Germany, a WEAA student volunteer at the time, the first on-air broadcast was one he’ll never forget, for a number of reasons.

Lamont Germany: They came on the air coincidentally on my birthday. It was January 10, 1977 when the station first came on the air and there was an excitement that was brewing all throughout the radio station, really all throughout the campus, they were waiting for the call from the FCC for about 2 or 3 days, giving them clearance to finally turn on the switch and go on the air. And the very moment the station went on the air, I was in the newsroom, preparing a newscast, and then-program director, now Congressman Kweisi Mfume was the first voice to actually go on the air and speak and I just remember the whole station stopped, everybody stopped what they were doing, watching Kweisi say the first words on WEAA created what for us was a path for many of us to pursue our media dreams.

I grew up in a radio family. My dad was a DJ in my hometown, Pittsburgh, and I wanted to just grow up being my father, doing what my dad did, so I would pretend to be on the radio with my tape recorder and when I finally got to college, there was a radio station being born on campus so I, and like a lot of other students at the time, walked in the door and asked “What do I need to do?” I started out as a student volunteer in the news department, eventually transitioned to the sports side of things.

Maria Broom: Sandi Mallory worked at WEAA during its first year on the air. She was tapped by radio legend and WEAA news director Larry Dean to work in the news department, but that’s not where she stayed.

Sandi Mallory: I came in, set up a tape for him, did a read out and he said “I’m going to hire you. I’m going to bring you on board as a news director.” So did I become the news director? No. Because Kweisi hired me to work on the air. He said “I’m sorry but if you work on the air in news, you’re going to have to come off the air in music.” I said ‘Hmm..Do I really want to come off the air in music? I don’t think so.” So I went and I told Larry, I said “I’m sorry. I’m going to go in the music dept with Kweisi Mfume and his group” and that’s how I started in music. And I worked on weekends, my show was called Weekend Sunshine.

Maria Broom: You’ve likely noticed that the majority of the voices you’ve heard so far have been those of men. Sandi said she arrived at WEAA after being turned down by other stations who were reluctant to put women on the air.

Sandi Mallory: Cause I went around, took my little tape and my little resume to all the stations that were available at that time. They said, “There’s nothing available for you here.” And that’s what it boiled down to. “There’s nothing available for you here. We don’t have any room for any women on the air.” There was very few women on the air at the time, maybe one or two at different stations. And I started at WEAA along with Alfrie Williams. She became the morning show host, and I became the evening show host.

Maria Broom: Isisara Bey was a WEAA morning show host from 1980 to 1985. She started as a volunteer in 1979 and was one of a few women at the station.

Isisara Bey: I didn’t really realize or remember that there weren't any other, for a couple of years, female on-air personalities at our station doing what I was doing. There were some women in the news department. And I was familiar with another woman who was at another station, not a public radio station in Baltimore, but I think because I was so enthralled with radio itself and the possibilities that I didn’t notice the gender issues.

Maria Broom: WJHU DJ Edmund Newman, who you’ll hear more from later in this episode, says while there were women on WJHU’s airwaves in the late 70s, the on-air staff was reflective of the Hopkins campus community.

Edmund Newman: There were a limited number of women on the campus at the time, I guess is the best way to put it. But our community members were mostly male and from people who were interested in playing sort of really alternative music at the time.

Maria Broom: Of course there were women working in Baltimore radio in the 70s.

There was Debyii Sababu, who was a morning show host at WEAA in 1977. There was Elane Stein, whose career spanned multiple decades, with stops on the AM dial at WBAL and WCBM. There was Jean Ross at V-103. And many other women working on-air and behind the scenes.

Here’s WJHU’s Edmund Newmund again, and WJHU Engineer and General Manager Jud French, who you’ll hear more from after the break.

Edmund Newmund: One of the interesting things that the university did insist upon was that we have someone to sort of watch over us so there was a woman, Irene Seamus, she was hired as sort of a secretary, kind of became a den mother to us all. She had worked at various radio stations and had worked at various radio stations around Baltimore and so had radio experience and somehow had the right attitude to deal with a bunch of crazy students who would come in and leave at a moment's notice and she helped us figure out what we were doing.

Jud French: I mean, if a student missed their on-air spot, she would jump in and take over the on-air spot. She did it all. The station program director was a woman, at the time. I was just sort of conscious of the fact that I had Irene in the office and Jody Patilla at my right hand.

Maria Broom: More on WJHU’s story and the evolution of local radio in a moment. Stay with us.

