30 Reasons To Love WNIJ

Apr 1, 2021

WNIJ signed on the air in 1991, and the programming previously provided by WNIU was split into two distinct services.  WNIU became an all-classical music station, and WNIJ provided news, jazz and entertainment.

As the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University, 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.  For the past 30 years, students, staff, and volunteers have spent every day to meet your need for in-depth news, information, and entertainment. In April, we want to celebrate just a sampling of the reasons you love WNIJ. 


REASON #18: Community Calendar

WNIJ reminds you that we are also a great destination to keep your social life filled with new experiences and ideas. Our Community Events Calendar keeps your day planner stocked with expert speakers, concerts, and events around the region. If you are an individual or community group looking to reach a larger audience to share your event, you can submit it to our calendar. And if you are just looking for something fun to do this weekend, you can check out the calendar for a list of great experiences on the horizon.

REASON #17: Live Events

Ain’t no party like a WNIJ party!

For decades, WNIJ’s live events have connected fans with each other and their favorite on-air personalities. Popular live events over the years have included the Left Bank stage for Rockford’s On The Waterfront festival. You may have spotted the WNIJ booth at community expos and farmer’s markets in your hometown. Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were even on the guest list for the launch of our podcast, “Drinkin’ with Lincoln” at the Prairie Street Brewing Company. We’ve also added virtual live events to our line-up in recent years, including our next Facebook Live panel featuring youth poets in Illinois.

REASON #16: The Weekends

Click and Clack, a.k.a. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, a.k.a. The Car Talk Guys, hosted The Ancient Games of Grease back in 1992.

When does the weekend officially start? Here at WNIJ, we’ve pinpointed it to Fridays at 7:00 p.m. That’s when Ira Glass turns on his mic and takes you on another This American Life adventure. Then it’s a 53-hour weekend whirlwind of music, news, and smart entertainment – even NPR’s own quiz show! From Weekend Edition to World Café, On Being to On The Media, we’ve got a lot of something-for-everyone.

We also salute weekends past, with a tip of the hat to the shows that helped make weekends great here at WNIJ: Shows like Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion built a strong foundation for today’s weekend lineup.

So raise your vintage NPR mug, filled with your weekend beverage of choice, and toast 30 years of weekends here on WNIJ. Cheers!

REASON #15: Listener Support

All lines are busy during one particularly fruitful Friday fall fundraiser in 2008.

Public radio is celebrated for many things: in-depth news, intelligent conversations, eclectic music, and yes, even our fundraisers! No matter what you call those couple of weeks each year – membership campaigns, pledge drives, on-air fundraisers --  they are the most important source of funding for public radio stations. Some listeners even tell us they love listening to the pledge drives! Every time someone takes the plunge and goes from being a listener to a contributing member of WNIJ, the station grows that much stronger.

Fun facts about WNIJ’s contributors?

  • There are more than 4,400 of you, and more than half are sustaining members who give a little each month.
  • While most of our contributions come from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, we have members in 29 states, including Florida, Rhode Island, California, and Arizona. We even have a member in Munich, Germany!
  • 447 new members joined the fold during the past year.
  • Last year, 87 people donated their old vehicles to support the station through our vehicle donation program.

Your support gave WNIJ a great first three decades. Our next 30 years look pretty bright, too. 

  

REASON #14: Breaking News

Susan Stephens, Victor Yehling, and Jenna Dooley show off the latest additions to the newsroom's awards in 2017.

  A newsroom is a fascinating environment with hourly deadlines and reporters always ready to take their microphones out into the community when breaking news strikes. In the past twenty years, major events have rocked our listening area from deadly tornadoes in Utica and Fairdale, the conviction and subsequent certificate of innocence for Jack McCullough, the arrest of former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell and thousands of stories in between. Staying on top of the news 24/7 requires dedication and curiosity from WNIJ reporters and editors through the years who have made this community more informed along the way.

REASON #13: The Repeaters  

WNIQ – Sterling. WNIW – LaSalle.  WNIE – Freeport.

Retired engineer Jeff Glass in his workshop circa 2013, possibly thinking about heading out to a repeater site to fix something.

You hear those three stations mentioned every hour on WNIJ – maybe you’ve even recited them along with us. They’re known as “repeaters” and they carry WNIJ’s signal to more people in northern Illinois.

