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30 Reasons To Love WNIJ

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. 

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REASON #30: Guess who?

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Whad’Ya Know? We have just ONE more reason to love WNIJ to share with you right Here and Now. Want to take a guess? Do you think you know what it is and are you saying to yourself, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Up First, we want to remind you that you can catch up on all of the great memories over the past three decades elsewhere on this web post, but All Things Considered, we have a clear frontrunner for the best reason to love WNIJ. And if you thought this whole project was Only A Game to us, we take our commitment to programming very seriously. Without further ado, the best reason to love WNIJ is…YOU! Listeners make what we do possible, meaningful, and sustainable. Thank you for listening to WNIJ for 30 fantastic years. Now isn’t that just a breath of Fresh Air?

REASON #29: The Women of Public Radio

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NPR
Susan Stamberg, circa 1975, still reports for NPR as a special correspondent

Nina Totenberg. Linda Wertheimer. Cokie Roberts. Susan Stamberg.

They're considered the "Mothers of NPR," and rightfully so. Fifty years ago, they helped get the fledgling network off the ground and showed women who were considering journalism careers that they belonged behind the mic, too.

WNIJ listener Denise Showers has an ear for good radio and a fondness for the talented women who have contributed for the past half century at NPR -- and 30 years at WNIJ.  

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Listener Denise Showers salutes the women of public radio

REASON #28: NPR + WNIJ

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NPR shared Connie Kuntz's story about Rockford snow sculpting with the world

Northern Public Radio is a member station of National Public Radio, or as we affectionally like to call it-- the “mothership.” But WNIJ is in fact independent, locally owned and operated. That’s a rarity in today’s media landscape. NPR also relies on member station reporters to bring listeners stories that create a sense of place. WNIJ reporters have been featured over the years on national newscasts as well as reporting featured on fan favorites like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. We are grateful for our decades long partnership with NPR.

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Your locals go national

REASON #27: The Founders

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You can't build an institution without a strong foundation. The values, standards, and principles that WNIJ's employees exemplified in 1991 are the same that today's employees uphold. Sure, a lot has changed in the industry -- and in society -- but WNIJ's goal has always been and always will be to inform, enrich, and inspire our listeners. 

Former WNIJ news director Lester Graham joins us for today's reason to love the station -- the people who built it, with a special tip-of-the-hat to former general manager Tim Emmons. 

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Former news director Lester Graham on WNIJ's strong foundation

  

REASON #26: Northern Illinois University

NPR Member Stations like WNIJ are locally owned and operated broadcasters, but we have a variety of community partners who make what we do possible. About two-thirds of NPR member stations are licensed to, or affiliated with, a college or university. In WNIJ’s case, our license holder is Northern Illinois University. 

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Anne Kaplan is recently retired as NIU’s Vice President of Outreach, Engagement, and Regional Development and served as a bridge between university leaders and the radio station.

“The station makes great efforts to be genuinely independent, and the university makes great efforts not to impose itself on the station.”

Still, Kaplan says both institutions inherently share a common mission.

“I think both believe that whatever they're delivering should be educational. It's not commercial. It's not propaganda. It's not political. It's what the region or the territory or the audience can genuinely benefit from.”

Former Northern Public Radio General Manager Mike Lazar explains the unique relationship is mutually beneficial.

“The fact is that if it wasn't for the university, the station wouldn't be there. There is ongoing support. And I really appreciate the fact that it's a place that they can be proud of what they have. And the station staff can be proud that the roots were developed there.”

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NIU and 'NIJ

REASON #25: Driveway Moments

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You know you’ve done it: Sat alone in your car, one hand on the radio knob, but unable to turn it off because you’re so caught up in the story you’re listening to. In public radio, we call them “Driveway Moments,” and we’re (almost) sorry if we’ve ever made you late for an appointment or got your neighbors whispering.

For Reason #25 to love WNIJ, General Manager Staci Hoste shares her most memorable driveway moment and invites you to share yours on our Facebook page or Twitter.

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A dancehall moment in the driveway

REASON #24: The People Behind The Scenes

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Doug Herrington in his early days with Northern Public Radio wouldn't let floodwaters keep him from his job. Still doesn't.

  

A radio station is so much more than the voices you hear on air. For today’s Reason to Love WNIJ, we celebrate the people behind the scenes: the producers, the tech folks, the people who bring in the funding and pay the bills, the volunteer coordinators – it takes a village to build and maintain a strong station. A toast to the behind-the-scenes WNIJ employees for all their work to keep this station strong for the past three decades. And here’s to the people who are propelling us into our next 30 years!

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It's a chain of gratitude for WNIJ's behind-the-scenes employees

  

REASON #23: All Things Considered

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Chris Lehman, former host of All Things Considered on WNIJ

  All Things Considered was a pioneering program on NPR when it debuted on 90 public radio stations in 1971. The name pretty much sums up the program and WNIJ listeners have enjoyed this variety for the past three decades. Many local hosts have kept you company on your evening commute home in northern Illinois, including Drew Leifheit, Simone Orendain, Chris Lehman, Guy Stephens, and Susan Stephens.

