A control booth at Interlochen Public Radio in 1963.
If you tune into Interlochen Public Radio at 1:55 p.m. EDT on July 22, 2018, you will be participating in a part of Interlochen Center for the Arts’ history. It was at that moment 55 years earlier that WIAA (later Interlochen Public Radio) first went on air. Although that’s the start of official public broadcasting at the institution, it is far from the beginning of the story for Interlochen’s history with radio.
From the beginning, radio has been an integral part of Interlochen Center for the Arts’ relationship with both northern Michigan and the world beyond. Beginning in 1930, select Camp Orchestra, Band and Choir performances were broadcast across North America over 53 CBS network stations.
Broadcasting from Interlochen in the early days of Camp was no small feat, as it was reported on July 6, 1930:
“Technical men from the American Telegraph & Telephone Co. and the Columbia Broadcasting Co. have been at work in the Bowl for several days preparing the rather intricate hook-up which is to connect the Bowl with the main circuit of the Columbia Broadcasting Chain. The programs go through the microphone at the Bowl, from whence they are related by telephone wire to Cadillac, where they are amplified and sent on to Grand Rapids, where they are amplified again and sent on to South Bend, Ind., where they are amplified once more and connected to the main circuit which takes the programs to all of the 53 stations on the chain.”
Over the course of the following decades, the technological hurdles were smoothed out, allowing for Interlochen’s continued experimentation with radio broadcasting; which it did through various local broadcasting initiatives, an educational program hosted by Dr. Maddy and through Camp courses. It wasn’t until 1958 that Dr. Maddy submitted a report to the Board of Trustees detailing the process to establish Interlochen’s own station. With financial support from the Board of Trustees and a gifted FM transmitter from the Owosso, Michigan station WOAP, the physical studio began taking shape. Simultaneously, the institution began working to receive an FM broadcasting permit with the Federal Communications Commission.
On June 7, 1963 the WIAA-FM building and its 450-foot tower were dedicated near the High School Boys camp. Just over a month later, WIAA formally went on air as one of just a handful of radio stations operating in northern Michigan.
In those early years, broadcasting was limited to 8-9 hours daily, and programming included a mix of music, news and literary shows. Following a norm established in 1930, large student ensemble concerts and faculty recitals were regularly broadcast over WIAA.
By 1971, WIAA had evolved into something a bit more familiar to today’s audiences: in 1966 the station began broadcasting in FM stereo, and on Feb. 26, 1970, WIAA became a charter member of National Public Radio (NPR). On April 19 of the same year, NPR broadcast its first story—live coverage of the U.S. Senate hearing on the Vietnam War.
In the following decades, the station continued to evolve in step with the changing times. Today, we know Interlochen Public Radio as both a news and classical music service that operates 24 hours a day both on air and online with stations reaching as far south as Manistee and crossing over the Straits of Mackinac to the north.
Since 2000, IPR News Radio has operated as a vital community resource to the residents of northern Michigan, broadcasting award-winning local features, breaking news and in-depth coverage of topical events and issues.
Classical IPR carries on decades of work bringing classical and contemporary music to northern Michigan. The fruits of recent labor continue to be born as newly digitized recordings from Interlochen’s extensive audio archives become available for broadcast.
Similarly, this summer Classical IPR will carry on a tradition that spans over eight decades—live broadcasts from Interlochen Center for the Arts. Beginning on July 1, 2018 and concluding on Aug. 5, 2018 with Les Preludes, every World Youth Symphony Orchestra performance will be broadcast live on Classical IPR with an hour long pre-performance show beginning at 7 p.m.*
Perhaps it is apropos that as you tune in to Classical IPR on Sunday, July 22, 2018 to hear the World Youth Symphony Orchestra performing from Kresge Auditorium, not only will you be listening to a live performance, but you will also be participating in a part of Interlochen Public Radio’s history: their 55th anniversary.
*The July 22, 2018 pre-concert show will be extra long with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra performance immediately following.
This article was made possible through the extensive research efforts of Leo Gillis and Byron Hanson.