WRCR/Rockford College Radio -- 1960s History
This history of WRCR was compiled from Rockford College newspaper articles, primarily the Collegian; recollections of students involved with WRCR, and messages posted on the WRCR list serve. This history was compiled by Ross Hunter '71and edited by Cece Forrester '72. Click a link above to visit other decades. In reviewing the old newspaper clippings there are two themes that surfaced every couple of years from the beginning of WRCR to its end in 1994: the hum caused by carrier current broadcasting and the hope of FM broadcasting. Student engineers over the years made great strides in overcoming the hum, but that FM dream was never realized.
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WRCR began on the old Rockford College downtown campus as an idea developed by a group of students including: Brian Barton, Eric Hansen, Webb Kerns, Mike Kuzel, Fred Johnson, Jeff Nash, Al Stessman. The organizing group was described in the Collegian: "Their purposes in creating WRCR are to bring to the college campus the type of programming that would most appeal to the members of the college community; and to provide valuable experience for those interested in broadcasting."
By the fall of 1962 By-Laws and Operating Rules had been developed and an application for recognition was made to the college. The Administrative Council and Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees approved the application in January of 1963.
A tentative on air date of January 30, 1963 was set. The radio station would begin broadcasting on the new Rockford College campus. On March 17, 1963 WRCR began broadcasting from Room 206 in Nelson Hall on the new campus, which housed only men at the time. Women were still housed on the downtown campus. The April 17, 1963 edition of the Collegian observed "New ideas and innovations are a part of the new campus at Rockford College. The freshness of the campus and the excitement of building a totally new college inspired nearly everyone that comes in contact with RC."
The first Executive Board included: Eric Hansen, Station Manager; Jeff Nash and Brian Barton, Head Technicians; Webb Kerns, Program Director; Mike Kuzel, Head Announcer; Nagene Goddard, Business Manager; and Al Stessman, Public Relations. The station’s first faculty advisor was Kenneth Palmer. The staff included announcers Don Snow, Dave Ragan, Art Johnson, Marv Cutler, John Ellis, and Jan Gillis. At the beginning WRCR operated nightly from 10pm to 1am
The radio station organizers established a relationship with Herb Eckstein, Chief Engineer of WTVO-TV in Rockford. He helped with construction of equipment, including designing and building a transmitter and control board for WRCR. The new station's allocation from Student Government for 1963 was $175.
WRCR began the Fall 1964 semester with a staff of about 50. In February of 1964 WRCR received equipment donation from WREX radio in Rockford and was already looking to future expansion. Don Snow told the Collegian, "We hope to expand with the college", citing possibly moving to FM and closed circuit TV on campus. The Administrative Council decided to move the radio station in the Fall of 1964 to Burpee Center into a room originally slated to be a typing room. WRCR would remain in this space through the Spring of 1970.
On May 16, 2012 Rockford College Radio interviewed WRCR founder Eric Hansen. Click here to listen to the interview.
In January 1965, the first of what was to become a series of articles on FM was published in the Collegian. In April of the same year, Theater Arts majors Webb Kerns and Walter Brody adapted "Inherit The Wind" for radio as part of their senior seminar.
The Fall of 1965 saw women move to the new campus and join the staff of WRCR. Broadcasting expanded to a 12 hours a day. The Student Government allotment rose to $390. Two new turntables were purchased and the station hoped to buy a reel-to-reel tape recorder. In April of 1965, freshman Dan Hardman succeeded Webb Kerns as Station Manager. Most of the originators of WRCR graduated in the spring of 1965.
In March 1966, WRCR joined the Intercollegiate Broadcast System. WROK Radio in Rockford donated a tape cartridge machine to WRCR. The industry standard cart machine had been developed by Verne Nolte, owner of WROK. In April of 1966, freshman Mike Ruet set the IBS record by broadcasting for 80 consecutive hours. He broke the record of 70 hours set by Phil McDowell in 1949 at William Penn College in Iowa.
In May 1966, East Coast students Tom Whittenberger, Rick Sawyer, Alan Shick, David Hammer and Dan Hardman spent the summer in Rockford to remodel the station. They converted the record library to a studio, rearranged the control room and added soundproofing, and changed to "three phase" transmitters. A new production console was built by Rockford electrical technician Upton Rehnberg.
In February 1967, sophomore Mike Porcaro was selected as Station Manager, replacing Dan Hardman, who had left Rockford College in December of 1966. A "Top 10 plus 5" music program aired each night from 7-8. WRCR began recording home and away basketball games for later broadcast. Weekly interview programs with guests such as college Vice President John Spence, Gordon Ross, Dean G. Ray Tatum, President John Howard and Student Government candidates aired in the evening.
A Collegian editorial in May 1967 praised improvements to WRCR, mentioning Mike Porcaro’s Focus on the City and 8 o’clock Report programs, the technical efforts of CE Dave Hammer --which eliminated the WRCR transmitter buzz -- and programming efforts of Program Director Sandy Ballin, who not only remodeled the office, but cataloged the record library and introduced the "Top 10 + 5" survey program. The editorial concluded with a note that FM was in the "not-too-distant future". Plans for fall 1967 included installation of the Gates Yard control room board. Sandy Ballin took over the Chief Engineer duties from Dave Hammer, who died after an extended illness.