Maria Broom: Welcome back to Wavelength: Baltimore’s Public Radio Journey. I’m your host, Maria Broom. On this episode we’ve been focusing on the evolution of student stations in the 70s.

Johns Hopkins University-owned radio station WJHU, which is WYPR’s predecessor, first went on air in the 40s. And since then, there have been numerous iterations of the station. Paul Hartman, whose voice and name you may recognize from the WTMD show Detour, was a student in 1973 and remembers the first time he came across carrier current WJHU.

Paul Hartman: I lived in the dorms and I was taking my laundry to the laundry room, which is in the basement of the other dorm building. There were two dorms at the time, and there's a radio station down there. Oh, that's cool. All right. So, you know, obviously it was high priority because it's right next to the laundry. But I thought it was interesting and wanted to find out more about it. And I found that my student advisor, who was an upperclassman, had a show on WJHU at the time. And so he showed me how it all worked, and I thought, ‘Well, that might be fun to do, I like music.’ So it was all free-form. You could do whatever you want. And I had a whole bunch of LPs. That's what we used vinyl there and thought, ‘Well, you know, it's fun to share.’ It's like making a giant mixtape that people could listen to over the air. Now, of course, at that time, WJHU was a carrier current AM station. You could only hear it in the two dorm buildings. And occasionally across Charles Street in the apartment buildings there if you cranked up the power a lot but it had to be cranked back down when someone in the apartments complained that it was interfering with their favorite gospel station. Reception was spotty so you always tell people, ‘Well, if you can't get WJHU, move your radio closer to a light bulb’ because the AC wiring, as I understand it, was the antenna. So, you know, get it closer to the antenna. I know some people listened, but probably not a whole lot. And it depends when your show aired. If it was five or six a.m. I mean, what college student is up at that time? (laughs)

Maria Broom: Jud French arrived on Hopkins’ campus in 1976. He found a top-notch studio built by WJHU staffer Bill Gross. Jud says Bill was running the student station like a professional one but Hopkins students wanted control.

Jud French: There were a group of students, older upperclassman that said, you know, ‘This is not a student radio station. This is a guy that has been here for a long time and we think this should be a student-run radio station as a student activity and we don’t have a professional broadcasting program at Johns Hopkins and students should be able to participate to a greater degree and the community should,’ so they kind of took over the station. Put through a new constitution and reconstituted the organization and the gentleman that had been there for years and years was sort of ousted and it became a new entity but with students that were more political science science and humanities majors than they were radio station operators and so I found myself in an interesting position. And an English major ran for the position of chief engineer on the platform that he’s going to delegate everything to Jud French to do and when Jud has been with the station long enough because there was a requirement to be an officer, you had to have been there for I don’t know, six months. So when he’s been here long enough, I will step down, we’ll hold a special election and we’ll elect Jud Chief Engineer (laughs) and that’s what happened.

Maria Broom: Jud says several generations of WJHU staff organized to make the transition to FM, but it didn’t gain real traction until 1976. Jud was the chair of the FM conversion committee and student GM at that time and tells the story of how WJHU’s staff got the greenlight from Hopkins administration.

Jud French: What spurred this was the FCC had a docket item that was going to potentially eliminate 10 watt student stations or educational stations, I should say. And there was really only frequency left in the whole Baltimore crowded region and that was 88.1. So in January of ‘77, we had an initial meeting with Dr. Muller, the president, and came in with a two step proposal which was, we needed to create a 10 watt station right away to get the frequency and then later we needed to transition to a higher power. As it turns out, there was another FCC docket requiring higher power and eliminating the 10 watt stations as I said and so the president said ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ He asked for a cost and space estimate proposal and we met with him I think it was on a Friday and he wanted to meet with the management team on Monday, so my first all nighters at Johns Hopkins were not academic, they were producing a multi-page cost and space proposal with layouts and equipment lists and costs, which got delivered on Monday. And we got back a negative response. So I requested another meeting with Dr. Meuller and we met on April 11 and explained to him the urgency and showed him a consultant letter from someone we engaged and so I also came in with an alternative funding proposal which was less aggressive and had a couple of options and he accepted one for $15,000 worth of funding so that started a whole physical conversion of the station and transition to FM broadcasting. There are all sorts of fun stories, trying to get the application done and get it to the FCC. As students are want to be, we were at the very, very last minute for the deadline to get in the door for the FCC. We had a careening car drive through Washington D.C. down to the FCC, put a guy out on the corner at a phone to call the FCC and tell them we were coming, and then drove up to the door and I ran out and ran into the FCC and slid the application in at the 11th hour and 59th minute. (laughs)

[Soundbite of BeerNuts broadcast] And now for a special classical presentation from WJHU Baltimore. A live recording of Schubert’s “Symphony No. 8 in B Minor” as conducted by Peter Maag, earlier this spring in the newly-completed steelworkers hall in Waukegan, Illinois. (Murmuring) Good evening, this is Wolfgang de Pesimo speaking to you direct from scenic Waukegan, Illinois. Nestled among the rolling corn fields and hog troughs in the heartburn of the great american midwest. The hall in which I sit is literally buzzing with the frenzied excitement of nearly 5,000 expected music lovers. The great and the small. The rich and the poor. The refined and the boorish.

