When WOAS-FM 88.5 celebrated being on the air for 30 years back in 2009, we asked current and former staffers to send us stories and recollections about their time volunteering at the station. We got more than we had anticipated, so we published a few highlights and posted the rest on a bulletin board for all to see. Eventually, the postings migrated to the inside of the picture display that has adorned the library facing side of our production studio window for a decade or more. When this window display of old DJ pictures was recently replaced by our new station logo banner, the pictures and 30th Anniversary display pieces had to come down. It has take a few weeks to rework these items into a scrapbook so we could have it ready for the stations 40th birthday party. Due to the nature of newspaper deadlines, this summary of the 2019 40 year celebration will be submitted before the June 6, 2019 event even takes place. I will go out on a limb here and say, “A good time was had by all!” because our current volunteers will have served cake and ice cream for 300 students and staff members at the Ontonagon Area Schools. Cake and ice cream always brings smiles to faces and as a school owned station, it only seemed right to involve everyone in the celebration. WOAS-FM also wanted to use this occasion to recognize our volunteers and Thrivent Financial for kindly providing us with a $250 grant to fund the whole affair (which also included a public station open house held after the end of the school day).
In the process of remounting the photos taken from the window display (we will talk about the pictures at a later time), I found myself re-reading the comments that our volunteers had sent in 2009. The thread that connected all of the notes and emails was the passion that people shared in being part of a community radio station. Sadly, my predecessor as General Manager at WOAS, Mike ‘Zenith’ Bennett, has passed on much too soon, but it still made me smile to read his thoughts about the station back in 2009. I am pretty sure that Mike wouldn’t mind me sharing his whole submission (and there is no better way to describe his enthusiasm for being on the air than the truly colorful names he gave to his own shows). Here are Mike’s comments at the time of our 30th celebration:
“I am so proud and honored to have been General Manager of WOAS-FM from 1986-1996. During this exciting ten-year period, we opened up the schedule and widened the variety of music of the station to make it more of a community radio station as part of the community school program.
High school students and community members of all ages developed their own unique radio programs. The high school students got credit for the class and on air experience. Some of these programs like Doug Filppula’s Walk of Life and Linda Graham’s Loulan Voima – The Power of Music program helped generate revenue for the station through grants.
Also, students in the adult high school program were able to take the Radio Lab course for credit. These adult high school classes generated many dollars for WOAS-FM and the school district.
Throughout my ten years, Ken Raisanen was always at my side giving me a little nudge once in a while to keep it in line and remind me to keep an eye on Buster. His From the Vaults programs are still going strong as is his commitment and dedication to the station.
I, along with many other people, realized a dream when I became the host of my own radio programs: Tuesday Blues Day – Another Big Daddy Dues Blues Cruise in Daddyo’s Day Glo Gonzo 53 Desoto – Ontonagon’s got the blues, with Zenith (ed. note: you may be picking up on Mike’s love of the blues and affinity for 1960’s culture), Thursday nights – The Dead Live Gratefully as Gonzo Dreadman on Benji’s Babylonian, Bush Doctor’s Zydeco Boogie Blues Bus, you’re either on the bus or off the bus, with Zenith. Easy riding tonight, a little left of paradox with the Captain at the wheel, Zenith’s in control, and his Thursday and Friday offerings – The Gruen Precision Time is 12 Noon – It’s time for the Nooner with Zenith or Airman Bennett’s Airborne magical, mystical, musical Gonzo Revue and Circus for Jugglers, Clowns, Outsiders, Wharf Rats, Turtles, and Friends – stir it up with Zenith.
I also remember the many DJs like “Bruthah Busta Blue”, Lucy Loud, Dr. Robert, Late Night with Wilbs, Laulon Voima, Walk of Life with Doug Filppula, Metal Mania with Dave Carvin, Tom Dean, Twitch & Rose, Prime Cuts with Sam Bennett and Rory Fiszer, Jeff Rule, Hilma Hill, Gary Aho, Dan Farley, Jim Bradley, Jim Waters, Dave Morehouse, The Bassman Jeremy Dishaw, and so many others. Some of the DJs went on to careers in commercial radio, including Tom Dean, Sam Bennett, Lucy Loud, and myself. The station’s own band ‘Nightstrike’ is still going as strong as ever.
I will never forget Jim Bradley for all his assistance, guidance, support, and Al the engineer, They kept the equipment running smoothly. Skip Schultz at WONT/WUPY was also very supportive and hired some of the students. The support of the school administration and Board of Education, especially Lou Gregory was and is always appreciated.
We are all eternally grateful to Tom Lee for starting it all off in 1978; it was and is all volunteer. It was a BLAST!” If it seems that Mike’s comments are a little ‘over the top’, I can assure you that it wasn’t just nostalgia of the moment that had him speaking so effusively about WOAS-FM. In all the years I was privileged to work with him, this was the tone he set for WOAS-FM as we fulfilled our mission as a low power community radio station.
