Diligent radio personnel working a shift in the earliest days of WWSP-FM, the student-run radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Fifty years ago today, a college radio station went on the air in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Broadcasting at 89.9 on the FM dial at a mighty ten watts, the station’s call letters were WSUS, referencing its place on the campus on Wisconsin State College-Stevens Point. In the early nineteen-seventies, the school was brought into the University of Wisconsin system. Shortly thereafter, the humble little station made an identity adjustment of its own. Since the spring of 1972, the broadcast outlet has been WWSP.
I can’t overstate the importance of that place to me, as is probably obvious from anyone who’s devoted even the tiniest amount of time to reading the posts that appear here on Fridays. For my retrospective purposes, I typically focus on the music. In actuality, my inclusion in the station’s culture — including my great honor to be a part of its leadership team during my undergraduate years — was about so much more than ready access to a grand haul of records. It was about the camaraderie, the learning, the personal growth, and the gratifying responsibility of being stewards of the public airwaves.
I loved playing songs on the radio, but my proudest time at the station was when the Gulf War began, in January of 1991, prompting several of the staffers to spontaneously convene in the studio to pull together an original hour of news programming, including a live remote report from a downtown protest and a live phone interview with our community’s representative in the U.S. Congress. There was no plan to do this. We simply all felt it was our responsibility as broadcasters to respond to a major event in this fashion. And the war was launched during our Winter Break, so WWSP was short-staffed. It didn’t matter. Those of who were around were fully committed to the station.
“From the Archive” is usually devoted to old writing, but today I’m focusing on a bygone radio show, though not from all that long ago. A few weeks ago, I was given the chance to fill-on on the excellent and long-running WWSP Sunday night show Then and Now, usually hosted by my pal Wayne Edwards. Since we were within the official anniversary month for the station, I offered my own tribute and celebration, playing one song from each of the fifty years that the station has been on the air.
I didn’t record the shift (even now that my spins in the air chair are rare, I still prefer radio shows as fleeting events that are preserved only in memories), but I built a YouTube playlist that mirrors the one I delivered on the air that evening. There’s one track missing: the song I selected for 2018, Lucy Dacus‘s “Next of Kin.” That seems fitting, somehow. The most current song is the one that hasn’t found a permanent place on the internet. If you want to hear it, try turning on the radio.