Maria Broom: Those were the voices of Edmund Newman and Ward Kemp performing a skit from the WJHU show BeerNuts in 1980. Edmund was a Hopkins student and DJ in the fall of 1979. That was before the station received its FM license. He said he was bitten by the radio bug early.

Edmund Newman: I grew up in Philadelphia so we would listen to University of Pennsylvania had WXPN and Temple University had RTI so I knew about radio and was interested in it and in fact, my father who was a political science professor at Temple used to do a 5-minute weekly contribution on WHYY in Philadelphia before NPR even existed. And so my favorite thing to do was to go with him when he would record his political commentary and play around in the recording studios and so that’s how I got into the radio station at Hopkins because after my first semester where I was a little unsure how my academic career was going anyway, I sort of sought out new experiences and that was the radio station. WJHU was an interesting station at Johns Hopkins because we had a lot of students but there wasn’t an on-campus theater program or arts program or acting or anything like that, so it was a radio station run by students who were interested but once you went FM you had to be on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week by law to keep your license. And so we also had a number of community members. When we were still carrier current, I was still a classical DJ and so that was broadcast in the mornings and I was broadcasting like 9 to noon so there was probably nobody listening to me at all. (laughs)

Maria Broom: But the on-campus reach changed in April of 1979 when the station first broadcast as WJHU-FM. Jud estimates that the station’s 10-watt signal reached locations within a 6 mile radius from the campus. He says it was a triumph.

Jud French: Our team was working 24/7 on this and I forget what article it was, but I had forgotten this occurrence until I read the article and it noted that as we went on the air and signed on the air that morning in early April, ‘Jud French fell asleep under a chair in the corner of the studio.’ (laughs) Well you know that music they play in the Olympics when someone wins? Everybody was pretty darn elated.

Maria Broom: There were some recurring themes in all of the conversations we had with former staff of WEAA, WJHU, WBJC, and WCVT. A major one – how much freedom staff had in what they played on the air.

Isisara Bey: We had this mandate to explore our culture in terms of the music, spirituality, politics, sociology. The two way talk show was a way for us to engage issues that were happening in the city. Very, very exciting, very expanding. And because we were owned by an HBCU, we had much more leeway to be that cultural and that political.

Lamont Germany: We as students we almost were tripping over each other physically in the station to get opportunities to do things both on and off-air and it was exciting everyday just to show up at the radio station and engage in whatever the venture was going to be on that particular day.

Sandi Mallory: We had a chance to play any music that we wanted to play, talk to the people about what we thought was important and uh, we got a chance to do whatever it is that we thought we could do.

Jud French: At the peak I remember there were actually 241 volunteer station members. It ran around something of 100 at one point and these were people that came in from the community and were devoted to different genres of music and information and would come in and do a show, sometimes late at night.

Jim Armstrong: While I was there in the initial run, was just an on air announcer, I did a number of different shows from Jazz in Stereo to The Morning Show. That was basically easy listening music at the time. Or I'd fill in from time to time for Brian, who, you know, had sound effects and he had used to have a milkman deliver milk every morning during the show, he would bring his cow in with the cow bell and all of that. It was kind of fun. Back then, you had a lot more freedom to do things, to create characters and to make your show as interesting as you could.

Clint Coleman: They had a format that was truly alternative. Because every place on the radio dial that you didn’t find a particular kind of music: Jazz. Rock. Classical music. Opera. Show tunes. You could find all of that.

Steve Curran: It started with classical music in the morning, it was an hour of educational at like 9 o’clock to 10 o’clock and then from 10 o’clock until 7 o’clock, it was pretty much free format. You could play whatever you wanted, whatever your speciality was. I gave myself the Friday night show because I was the general manager and I could do that. I did a Motown show from 7 to midnight because I was from Detroit and that was a lot of fun. Stu Lumsden did a jazz show there 3 days, 4 days a week. Stu was fantastic. He was a big influence on my life as well.

