WRCR/Rockford College Radio -- 1970s 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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In April 1970, Ross Hunter was elected GM, taking over from Ken Flack, who had held the position since Interim. In an article for the Collegian, Ross proposed academic credit for work at WRCR. Three Gates cartridge machines donated by WROK Radio were installed.
Looking for a way to thank college Vice President for development John Spence, the Executive Board created the Frank Conrad Award to recognize his assistance in getting new studios for WRCR in the Burpee Center expansion. The award was named after the founder of KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, the first licensed commercial radio station in the United States. The award was to be given each year to the individual or organization who contributed most significantly to the growth of WRCR. 1970 was the 50th anniversary of KDKA.
In the spring of 1970 the staff was preparing for the move in the fall to new studios in the Burpee addition. Some students stayed on campus a few days after the end of school to dismantle the upper Burpee studios and pack away equipment for storage over the summer.
In Fall 1970, WRCR moved into custom-designed and built space in the basement of the Burpee Center addition. Many staff members arrived on campus during orientation to put the station back together in the new studios. Staff members spent over 700 hours moving and assembling the new radio station, which was three times the size of the upper Burpee space. Mark Groth initiated broadcasting from the new studios on September 15, 1970 by playing The Fifth Dimension’s "Aquarius".
The idea of an FM station resurfaced in February of 1971, when the station Executive Board made a proposal that the college Trustees apply for an educational FM license. The intention was to keep the AM station. WROK Chief Engineer David Peacock assisted the staff with the engineering part of the proposal. The Trustees did not accept the proposal.
A national tour of college campuses concluded at Rockford College when four newsmen from ABC news visited campus on January 30, 1971: White House and State Department correspondent John Scali, Rome Bureau Chief Barrie Dunsmore, and correspondents Jim Kincaid and Ken Gale. They were questioned in Maddox Theatre by Collegian Editor Kim Fishler and WRCR GM Ross Hunter. The program was broadcast on WROK and co-sponsored by WROK and WREX-TV.
The freshman class of 1975 brought new faces to WRCR in the fall of 1971. Among the new staffers were two with an interest in news. John "Bace" Bacevicius and Jerry Mayer formed WRCR's first real news department. They began a focused coverage of campus events and continued the WRCR tradition of interviewing faculty and administration members. An April 1972 letter to the editor of the Collegian praised the WRCR operation, citing "...music shows, news coverage [and] most importantly public service programs for the RC community."
In the Spring of 1972, WRCR added daytime programming, using a homemade automation system developed by engineers Gordon Klein and Lea Jewett. The automation provided programming from the end of the live morning show at 9am until a live announcer returned at 6pm. An on-air contest was held to name the system. The winner was OSCAR, which stood for Occasionally Silent Criterion And Revox. (Criterion and Revox were the names of two pieces of tape equipment.) WRCR also added a tornado warning system.
After 11 years at Rockford College, Webb Kerns resigned to open an advertising agency in Rockford. Kerns was one of the founders of WRCR, who, after graduating in 1965, had joined the college administration in the admissions office. While there he continued his interest in WRCR. Even after leaving college employment, Kerns continued to aid WRCR. In 1989 he was involved with a effort to raise $5,000 to help revive WRCR. More on that effort is discussed below.
In the Fall of 1972, WRCR found itself in conflict with the college administration over an arrangement in which station staffers worked as news stringers for Rockford radio station WROK. In exchange for the student reporters, WROK provided WRCR with training and the ABC Contemporary Radio Network feed. The dispute arose when News Director John Bacevicius told the college director of Public Relations Howard Nadel that he and Jerry Mayer were working on a story on student discontent that would be aired on WROK. Nadel maintained that providing the story to an outside organization violated college regulations. He said WRCR should not have made an alliance with an off-campus organization without going through college channels that would need to be approved by the Trustees. An accommodation was reached whereby WRCR staffers would act as individuals in dealing with WROK.
WRCR began the 1972-73 academic year on Orientation Sunday, September 10, 1972. During the summer the station's Revox tape machine was stolen. The loss was estimated at $800, but it also meant that the OSCAR automation system would not function. WRCR continued its news efforts supplemented by the ABC network. Newscasts were heard each weekday at 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning and 7 and 10 in the evening. Broadcast hours were from 7 to 9 in the morning and from 6 in the evening until 1am. Weekends the station was on from 7pm to 3am.
The WRCR news department covered the 1972 presidential election from Forrest Cool lounge on November 7, 1972, anchored by John Bacevicius. A panel of Republicans and Democrats was on hand to provide perspective.
In April of 1973 Jerry Mayer was chosen General Manager for the 1973-74 school year. The "National Lampoon Radio Hour" was added to WRCR's programming in the Fall of 1973.
The history of WRCR becomes more sketchy in the middle 1970s, as few newspaper articles have turned up. The Collegian folded and became the Forge in the Fall of 1974. Some WRCR alumni feel that the strong news operation at the radio station hurt the newspaper.
WRCR began the 1978-79 academic year on October 1 with Steve Bahr. The announced schedule had programming at mealtimes as well as afternoon and evening shows. In December of 1978 GM Bill Hille and adviser Ralph Cohen announced a proposal for WRCR to broadcast over the air as a low-power AM station covering just the campus. The administration was opposed to an FM station, saying it would put the college in competition with commercial FM stations in Rockford. The reason for seeking a low-power AM station was to overcome the hum caused by carrier current broadcasting.