Kirkish - WGGL, then WNMU: The birth of national public radio
Sarah Perrault - Manager, station celebrate fortieth anniversary
then WNMU: The birth of national public radio
In the Upper PeninsulaIn the fall of 1977, I had an epiphany of sorts.
It was then I first realized the extent of reception for our little
public broadcasting radio station, WGGL.
Usually known in the Copper Country as "that professor who teaches
communication skills at MTU" or more personally, as the son of
Lebanese parents who opened the first dry goods and grocery supermarket
combo in Houghton, I was amazed one day while on a photographic shoot
in an outlying rural area. I asked permission to take pictures on private
property, and the lady, a farm wife, said, "Oh, I know you; you're
the person I hear on the Tech radio station."
That was the day I was no longer my father's son; I came into my
That station, Michigan Tech's WGGL, evolved in a most serendipitous
manner. Working long hours in the darkroom of boys' camp in Wisconsin
over a number of years, I discovered that state's public broadcasting
network. I reveled in its existence--a twenty-four-hour station filled
with classical music, informative lectures, intelligent talk shows and
original radio dramas--all without the interruption or restrictions
of commercials. Yes, Virginia...
After my return to Michigan Tech, a little research uncovered people
willing to help duplicate, in a modest way, a station similar to that
in our neighboring state: a few advanced electronics students were willing
to help design and build a campus station, a president (Ray Smith) was
willing to approve such an idea, and an electrical engineering faculty
was available to provide technical aid.
Beginning humbly, we settled on a ten-watt FM station, developed
with volunteer help for a surprising $10,000--one-third of the expected
cost. Cooperation and dedication to a dream began to pay off.
An article in the Daily Mining Gazette announced in August 1967,
"Tech plans FM station this fall." Actually, that was a bit
Starting the station was a struggle. First, there was a delay in
receiving FAA clearance for the FM tower, then confusion over the new
station's call letters (originally applied for as WMTU, but governmentally
changed to WGGL when it turned out that another small station already
had those letters. WGGL arbitrarily became "the Wiggle in the Miggle
of your Dial" or just "Wiggle" for short). Then, as always,
there was the problem of sufficient financial support. And, finally,
the obstacle of overcoming public ignorance of FM (frequency modulation)
as opposed to the generally accepted AM (amplitude modulation) for radio
listening. But overcome them we did, with financial aid from the administration
and the private sale of 100 cheap AM/FM radio sets, we were ready to
broadcast by March 28, 1968.
Those were exciting days. Crowded into two tiny rooms in the tower
of the MTU Mining Department building, we operated on a day-to-day basis,
making up programming and tuning up technical prowess as we went. While
resources and public interest were modest, enthusiasm among us was high
and expectations even higher. In addition to my position as faculty
adviser and station manager, the initial staff consisted of an assortment
of MTU students serving as engineers, announcers, handymen, a program
manager and a secretary/bookkeeper--twelve in all--along with itinerant
Programs, patterned after WHA Wisconsin-based radio, included pre-recorded
materials from dozens of international radio tapes which exposed residents
of the Copper Country to music, documentaries, dramas and talk shows
from around the world. Filling in the bulk of the station's then twelve-hour
days would be the staple of any public radio station: mostly classical
music augmented with the best in light classics, jazz and folk. And,
to make it regional, the daily programming was spiked with local information,
interviews and public announcements of a topical nature. The station's
motto, "We offer a choice, not an echo," became its decision-making
During the first few years, the program schedule varied considerably,
depending, among other factors, on the sources of free materials and
the number of students available to work. At first, the station's hours
were limited to five--from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.--and never on weekends;
but within a few months, Sunday afternoons were added. The station in
those early years was shut down during summer vacation and holiday breaks.