If we take the Wayback Machine to the very beginning, we get a feel for what it was like in the earliest days from the first student Program Director, Sandra (Behnke) Monville: “I remember back in 1978 when Mr. Lee decided to put this radio station at the high school. Back then, those of us who wanted to be part of this new adventure had to study long and hard for our FCC Broadcasting License. You could not be on the air unless you had this (ed note: this is no longer a requirement for our DJs). We had to go to Marquette to take this painful test. Most of us passed this very difficult test and we now qualified to be DJs. I remember being so excited. It was almost as good as getting your first driver’s license. I remember how proud we were that we passed this very difficult test. We were DJs!”
Beginning with the construction of the station and raising of the tower, Jim Bradley served as the station’s first technical advisor (and still helps out from time to time). When he submitted his comments in 2009, Jim’s recollections covered a lot about the early work on the station: “I fondly remember being part of WOAS from the start. I remember the raising of the tower, installing the radiating elements on it, and rewiring the studio many times. Many hours were spent working with Larry Mattioli (the first engineer), and of course my long time friend Tom Lee. Although it was not my first job at a radio station, it was the first time I worked with a small group of volunteers to accomplish a big project. Our sign off used to be ‘Good night from the little voice on the big lake’. I recall doing studio maintenance until the wee hours of the morning and then setting off the building alarm system when I left. We strung wires from the gym and cafetorium to do radio broadcasts (and for a while TV broadcasts over cable TV) of sports events and school board meetings.”
Cheryl (Olson) Sundberg is well known these days as the director of the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival. Cheryl gave us some unique insights about WOAS in 2009 as she had been a DJ both in her high school days and later returned to the fold for a time in the early ‘00s. Here is what Cheryl shared with us for the 30th celebration: “WOAS will always be near and dear to my heart. I remember being so excited when word came out that the high school would have its very own radio station, WOAS. It was such welcome news to this music lover, who felt stifled by commercial radio’s offerings of the day, or lack of. I got involved with the station and joined the Radio Lab. There were a couple of turntables (yes, turntables!) and I remember queing up albums…ah, good ole vinyl! There was nothing like being surrounded by all those albums, each one a work of art in itself. I remember well the school day following the news of John Lennon’s death and turning into WOAS to listen to his songs and find some comfort on that sad day.”
When Cheryl returned to the air in 2001, she found things had changed some since her first experiences with WOAS: “[When I decided to return to the station] there were no more turntables or vinyl, but the music was plentiful and the experience was personally rewarding. WOAS is a special part of our community and we are so fortunate to still have it. Where else on radio can you find The Ramones next to Miles Davis, next to the Bay City Rollers? The sky … and the DJs imagination… is the limit!”
In the days before I became the GM, Mike Bennett asked me if I could put some shows on cassette tape to serve as a buffer between the live programs. Most of these were recorded at home with a cobbled together ‘studio’ rig. My kids were always fascinated hearing what dad recorded one day coming out of the radio later. Both Elizabeth and Daniel ended up not only DJing their own shows, they also ended up DJing many dances. Elizabeth and her best friend Michelle Bradley complained about losing money every time one of their school groups sponsored a dance. Knowing Elizabeth had a lot of her own dance records available (we didn’t call her the ‘Diva of Dance’ lightly), I suggested that they volunteer to DJ dances. Thus began the practice of having WOAS DJs or other willing volunteers spin music for many of the fund raising dances held at the school. Some loved to do it while others hated the pressure, but the practice has continued to this day. Daniel was also instrumental in setting up our website and am reminded of the contributions he and Mark Szaroletta made getting us involved in web streaming. Daniel also designed the school’s ‘lighthouse’ logo one sees when opening the OASD web page.
Elizabeth recalled that, “In high school, I helped organize, catalogue, and update the station’s music collection, work that rescued me from a sophomore-year study hall and helped us get back to broadcasting regularly. Elizabeth’s Mostly Modern Mix aired from 1997 to 1999, playing 70s, 80s, and 90s disco, pop, new wave, and electronica.” When her college music loving boyfriend (and my eventual son-in-law) Todd Gauthier came to visit, he was tickled to get in on the fun. As Todd recalled in 2009, “I’ve always enjoyed spinning music on 88.5 on the FM dial. Having a student and community run free-format radio station in the era of big-media conglomerate control of public airwaves is a wonderful and unique asset to Ontonagon and the surrounding area.” After a ten year run of contributing to WOAS from Los Angeles, Elizabeth and Todd have now moved our West Coast Bureau a big farther north to Eugene, Oregon.
In a future FTV, we will take another stroll down memory lane using the newly assembled picture scrapbook as a guide. If you weren’t able to join us for cake and ice cream on June 6, let me assure you that someone raised a plate in your honor! Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we hope after another ten years of broadcasting on WOAS-FM 88.5, we can celebrate all over again in 2029!
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