The Northern Almanac Ep. 15 - 'Northern Public Radio'

May 11, 2020

Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.


Thousands of listeners tune in daily to Northern Public Radio stations WNIJ and WNIU. Northern Public Radio started in 1954 when WNIU began broadcasting from a tiny 10-watt station on DeKalb’s College Avenue. It aired campus events and music for only a few hours a day. According to local legend (and some of the people who actually worked there), the first words broadcast over the air were “Sh**! It didn’t work.” 


Student broadcasters during an NIU basketball game

In 1964, the station’s broadcasting power was increased to cover most of DeKalb County. Programming moved away from campus events and focused on music and local news. In 1971, WNIU became a charter member of National Public Radio.


In 1974, WNIU raised its power to 50,000 watts, which extended reception to Rockford. Classical music and jazz were programming staples, along with NPR’s All Things Considered. The Northern Illinois Radio Information Service (NIRIS) was added in 1979 to provide daily readings of newspapers, books and other materials for the visually and print-reading impaired. 


WNIJ signed on the air in 1991, offering news, jazz and entertainment, while WNIU continued its classical music programming. That same year, Northern Public Radio moved to its current home, the Northern Broadcast Center on DeKalb’s North First Street.  


Today, WNIU and WNIJ offer a wide range of locally and nationally produced programs that can be heard from Janesville, Wisconsin, to Bloomington/Normal, and from the Mississippi Valley to the Fox Valley. 


Sixty-six years after its founding, Northern Public Radio continues to inform and entertain in a new century, and its generous listeners continue to tune in and “learn something new every day.”