All the equipment was surplus from an earlier attempt at campus radio
work and whatever could be purchased on a very limited budget. Then
late in 1969, with increasing appreciation of WGGL's output, the station
moved into more spacious quarters in the basement of MTU's old administration
building, increasing its output to 250 watts. That gave it a coverage
of a little more than ten miles, and when the antenna was relocated
from the campus to a shared facility with WHDF on Quincy Hill in Hancock,
its coverage stretched, with some luck, as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario
In the fall of 1970, WGGL became a qualified radio station with the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which made it eligible to
receive annual government grants to support a steadily-growing operation.
That was the time when some eighty other qualified stations met in Denver
to form a national public network, and National Public Radio (NPR) was
By May, 1971, NPR became the first nationwide, non-commercial public
radio network in the country. In that same year, WGGL, now dubbed "the
only campus station that isn't a 'sand box' station," became the
recipient of an educational broadcasting facility grant, enabling it
to increase its operating power to 100,000 watts, stereo, increasing
its coverage area to nearly 100 miles with a potential listening audience
of nearly 300,000 listeners.
WGGL became part of the MTU Division of Public Services, grew to
a professional full-time staff of seven including faculty director and
a large community of student and community volunteers.
It was on the air twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two
weeks of the year. Listeners from as far away as Louisiana and Texas
sent letters, and regular listener comments were received from Thunder
Bay, Grand Marais (Minnesota), Ironwood and Rhinelander (Wisconsin),
as well as many closer and more distant locations.
When budget cuts and university administrative decisions threatened
to close the facility, Bill Kling of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) made
arrangements to transfer WGGL to his spreading number of MPR stations.
In 1982, the Tech station was taken over by the Minnesota chain of public
stations. While it remains in its present basement location, its staff
has been reduced to one announcer and a technician, with less than a
few hours a week of local broadcasting.
A canvassing of regular listeners brought a variety of responses.
Some admit to leaving the radio on simply as an escape from commercial
programming, a "pleasant background sound" throughout the
day. Others switch back and forth between WGGL and Public Radio 90 and
appreciate the luxury of personal choices. Most of the long time listeners,
addicted to public broadcasting but unable to pick up the Marquette
station, admit that they are sorely disappointed in what WGGL now offers--a
near absence of local programming combined with some programs of national
and international information so important in intellectual, political
and social growth.
Gone are the locally-produced programs--interviews with national
celebrities and local people of interest, items of topical interest
from the listening area, expanded discussions and lectures from MTU
faculty and administrative staffs, talk shows of esoteric nature, and
materials from global sources--all of which brought enlightenment and
entertainment to the audience. In lieu, MPR's mostly classical music
programming, now most of it "canned," fills the station's
day. It may not follow the mandate set by the original staff, but it
still offers "a choice, not an echo," and without commercials,
though the frequent MPR announcements touting the network's many possible
purchases sneak in between programs and their now necessary but notorious
membership pleas have increased to twice annually, interrupting great
lengths of regular programming with the iron fist in the velvet glove
technique now embraced reluctantly by all public stations.
Meanwhile, it should be noted, as WGGL moved farther and farther
away from local programming, the steady growth of Northern Michigan
University's WNMU-FM filled the vacuum by increasing its coverage, to
be picked up in much of the WGGL area, and at least for the present,
it augments the MTU station with considerably broader programming coverage.
Public Radio in the Upper Peninsula still is alive and kicking.
So far, that is. If the rumors become fact, and NMU's valuable addition
to broadcasting is silenced next year, there will be a huge gap in our
choices across the Upper Peninsula. That would be a tragic loss.
Manager, station celebrate fortieth anniversary
Bruce Turner and WNMU-TV recently celebrated their fortieth anniversary
When WNMR-TV began televising in 1963, it went out via cable to thirty-three
communities, and Bruce Turner was there as the station's production
manager and announcer.
Nine years later, in 1972, WNMR-TV became WNPB-TV and began broadcasting
a signal to the non-cable audience for the first time. Turner was there
to announce the change.
