In the fall of 1962 Indiana Central (today the University of Indianapolis) officially went on the air with its new radio station, WICR-FM. Operated entirely by UIndy students, WICR began broadcasting with a mere 10 watts of power. Its humble beginnings were apparent from its original studio location on the second floor of Esch Hall with a picture window—overlooking the dark backstage area of Ransburg Auditorium. Theoretically, at least, broadcasts could reach within 10 or 15 miles of campus, but the signal was reputed to lose some of its oomph in its effort to cross Hanna Avenue.
“WICR stood for, and still stands for, ‘Indiana Central Radio,’” said Samantha Stratton ’13, current operations manager of WICR. “And we have many loyal listeners who have been with us since the very beginning of the station 50 years ago.”
In the early days, WICR featured a variety of programs including home athletic events, chapel programs that eventually evolved into convocation, and Sunday morning worship services, in addition to the station’s musical format of rock ’n’ roll and jazz. The Fine Arts Society, an Indianapolis bastion of classical music programming, has been a longtime complement to WICR. FAS had been broadcasting in mono and realized the benefits of WICR’s increase in power and the ability to broadcast in stereo.
Battling Buxton’s quirks
In 1982, the FCC gave WICR a huge boost when it granted an increase in effective radiated power to 2,500 watts, later to increase to 5,000 watts as a licensed, non-commercial, full-power Class B radio station. The combination of 5,000 watts of power with an antenna height of 1,000 feet gave WICR the coverage area of a 30,000-watt FM station. A year later, in 1983, the station began broad-casting from a remodeled studio in Buxton Hall. The aging residence hall was less than ideal for broadcasting; staffers from that era recount how the sound of a toilet flushing could sometimes be heard on the air during interviews.
“In Buxton Hall, in order to create a TV studio in the lower level, they had to do some renovations,” says Jim Ream, former faculty advisor to the radio station. “It was quickly learned that these renovations created some structural weaknesses—which caused the WICR turntables playing music to skip when someone walked down the hallway outside the main studio. A support column was added that solved most of that problem but left the TV studio with a column in the middle of the space.”
A most welcome move came in 1999, when WICR relocated to the Sease Wing of Krannert Memorial Library. The state-of-the-art facilities there featured a master control studio, talk studio, news studio, two production studios, and offices. The expanding station moved one more time in 2005, when WICR relocated to its current facilities in the Esch Hall addition. In addition to on-air, talk, and news studios, the station features five production studios and now reaches most of central Indiana.
“The Esch Hall facilities are absolutely top-of-the-line,” says Nick Lopez ’09, former opera-tions manager of WICR. “Because of that, students can walk into any professional broadcast setting and be ready to go. It’s a real radio station with real reach. When a student speaks into the microphone, thousands of people all over Indianapolis and central Indiana are listening.”
WICR now consists of three HD stations, allowing for maximum programming and a variety of musical genres. The station gained its “Diamond” moniker through a student project in 2002–03 to personalize and brand WICR to its listeners.
“‘The Diamond’ was selected because we wanted to relate to our specific audience,” said Russ Maloney, director of broadcast programming. “Our listeners are middle-aged, affluent, and enjoy classical and jazz programming. A diamond reflects that sophistication very well.”
Audiences continue to be at an all-time high, with WICR reaching a record number of listeners in 2011. The station broadcasts to the public and is not operating just for campus listeners, so WICR relies mostly on that public for its funding.
“WICR has some of the best and most loyal listeners in town,” said Anne Gosser ’09, former operations manager at WICR. “Not only do they appreciate the music, but they appreciate everything that WICR brings to the community, and that’s what encourages them to support the radio station through donations. The fund drive is a huge factor in WICR’s success. It allows the station to continue providing locally produced programs while educating students in both radio broadcasting and the art of jazz.”
As WICR continues to grow, both in class size and in reach, the importance of student media in the lives of UIndy graduates becomes greater.
“I cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunities I received while in radio at UIndy,” said Ashlyn Schaffer ’11, former operations manager. “I had no idea that I, as a freshman with zero radio experience, would be given the opportunity to manage the radio station by the end of my career there. It’s all about the hands-on experience and the extra effort you put in. Not only was I able to develop my radio skills, but I was able to enhance my managing, organizational, and people skills.
“WICR had such an impact on my life and I would not trade my experience for anything.”
‘Diamond’ is multifaceted
WICR’s colorful history may be replete with makeshift studios and modest facilities, but those days are in the distant past. The station was Indiana’s first public HD station when WICR-HD1 was introduced in 2004. HD2 was launched in ’07. Last year the station expanded its lineup again with HD3.
The HD2 and HD3 channels put more WICR programming into the community and offer students more on-air experience. Styled as the “mirror image” of WICR-FM and HD1, HD2 lets HD listeners enjoy jazz or classical music throughout the day. When HD1 is playing jazz, HD2 cranks out the classical—and vice versa. WICR-HD3 caters to the college audience, broadcasting over the Internet, campus TV, and HD radios, and playing an iPod-like shuffle of pop, hip-hop, and R&B.
The three channels mean first-year students enrolled in Applied Radio courses in the Communication Department get more on-air practice. Advanced students are still heard on WICR-FM. All three stations—HD1, HD2, and HD3—can be heard at 88.7 FM or online at WICRonline.org.
WICR and the Reflector have given our students a voice for 50 and 90 years, respectively. Now we want to hear from you! Submit your memories of the Reflector and WICR-FM on Alumni Central at alumni.uindy.edu/StudentMedia.
To get the ball rolling, we talked with Jim Ream, a faculty member since 1973 who served for a number of years as adviser to WICR. Jim shared some of his memories:
“The antenna for our 10-watt broadcast was on a tower about 30 feet high that was mounted to the roof of Ransburg Auditorium, so it was close to 100 feet above the ground. People loved to joke about the signal barely making it across the street. In the mid 1970s there was a bad ice storm, and ice build-up would reduce the already-sparse signal coverage. I remember going up to the roof, wearing my hard hat, carrying a hammer, and climbing the tower to knock off the ice.
“There were audio lines from the stage to WICR, which allowed them to use Ransburg as a recording studio. They did broadcast convocations live, which led to at least one problem the FCC might not have been happy with. One morning, Del Close, a comedy writer and improv artist with Second City, was playing to the student audience, which occasionally appeared bored with convocation. He tapped on the mike and said, ‘Am I on the radio? Does this mean I can’t say *%#@?’ It may have been a first for WICR and Ransburg Auditiorium.”