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WNIJ celebrates 30 years of public radio with anniversary design contest

July 27, 2021

Local artists are invited to share their vision as the station looks back on three decades and forward to the future of public radio.

Vani Subramony’s design for the 20th anniversary contest featured a reporter modeled on her seven-year-old self.

Vani Subramony doesn’t fully remember why she entered the WNIJ 20th anniversary design contest ten years ago (she was only seven years old at the time), but she does remember embracing the creative possibilities of the task.

“Public Radio is one of those things that spans nations, and I used to enjoy hearing the voices of reporters from across the globe, hence the speech bubbles with NPR references coming from many different countries,” Subramony says of her design. “Today, I see it showing how diverse countries and people all come together to listen and learn as one. As for the girl on top of the world, she’s meant to symbolize all reporters, and is slightly modeled off my seven-year-old self.”

Subramony’s design was one of dozens submitted for the 20th anniversary contest, along with Rockford resident and winner Greg Lang’s design “20 Years Blue.” Subramony, a recent Sycamore High School graduate, is now a station employee, working as a technical assistant to edit audio, write and edits scripts and do some field interviews. She’s planning to attend Case Western Reserve University this coming fall to major in cognitive science and music, and she also plans to continue working in radio, possibly making this into a full-fledged career.

According to WNIJ General Manager Staci Hoste, the radio station staff are excited to bring back a design competition as part of this year’s 30th anniversary celebration (the station went on the air on April 28, 1991). “We’re deeply connected to the northern Illinois community, and our mission is to enrich, inspire and inform,” Hoste says. “We take pride in offering an arts and well-being oasis in addition to the news of the day, and celebrating the artistic talents of our listeners is a great way to do that – not to mention a lot of fun for the staff!”

Earphones, by Devin Strejc, Cortland, was a runner up in the WNIJ 2011 20th anniversary design contest.

DeKalb resident and 20th anniversary design contest runner up Zabrina Burford sees participating in the design contest as just one of many fun ways to support a station that has been meaningful in her life for nearly 25 years.

“I’m always looking for ways to help out organizations that I believe in, so I’ve been a volunteer at WNIJ. I’ve answered phones, I’ve helped with mailings, just all kinds of little things as they need help,” Burford says. “So it seemed like this design contest was an extension of that, wanting to be engaged with a worthy organization.”

Burford, whose 20th anniversary design featured a radio tower, says she’s struggling to come up with a design for the 30th anniversary contest – in part because of the many technological advances public radio has experienced in the past decade.

“In the ten years since the last contest I have been out of town frequently for extended periods,” Burford says. “Although I can find public radio in other places, I find myself streaming WNIJ because I think our station is just really top-notch quality, as well as offering that local connection. So I’m trying to figure out – how do I incorporate that aspect of it, the digital side of what WNIJ is to people? My original design ten years ago focused very heavily on just radio, and that’s not enough anymore. WNIJ is so much more.”

Burford says both of her daughters (ages 19 and 23) also listen to WNIJ, so she’s planning to collaborate with daughter Annabelle on a 30th anniversary submission.

Zabrina Burford’s runner up design in 2011 featured a radio tower.

“I think when you sit down to do artwork, it really helps you focus and process what something means to you,” says Burford. “I want to encourage people to be creative in thinking about how they can support the radio station.”

For Vani Subramony, public radio has also always been a family avocation.

“Since my family moved to Sycamore in 2009, WNIJ has been a staple in my life. My parents have always listened to NPR, so I was used to Car Talk and Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me playing in the background during road trips or when my dad picked me up from school. I’ve also heard Susan Stephens’ and Dan Klefstad’s voices since I can remember,” Subramony reminisces. “Today, my favorite thing about public radio is its ability to convey a diverse range of perspectives and stories: one minute there could be a conversation about Iranian politics and the next, an interview with Harry Styles (I speak from experience!).”

The WNIJ Commemorative Design Contest, sponsored by Northern Illinois Credit Union, is open to longtime listeners and those who have recently discovered their love for public radio. Any medium that can be submitted as a digital image or photograph is welcome.

Rockford resident Greg Lang’s design “20 Years Blue” was the winner of the 20th anniversary design contest.

The winning designs will be featured on WNIJ merchandise to commemorate 30 years of helping listeners learn something new every day. “Swag is part of our public radio DNA, and we’re looking forward to featuring listener designs on our next round of shirts, mugs and tote bags,” says Hoste.

Designs must be submitted through the WNIJ website by Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Only one design is permitted per person. Visit for more details or to submit a design.

WNIJ 89.5 FM is one of two non-commercial public broadcasting radio stations managed by Northern Public Radio, the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University and part of the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. WNIJ provides independent, local, national and international news. The mission of Northern Public Radio is to enrich, inspire and inform adults in northern Illinois through programs and services that share ideas, encourage thought, give pleasure and create community.