Two years after that, WNPB-TV had yet another name change, this time
to WNMU-TV, a public service of Northern Michigan University. Turner
became station manager, a position he has held ever since. During that
time, Turner has become nearly synonymous with the station. He oversaw
its move to color in 1975, and the establishment of a fiber optic/microwave
connection to Ironwood and Sault Ste. Marie in 1990.
Many shows that viewers love today began during Turner's tenure.
In 1978, the highly popular High School Bowl premiered on WNMU-TV; Turner
oversaw its scheduling.
Today people still tune in to High School Bowl, and also are familiar
with Turner's passion for local programming such as the "Ask the
- " series, "Public Eye News," "What's UP?"
and "Media Meet."
Turner's accomplishments received recognition from the Michigan Association
of Public Broadcasters in 2000 when he was honored with the Broadcast
The word "pioneer" is apt, given the scope of the changes
television has undergone in the last forty years.
As Turner says, "We have gone from black and white to color,
to broadcasting in stereo, and now we look forward to WNMU-TV's conversion
Turner's station also has been recognized by the Michigan Association
of Broadcasters. In February, its documentary about one-room schoolhouses
in the Upper Peninsula, "One-Room, Many Stories: Schoolhouse Memories,"
won first place in the category of "TV Market 4 News Special."
And on May 1, 2003 WNMU-TV celebrated another accomplishment--forty
years of quality programming, and of course, forty years of Bruce Turner.
WNMU-TV broadcasts from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. daily.
In addition, it provides twenty-four hour cable carriage of PBS programs
for 70,000 cable subscribers of Charter Communications in the central
Local programming includes:
--"Public Eye News," which has been broadcasting from WNMU-TV
for twenty-eight years, provides a fifteen-minute daily newscast, five
days a week, thirty weeks a year. The program is completely produced,
directed and aired by students of Northern Michigan University working
--In the "Ask the" series, "Ask the Doctors"
and "Ask the Lawyers" each have been running for twenty-eight
years. Other more recent additions are "Ask the Realtors,"
"Ask the DNR," "Ask the DEQ," "Ask the CPAs"
and "Ask the Financial Planners."
--"High School Bowl" has been running for twenty-five years.
Up to fifty schools participate yearly in spirited academic competition.
--"Media Meet" also has been running for twenty-five years,
with fifty-two weekly public affairs programs on Upper Peninsula issues.
--"What's UP?" is another quarter-century show. It provides
three- to five-minute informational pieces that inform Upper Peninsula
residents of upcoming events across the U.P.
--WNMU-TV also is known for its award-winning documentaries. Most
recently, "One-Room, Many Stories: Schoolhouse Memories" won
the first place from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters in the
category of "TV Market 4 News Special."
NMU's Public Radio 90: Forty years of history
WNMU-FM broadcasts twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
It services the central Upper Peninsula in a circular broadcast pattern
emanating seventy to ninety miles from a location south of Republic.
Translators extended the signal to Escanaba, Manistique, Menominee
and Newberry in 1990 and to Stephenson in 1998.
WNMU-FM began broadcasting in 1963 with 250 watts on the campus of
Northern Michigan University; it was raised to full power, 100,000 watts,
It changed to full stereo operation in 1986. The station became an
affiliate of National Public Radio in 1971 and continues to provide
quality local and national programming.
WNMU-FM's local programming includes:
--Humor-esque--Classical music from the station's extensive music
--Weekday--Daily light jazz, world beat, new age and blues music
from the WNMU-FM music library. There is an emphasis on music from upcoming
--Classics by Request--This classical music program features listener
--In the Pines--Regional performances including music from the Hiawatha
--Sunday Swing--Big band music from the station's CD library.
--Just Folks--Traditional and folk music.
--Jazz Showcase--Light jazz is featured in this Sunday afternoon
--Night Studio--Selections are taken from the broad spectrum of jazz.
--Listener's Choice Jazz--This weekly program features local requests.
--House of Blue Lights--Featuring a wide range of blues recordings
from the twentieth century.
--Superiorland Concerts--This program includes recordings of regional
--Compiled by Sarah Perrault