During the 1967-68 school year, various interview programs with faculty, staff and student government candidates were broadcast. In May 1968 WRCR conducted a survey of students seeking suggestions to improve WRCR. The survey showed dislike of unprofessional announcers, but praise for the "Top 10 + 5 Survey" and faculty interviews.
A fall 1968 Collegian editorial praised improvements to the station making it sound more professional. The editorial liked WRCR's new "more music" format and improved transmission. New turntables and Magnecord tape deck were installed. The turntables lasted at WRCR until at least the mid 1980s. On November 5, 1968 WRCR made a major effort to cover the Nixon-Humphrey presidential election. Election returns were broadcast every half hour through 2am.
December 1968 saw internal discord over the direction of WRCR and future staff appointments. There were a number of resignations, and staff was shuffled. Station Manager Mike Porcaro became the General Manager and Mike Powell was chosen as Station Manager. Powell transferred from RC during Christmas break. In February of 1969, Sandy Ballin was chosen as Station Manager. In the fall of 1969, WMAQ (NBC Chicago) donated hundreds of tape cartridges to WRCR.
The WRCR AM Carrier Current transmission system
There were transmitters located in each of the boiler rooms of the living centers. (By 1970 that included the following: Johnson, Cummings, Kent, and McGaw.) Plans made to expand coverage with transmitters in Burpee, Scarborough and the science and theater buildings were scrapped for financial reasons. The audio feed from the studio was sent via a rented telephone line to each transmitter location. There was also a feed to the PA system in Burpee Center. None of the classroom buildings, library, theater, phys ed, or chapel had service. The four transmitters were vacuum tube type units operating on what was called "carrier current", connected through the building electrical power wiring in the dorms and living centers. We had a mixture of 9 and 25 watt units. Carrier current transmitters were very popular in the 60s for campus radio stations. Several companies manufactured the transmitters and some of the larger universities had dozens of them. During my tenure at WRCR (1967-1970) they were manufactured by Richard Compton at LPB, Low Power Broadcast. You did not need a license as they were low power and rarely radiated their signal more than a few feet outside a building.
In the 50s every radio had a little civil defense triangle-in-a-circle logo at 640 and 1240 on the radio dial. It was the dial location at 640 and 1240 of the CONELRAD emergency communications system. Check this link for a brief CONELRAD history. In 1963 the CONELRAD system was abandoned leaving the AM frequencies of 640 and 1240 available. To prevent our four transmitters from interfering with each other we actually had one on 630, two on 640, and one on 650. No, it wasn't “legal” but nobody really cared as the campus was far enough from civilization that it did not interfere with anyone else’s reception.
Without getting too technical the transmitters would work their best if everything electrical in the buildings were in use (lighting, record players, popcorn makers, electric typewriters, etc.) and would be at their worst if nothing electrical was turned on. This also made it nearly impossible to adjust the transmitters properly because as the electrical load changed, your adjustments needed to change. You could adjust them in the morning and they would work great, but not so great when the lights were on in the evening and vice versa. I spent too many days and nights adjusting those babies, located in the boiler rooms of various buildings, only to have them work fine for a while and then not so fine as the electrical use changed. Because they were connected to alternating current, you got that awful HUM. (Here's a sample of actual WRCR hum.)
One time I got "creative" and connected one transmitter's output to an unused Illinois Bell inbound phone line to see if the signal would radiate better and have less hum. You couldn't pick up the signal in the dorms, but you could hear it going north on Alpine Road for about a mile! They phone company paid me a visit, too. Seems more than a few of their residential customers had WRCR on their phones. Sadly all this could have been avoided had the college allowed us to pursue the FM license. For the cost of those four transmitters we could have run a ten-watt FM which would have covered the entire campus from a small antenna on top of Burpee. Naturally we would have preferred a 100 watt stereo signal...
When the Morning Vegetable (James Landis Buchman) and the Prince (Mark Groth) were doing morning shows, it was my job to be sure they were on the air. I could wake
Kathy Hackwith Groth '72
|Frank Buckingham, the Chief Engineer from
1974 through 1977 adds:
I had an excellent mentor in Gordon Klein regarding technical matters! (His predecessors had obviously been very busy also.) He knew enough about the transmitters and control room equipment to fill a library. (It may have been too much for my little head though!) We had looked for a long time at getting new transmitters and I think we had 3 newer units by the time he left. I remember blue units. Gordon may remember details about them better than I do. Still just 3 transmitters to cover the dorms, though. We never did go FM which is what we REALLY (Read: REALLY, REALLY, REALLY) wanted to do. I remember constantly experimenting with those transmitters to get the best reception in the dorms. We tried different locations and different capacitor combinations. We may even have tried hooking them up to the phone wiring system instead of into the AC wiring system, but I can neither confirm nor deny that rumor. Is AT&T (still) listening? I think there were always spotty areas and, of course, hum. The dependable 60 cycle hum from the AC was unavoidable.