I get time to write these seldom-read blogs only now and then, and for that I'm sorry, because I enjoy writing so much. But, for the few of you who read this, I hope you'll enjoy our visit this time with special interest in the growth, acceptance, and longevity of your local radio station, WION. By the way, we get THREE birthdays this year. One for the station's existence and call letters, one for our FM, and one for our TEAM owning it. So yes, look for lots of celebrations this year to which you'll be invited!
WION radio turns 60 years old on February 1st, 2013. SIXTY YEARS. Think about that! What changes have we seen in our economy, our world, and our technology in 60 years? Plenty! And, what's been there through all of it? (with the exception of the one year before we bought the station).....WION!
WION signed on at 500 watts in 1953 and was welcomed by the citizens of Ionia. It was welcomed by dignitaries from the State of Michigan, and by broadcasting dignitaries who today would be considered “competition” and would never be allowed to speak-at or congratulate a new media entry in the area. You see, in 1953, WION was welcomed to the Ionia community. The Ionia family. It was embraced as “new” and “exciting.” it was Ionia's radio station. And, it was exciting to have your town own its own broadcast radio station. In 1956-57, the station upped its power to 5 thousand watts and added the second and third towers. A “miracle” of that day and age, for sure.
Since then, the towers of WION have broadcast literally millions of songs. They've brought you news of battles overseas, of presidential inaugurations and, sadly, assassinations, they've made voices of the wind into friends that you welcomed into your homes and businesses, and, they've helped keep Ionia on the map. They've stood through hundreds of storm watches and warnings, and continued to keep you informed and entertained.
When, in 2004, the station was off the air for nearly a year, the license was nearly lost. By Federal law, any station “dark” for a full year loses its license, and sadly, that was coming close. With 2 weeks until the loss of license, our team of people stepped in and started work. We fired up a 20-plus year old transmitter, old control board, and cleaned the studios. We chopped down 3 feet of grass growing in every part of the lot, and we got all the “necessary” pieces of equipment tuned-up enough to prove the station was alive, and save the license! With nearly 40 years of combined experience in radio Jim Aaron and I had bought our very first radio station!
In some ways, the early years of WION are like our first (nearly nine) years here. They've been years of change. In the early days, staff came, staff went. The miracles back then were remote broadcasts for breaking news, concerts, and other events. Radio was still co-existing in the infancy of television, and every “first” broadcast on WION was a mini-miracle.
I'd like to look back at the miracles of our WION, since 2004 and our great team bought it!
Miracle number one: The saving of the license. With short notice, and the help of many engineers and close friends who wanted nothing but for me and my team to succeed, we did it! The old transmitter had been shut down for nearly a year, we bought it sight unseen, not knowing if it would run. It fired up with some coaxing, and got us by from September of 2004, until July of 2005. Not the “best” sound, but it was, indeed, “on the air” enough that we kept WION 's license. With E-T and Ralph Haines on-hand, the old transmitter sputtered and coughed, scaring me half to death with a huge BANG as it arced internally, but it eventually ran and played its first song as I listened in my Jeep with tears of joy in my eyes!
Miracle number two: The replacement of the 1980's, older, somewhat unstable transmitter, which finally happened when the Good Lord sent a lightning bolt through our power lines, and put the final nail in the coffin of the old Collins "Power Rock" tube-box. Our local insurance company was kind to us, and went to bat for our cause when insurance underwriters downplayed the need of our claim, and eventually, thanks to outside independent intervention, a new transmitter was ordered, and installed. Our new 6 kilowatt AM box went online in July of 2005, creating miracle number two, as it gave us better range and sound than WION had produced in many a year....with the potential for even better fidelity!
Miracle number three: By design and by law, our AM signal like most, reduces power at night. There's no way around that, and we also knew that we wanted more daytime coverage of I-96, and in South Ionia County, Portland, Lowell, and other areas not served by the “light bulb” shaped signal of 1956. So, we filed with the FCC to take our AM signal non-directional, and in 2009, again with the help of great engineers from Munn-Reese in Coldwater, we flipped the switch on a non-directional and much stronger daytime signal for everyone.
Miracle number four has to be the addition of our FM signal. At the time we bought WION, there was no FM associated with the station. And, given the way the FCC allocates new FM's today, even if we had the money to put a full-size FM on the air, the greedy bastards of corporate radio are allowed, in federal auction to outbid us on our own FCC application, and silence any hope of WION adding FM to to serve you 24/7! It's the way of the FCC! We know that AM has some limitations, and to some,people, even a “stigma” which we've overcome through public education and good programming, but here's the miracle:
In 2004, it was not legal for AM stations to own a small FM like ours, but, there was one small FM called a “translator” in Ionia, operating at very low power, owned by a nationwide religious group, and we had our eyes on it! By 2008, the FCC was beginning to allow AM stations to operate FM translators like this one. Our engineers approached the people broadcasting on the small 3-watt repeater, and found they had no interest in Ionia, but WE did. We found that if moved that signal to our own towers, we could up the power and cover most, if not all, of Ionia County. On March 10th of 2010, the switch was flipped on, and FM 92-7, a full stereo version of WION was born! It's only 212 watts, residing on the middle of our 3 towers, but it sounds terrific, and its nothing short of a miracle! Miracle number four. Oh, and thanks to Scott Beeman, our “resident” engineer, we even offer “text” in many vehicles when tuned-in to our FM! Give it a read! …..When you're not in heavy traffic, of course!
Miracle number 5: Some of you have already heard it! It's “AM Stereo.” Older Chrysler, Jeep, and some other vehicles bring in AM stereo automatically. Jeep vehicles with 'RAZ” code on their radios pre-2003 can hear the full potential of AM stereo sound, and believe me, it's incredible. Some modern “HD” radios play AM stereo. You'll know if you have it because it'll jump right out of your speakers. It also helps our regular AM monophonic listeners to enjoy a wider range of sound with less dropouts. We added this in the autumn of 2012. I hope you get a chance to hear this great sound, a seldom-heard miracle, that many stations could opt to utilize, but don't. Oh, yes, it took hours of our engineer Scott aligning the special equipment to make it happen, but the results are FANTASTIC.
The latest in the series of miracles happens on February 1st. We'll be announcing a new service from WION.....one that many folks will want to use and enjoy. A service that augments what we already do here every day. We hope you'll be with us as we debut Miracle number 6.