In 1998, WNIW LaSalle at 91.3 FM, and WNIQ-Sterling at 91.5 FM signed on the air. WNIE Freeport started broadcasting at 89.1 FM a year later. This also opened an opportunity for the news department to pursue stories important to a much larger region: essentially all of northern Illinois west of Chicago.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  It also opened up some quiet time for WNIJ’s engineers to think during the long drive to one of the repeaters when the call comes in the middle of the night that there’s something wrong.

So thanks to all of our listeners near Freeport, LaSalle, and Sterling who use and support WNIW, WNIQ, and WNIE. You’re definitely worth the drive. 

REASON #12: Statehouse News

The Illinois State Capitol, from the inside.
Credit Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Many of the policies that directly impact your life come out of the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield. WNIJ and Illinois Public Radio’s dedicated government reporters talk to the lawmakers who make decisions that matter in the lives of people across the state. And there have been more than a few standout moments, including George Ryan’s milestone decision to clear out death row, Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House, and former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s ouster from office.

Statehouse reporters for WNIJ partner with the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois-Springfield, mentoring dozens of students through the years.

Every Saturday morning, “Statewide” also brings you a round-up of the people and places that make Illinois so special.

REASON #11: NIRIS

WNIJ is one of the stations that make up Northern Public Radio. Northern IL Radio Information Service, or NIRIS, has been part of the team since 1979. Staffed almost entirely by local volunteers, NIRIS has been producing news and entertainment for the visually and print impaired for decades.

People can listen to NIRIS on free specialized radios we provide. These days we can also be heard streaming live on WNIJ’s website by clicking Listen Live and then choosing NIRIS or on the WNIJ App by tapping NIRIS in the upper right-hand corner.

If not for the generous volunteers giving of their time and talent over the decades, some of them for 25 years or more, NIRIS wouldn’t be what it is today. If you’d like to contribute to that legacy, you can find our contact information at WNIJ.org under the “About” tab.

And NIRIS sends along 30th birthday greetings to its slightly younger sister station!

REASON #10: Environmental Reporting

A ruby-crowned kinglet rests briefly after being caught and banded at Severson Dells Nature Center in Rockford.
Credit Connie Kuntz

Coverage of the environment has been at our core right from the beginning. For thirty years, our reporters have tracked the effects of climate change in your back yard. We’ve brought you stories of the birds and the pollinators, open lands and protected prairies, polluters and conservationists.

And let’s not forget national programs devoted to environmental issues, Climate Connections and Living on Earth!

We are all in this together -- and you can count on WNIJ to continue to be your source for environmental news.

                                                                     

REASON #9: Podcasts

In recent years, WNIJ has made the jump from broadcast to podcast so that you have even more ways to explore northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. One of your guides on that journey is WNIJ’s roving correspondent Dan Libman. He’s taken his microphone to the sled hills, fishing holes, and open roads of the WNIJ listening area for our podcast “Under Rocks.” He even transformed into “The Librarian” to shush his way into submission on the wrestling stage.

Peter Medlin sniffs out the most fascinating stories in the world of education in his podcast Teachers' Lounge.

We also produce the Teachers’ Lounge podcast hosted by education reporter Peter Medlin. Every other week, he talks with students, parents, and educators about how the pandemic has radically shifted learning in the 21st century. All of the guests for the show come from listener suggestions.

You can also take a dive into our rich podcast archives including a fan favorite, “Drinkin with Lincoln,” hosted by Clint Cargile.

REASON #8: Sessions From Studio A

Zach Pietrini performs on the dock at Prairie Street Brewing Company in Rockford, October 2018.
Credit Spencer Tritt / WNIJ

WNIJ Rocks! At least on Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons. Recorded in our very own Studio A, Sessions gives a stage to local performers and touring musicians. Founded in 2016 by Carl Nelson, these performances are accompanied by interviews to give listeners the stories behind their favorite songs. Sessions from Studio A is also a great way to explore new music that you simply can’t hear anywhere else on the dial.

And the music plays on in the palm of your hand as host Spencer Tritt recently expanded the show with the "Sessions Showcase" Friday afternoons on Facebook. 