Stu Lumsden: We got to go on the air, we got to make mistakes so long as they weren’t too illegal or too awful and try just about anything because we were very free form. Aside from the listener who called me up to tell me I shouldn’t play things that weren’t jazz on a jazz program, I could’ve played “The Good Ship Lollipop,” followed by some Bach followed by Miles Davis and there would’ve been no one at the station to tell me that that was actually wrong, maybe funny and maybe not.

Maria Broom: Another thing we heard over and over again was how passionate listeners were about what they heard on-air and the strong connection between the stations and their audience.

Sandi Mallory: We did get calls. People would call and say ‘I’m listening to you and I hear what you’re doing. I like what you’re saying and I love the stuff that you’re bringing to the community.’ I was so enchanted by the audience because I felt like the audience made such a difference for what you felt and what you could give back to them as well.

Stu Lumsden: I got you know, I got a couple of callers who would ask about something and maybe even give me a compliment on a rare occasion. And one who called me up to just labast me for playing the Tower of Power. One night I played “What is Hip?” and I just got taken to task and told ‘That’s not jazz, you can’t play that. It isn’t jazz.’ And I thought ‘Well, I kind of think the solos and the background are jazz. But yes, yes, I admit it, It’s funk and it’s all sorts of things.’

Lamont Germany: There was one time relatively early on in the stations’ existence, late 70s, early 80s when the station ran into serious financial problems. They had to launch an emergency fund drive in order to stay on the air and the situation was so acute that they couldn’t ask for pledges. They actually had to go on the air and ask for immediate funds in the right now. And they set up a couple of pilot table and booths. One at the Mondawmin Mall on the west side of town, one at the old Old Town Mall on the east side of town and also on campus where they were asking people to physically bring money to the radio station to keep the station on-air and the community responded. We had people walking in literally with jars of savings and this went on for about 5 days. And the community responded and it was enough to stabilize the station until the managers could have a more long-term structured financial plan. And that’s what distinguishes, I think, public radio from commercial radio. There’s an intimacy between you and your audience. A public station knows I am only there because of, not necessarily advertisers, I’m there because of the community to whom I am programming. And that community was there for the radio station in a big way.

Jim Armstrong: I remember we used to get, you know, people would call all the time and comment on something I said or or a song that I played, you know, you could get, you know, a phone call from somebody who said, ‘You know, that's the best song I've ever heard. I really appreciate you playing it,’ yada yada yada. And then 10 minutes later, they’d call back and say, ‘You know, I actually hate that song. You should never have played it. I'm never going to listen to you again.’ It was never about me. If you’re doing it right, it’s always about your audience and trying to reach out and touch them.

And even I've had this experience as well where, you know, somebody who's in emotional trouble, you know, will call because, you know, they're thinking about suicide or something else, you know, devastating. And they call you because, if you're doing your show right, they feel like they know you. That you're a friend and they can talk to you, when they can't talk to anybody else, they can talk to you. And that was hard. But, you know, you stayed on the phone with them, you know, went ‘Hey, listen, hang on for a second. I got to change this record.’ And you kept talking with them. Until they felt better. It can be emotionally draining to have that sort of connection with your audience, but that's why we were there.

Maria Broom: You’ve been listening to Wavelength: Baltimore’s Public Radio Journey from Your Public Studios. I’m Maria Broom.

Production and support for this podcast and WYPR’s 20th Anniversary was brought to you in part by the PNC Bank.

Jamyla Krempel is the executive producer of Wavelength. Anne Kramer is our producer. Katie Marquette is our audio editor. Production and engineering support by Spencer Bryant. Research and production assistance by Maddie Bristowe.

WYPR’s President and General Manager is LaFontaine E. Oliver. Andy Bienstock is the Vice President and Program Director. Michele Williams is the Director of Underwriting.

You can learn more about the podcast and see historical images and documents from the stations in this episode at wypr.org/wavelength.

Jamyla Krempel is WYPR's digital content director and the executive producer of Wavelength: Baltimore's Public Radio Journey. She collaborates with reporters, program and podcast hosts to create content for WYPR’s online platforms.
Maddie is WYPR’s Digital Communications Associate, helping with all things digital for the station. She is a recent graduate of Fordham University where she studied Communications and Economics. Maddie started in public radio during her time at Fordham at 90.7 FM WFUV, New York’s music discovery station. She produced the weekly radio show/podcast Cityscape, an exploration of the people, places, and spirit of New York City. She also produced two award-winning audio documentaries for WFUV, Back to the Garden: Remembering Woodstock and You Should Know Their Names.
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