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WNIJ 89.5 celebrates 30 years on the air

April 12, 2021

“Mini disk recorder slash player.”

“The old cassette recorder.”

“DAT tape, known for failing miserably and getting lots of crackles as you play them back.”

“Ooh. That is a… What is it? …. Tube transformer?”

A lot has changed in the 30 years since WNIJ 89.5 signed on the air, as Reporter Susan Stephens and Chief Technical Officer David Tallacksen demonstrate in their tour of WNIJ’s Museum of Ancient Technology – the fifth segment in the station’s “30 Reasons to Love WNIJ” series.

But even though DAT tape and cassette recorders have given way to computers, digital recorders and upgraded transmitters, a lot has also stayed the same as WNIJ continues to fulfill its core mission of educating and entertaining, helping listeners learn something new every day.

WNIJ is celebrating 30 years of public broadcasting this year, and they’re asking listeners to join in the celebration by sharing their memories and reasons they love the station.

A 2016 staff photo.

When WNIJ signed on in 1991, the programming previously provided by WNIU was split into two services. WNIU became an all-classical music station, and WNIJ began providing news, jazz and entertainment. (The J in WNIJ stands for “jazz.”) That same year, Northern Public Radio opened the new NIU Broadcast Center in DeKalb, which houses the main studios and offices of WNIJ and WNIU, as well as auxiliary studios and offices in Riverfront Museum Park in Rockford.

As the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University, the mission of WNIJ and WNIU is to enrich, inspire and inform adults in northern Illinois. The listener area covers much of northern Illinois and some of southern Wisconsin with WNIJ 89.5 serving DeKalb and Rockford, WNIQ 91.5 in Sterling, WNIE 89.1 in Freeport and WNIW 91.3 in La Salle.

In the first installment of “30 Reasons to Love WNIJ,” former Northern Public Radio General Manager Mike Lazar describes the station’s launch on April 28, 1991.

Lazar remembers the move to Northern Public Radio’s new home in the old Palmer Music Store on first street in DeKalb. “The night before we launched WNIJ, our engineers were frantically wiring the new studios. And then we were very lucky to have Carl Kasell, the late Carl Kasell, the voice of NPR News, who was here for the grand opening… I read the initial sign on, and Carl did one of his famous newscasts right from the studios at the broadcast center.”

The home of Northern Public Radio on N. First Street in DeKalb, pre-1991 and today.

For the next 30 years, WNIJ has become woven into the daily lives of listeners as they’ve tuned in every day from their cars, kitchen radios, ear buds and mobile devices.

The Saturday Blues soon became a staple of WNIJ programming, featuring traditional performers such as Muddy Waters and Etta James, as well as recent musicians such as Toronzo Cannon and Shemekia Copeland. Science Friday is a perennial favorite with listeners who love to keep up on new developments in science and technology, such as Sandra from Beloit, who says, “I studied science when the periodic chart was much, much shorter. Science Friday piques my interest and fills me with pleasant and intriguing information about science.”

Over the years, WNIJ has brought interviews with musicians, authors, sculptors and painters, a tradition that Arts and Culture Reporter Yvonne Boose is continuing with her weekly segment Poetically Yours. And, of course, the station provides up-to-date local and national news from the journalists on staff in northern Illinois and the station’s longstanding partnership with National Public Radio.

Throughout April, the daily segment “30 Reasons to Love WNIJ” will air during Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on the WNIJ mobile app and wnij.org. Listen or share your memories at wnij.org.