REASON #7: Perspectives

Inside Perspective author Marnie O. Mamminga's blanket fort studio closet
Credit Marnie O. Mamminga

WNIJ is asking listeners to share their favorite things about the station as we celebrate our 30th anniversary. One listener called to let us know she loves Perspectives, which deliver “a lot of viewpoints I had never even considered!”

These 90-second essays are an important part of WNIJ’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered broadcasts. Twenty regular contributors plus guest commentators tackle issues important to our region – and sometimes, they just share a good story. During the pandemic, these committed Perspectives authors even learned to record in their own makeshift home studios.

It’s not easy to squeeze your passionate opinions into a minute and a half – give it a try! Send your script to npr@niu.edu and we’ll help you share your perspective with your fellow listeners.

REASON #6: The Next Generation

Did you know some of your favorite WNIJ voices started as students? It’s true! Dan Klefstad, Guy Stephens,

Even WNIJ veterans Vani and Yvonne started out in Public Radio 101.

David Tallacksen, and Jenna Dooley began their broadcasting journey while studying at Northern Illinois University.

Years later, they give back to aspiring broadcasters through a workshop called “Public Radio 101” which gives students hands-on training in podcasting, interviewing, and beyond.

During the pandemic, WNIJ still works with a handful of remote interns and recently launched a student-produced and anchored midday newscast on our NPR One app.

And it doesn’t end there! News production intern Susanna Kemerling is helping produce the audio segments for “30 Reasons to Love WNIJ.”

 

REASON #5: Keeping Up With Technology

WNIJ control board, circa 1979. Still going -- for the most part.

A lot has changed in radio in the 30 years since WNIJ signed on the air.

In 1991, our listener dollars kept us supplied with the typewriter ribbons, razor blades, and miles of reel-to-reel tape that it took to keep our audience informed and entertained. Today? The same commitment to quality sound – but with computers, digital recorders, and upgraded studios and transmitters.

Reason #5 to love WNIJ? Susan Stephens and David Tallacksen explain by visiting WNIJ’s Museum of Ancient Technology for a quick round of “Stump the Chump.”  It takes a lot of work – and sometimes a little magic – to keep your 50-thousand watt source for news and entertainment on the air for three decades.

REASON #4: Arts Reporting

Aurora poet laureate Karen Fullett-Christensen and deputy poet laureates Fermina Ponce, Anthony Stanford and Quentin Johnson.

If WNIJ’s news department is the brains of the operation, our arts coverage is the soul. Dozens of reporters over the past three decades have contributed to the enjoyment and understanding of the arts here in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. In a way, WNIJ is an arts organization, and we value the relationships we’ve forged with artists, musicians, authors, and supporters of the arts during our 30 years of serving our discerning audience. Arts reporting is reason #4 to love WNIJ!

REASON #3: Blues

We’re turning 30 and we’ve got a serious case of the blues! The good kind of blues, that is, the kind that starts your weekend with a bang on Friday nights, rekindles the flames on Saturday afternoons, and keeps the party moving through the night.

Ronnie Baker Brooks performs on WNIJ's Left Bank Stage at On the Waterfront, 2006.
Credit WNIJ

Our blues hosts put their own spin on the format from the start, from Tim Emmons to Jill Wininger to Paula Garrett to Dan Klefstad. Today’s hosts carry on the tradition by delivering a generous mix of classic blues and up-and-coming artists, with a lot of surprises mixed in.

For our third reason to love WNIJ, we salute blues hosts Harold Brown, David Rosik, David James, and Rich Gordon. We've got the blues every Friday and Saturday nights from 9 til midnight, and Saturday afternoons from 1 til 4. Cheers!

  

REASON #2: Science Friday

Science Friday is a WNIJ fan favorite with host Ira Flatow’s weekly roundup. The program also includes NIU STEAM’s very own “The Sound of Science” answering important science, technology, engineering and math questions from our listeners.

Take it from Sandra, a longtime Sci Fri listener from Beloit says the program keeps her current on science news.

“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.”

You can catch Science Friday at 1 p.m. on WNIJ.

REASON #1: Two Stations To Better Serve You

Former General Manager Mike Lazar, back when WNIJ was just a twinkle in his eye.

  

In the beginning, there was only one public radio station serving northern Illinois: WNIU. In our first installment of 30 Reasons to Love WNIJ, former Northern Public Radio General Manager Mike Lazar explains that in April 1991, WNIJ was born to better serve our audience.