It’s your constant companion every weekday with national hosts Ailsa ChangAudie CornishMary Louise Kelly, and Ari Shapiro. You can also enjoy the show on the weekend with Michel Martin.

And of course there’s that iconic theme song that we all hum along to.   

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Chris Lehman considers all things

  

REASON #22: The Swag

There’s an innocuous wooden door down a back hallway at WNIJ’s headquarters in DeKalb – and behind

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that door? The treasures of public radio. No, we aren’t holding Ira Glass and Sylvia Poggioli against their will. It’s a room full of t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, book lights, socks – all of the things that help listeners and WNIJ feel a little more connected to each other. Yes, it’s the Inventory Closet – a very dry (but accurate) term for the place where we squirrel away the swag between membership campaigns. You can’t buy this stuff in stores, but we are always happy to get it into the hands of listeners!

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T-shirts and tote bags and mugs -- oh my!

REASON #21: Election Nights

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Every Election Night, reporters across the U.S. stuff themselves with pizza to power through long nights waiting for the results to come in. WNIJ isn’t one to break tradition so our reporters and editors “carbo load” to make sure we have enough energy to bring you context and analysis before and after the polls close. We’ve moderated candidate forums, covered the issues, and talked with voters about what they want to see their elected leaders accomplish in office. Election coverage is no easy assignment, but we believe it is a crucial role in democracy.

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Election nights are a frenzy of number-crunching and pizza-munching

REASON #20: Volunteers

We simply couldn’t do what we do without generous volunteers who give their time and talents to WNIJ.

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Jan Booth, from DeKalb, says she volunteers at the station because she believes in the mission of public radio. “WNIJ has been a part of my life since they came on the air. I rely on them to bring me balanced, fair and accurate information, as well as smart and engaging entertainment. I volunteer whenever I can by answering phones and helping prepare mailings. It's important to me to do whatever I can to keep this valuable resource present and thriving in our community.”

And we are thankful for Jan and the hundreds of volunteers over the past thirty years who have helped make a connection with listeners by stuffing envelopes, answering pledge calls, and serving as “public radio ambassadors” in our community.

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Volunteers are powered by love and doughnuts

REASON #19: Morning Edition

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WNIJ's morning host Dan Klefstad, circa 2011.

  

For 30 years, WNIJ listeners have counted on one morning show to get them going: Morning Edition. Actually, we’ve carried it since the show’s original host Bob Edwards signed on in 1979, but on our (older) sister station, WNIU. We’ve seen a lot of changes in Morning Edition over the years (check out the theme songs!) but one thing has remained consistent since 1997: our local host, Dan Klefstad! Think we can convince him to stay another 30?

Morning Edition airs from 5 to 9 weekday mornings on WNIJ.

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Good morning, early riser!

REASON #18: Community Calendar

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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.

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WNIJ reminds you...the events calendar is your passport to local fun.

REASON #17: Live Events

Ain’t no party like a WNIJ party!

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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.

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WNIJ throws good parties.

REASON #16: The Weekends

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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!

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Guess what Jason Cregier's favorite weekend show is on WNIJ.

REASON #15: Listener Support

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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. 

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Shhh. Some people even listen during fundraising!

  

REASON #14: Breaking News

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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.

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...and that's the news on WNIJ.

REASON #13: The Repeaters  

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

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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. 

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Q, W, and E -- Meet the Repeaters

REASON #12: Statehouse News

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The Illinois State Capitol, from the inside.

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.

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Sean Crawford delivers birthday greetings from the Illinois Public Radio Statehouse Crew.

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.

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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!

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NIRIS Director Phil Masterton shares birthday greetings for WNIJ

REASON #10: Environmental Reporting

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

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.

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Environmental reporting on WNIJ

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.

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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.

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Dan Libman and Peter Medlin make WNIJ's podcasts great!

REASON #8: Sessions From Studio A

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Zach Pietrini performs on the dock at Prairie Street Brewing Company in Rockford, October 2018.

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. 

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Sara Dorner and Spencer Tritt about Sessions from Studio A

REASON #7: Perspectives

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

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.

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Reason 7 ... and that's my Perspective.

REASON #6: The Next Generation

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

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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.”

 

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WNIJ -- The Next Generation

REASON #5: Keeping Up With Technology

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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.

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Stephens and Tallacksen play Stump the Audio Chump.

REASON #4: Arts Reporting

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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!

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Guy Stephens and Yvonne Boose on arts reporting.

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.

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

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!

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WNIJ's blues hosts namedrop some favorites.

  

REASON #2: Science Friday

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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.

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A Science Friday fan makes the case for her favorite show on WNIJ

REASON #1: Two Stations To Better Serve You

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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.

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WNIJ -- the beginnings