40th Anniversary History
4:36 pm
Thu April 5, 2012

A Quick History of WWNO at 40

John Batson was General Manager of WWNO throughout a period that saw numerous achievements, including improved transmission across the region, acquisition of KTLN to serve the Houma - Thibodeaux area better, and locally-produced programs, like Crescent City. Before retiring, John wrote this history of the station.

Would you like to bring John's history of the station forward to the present? We are looking for a volunteer who can help us tell the story of the station's post-Katrina period. The ideal candidate will be a good writer, researcher, and interviewer, with time to complete the project in the next six months. Interested? Contact Maria Cicio, Volunteer Coordinator.

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Highlights of WWNO's History

WWNO began broadcasting in February 1972 from the Liberal Arts building on the lakefront campus of the University of New Orleans (then named Louisiana State University of New Orleans). Small, cramped offices were on the second floor; small, cramped studios were on the first. The transmitter and antenna were located on WDSU-TV’s tower in Chalmette.

WWNO’s first program schedule was a checkerboard of numerous syndicated music and informational programs (including NPR’s All Things Considered) and locally hosted classical music, jazz, and cultural programs. Some programs were repeated. WWNO was on the air from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. daily, except Saturday when it signed off in the late afternoon. The station relied on a lot of volunteer hosts and announcers.

Any history of WWNO would be incomplete if it did not pay tribute to founding Chancellor Homer Hitt and Dr. Joseph G. Tregle, Jr. According to the late Prof. Tregle, as LSUNO approached its 10th anniversary in 1968, Chancellor Hitt asked him to head a committee to plan a program celebrating that occasion. In that capacity, Prof. Tregle conceived the idea of establishing the station and, toward that end, contacted Congressman T. Hale Boggs to seek his assistance in obtaining a broadcast license for the University. In December 2004, Tregle asked General Manager John Batson to ensure that UNO, WWNO, and the community recognize Rep. Boggs’ key role in obtaining authorization from the FCC to establish WWNO as a public radio station. Prof. Tregle also informed us that he met with Jerry Romig — who was associated with WDSU’s radio and television stations at the time — and Tom Finney, then LSUNO’s public relations director, and successfully worked out an agreement to use some WDSU equipment and transmit from WDSU’s tower in Chalmette.

Though the specifics are somewhat sketchy, the station was initially assigned administratively to Lane Bonham, UNO’s Office of Audio-Visual Services at the time, and was transferred to the administrative oversight of Dr. George Branam, Vice Chancellor Emeritus for Academic Affairs and Professor Emeritus of English in the mid-1970s. Until he retired in the 1990s, the late Prof. Branam served on the WWNO Advisory Board for many years as an active member and chair of the board’s programming committee, then as an honorary member.

Sometime in the mid- to late-1970s, WWNO was moved administratively to the Office of Development and Research Services, headed by Vice Chancellor Jerome P. Dickhaus. Though an earlier advisory board was established and disbanded in the early 1970s, Mr. Dickhaus formed a new WWNO Community Advisory Board in 1978. This board’s deliberations and activities have continued uninterrupted since 1978. Mr. Dickhaus was an ex officio member of the Board, holding the title of Secretary-Treasurer. The Board met every month except August.

In 1983, the station moved from the Liberal Arts Building to new quarters on the fourth floor of Earl K. Long Library, soon after two floors were added to the Library.

At the beginning, WWNO’s broadcast day was no longer than 16 hours. It was gradually expanded until, in July 1985, WWNO began broadcasting 24 hours daily.

When Mr. Dickhaus retired in 1986 to take a job at City Hall, administrative responsibility of the radio station was passed to Gordon (Nick) Mueller, Vice Chancellor for Lifelong Learning and Public Service. In February 1990, administrative responsibility was passed from Dr. Mueller to Donald Pekarek, Vice Chancellor for University Relations; in early 1997, it went to Robert Brown, Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs, Alumni and Development; in the fall of 2000, to Florence André, Director of University Advancement; in 2002, to Mr. Pekarek again with Associate Vice Chancellor Will Peneguy as liaison; and in November 2005, to Sharon Gruber, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement.

WWNO has had eight general managers* and eight program directors**.

*Paul Doll, Christopher Albright, Louisa Walker, Kathy Laack, Henri Pensis, John Batson, Chuck Miller, and Paul Maassen

**Tom Struve, Louisa Walker, Doug Levy, Bill Zeeble, Suzanne (Dobkin) White, Michael Arnold, David Srebnik, and Fred Kasten

John Batson was named general manager in October 1989. During the 15-plus years of his tenure:

  •             Revenue from all sources* grew from $619,782 in FY89 to $1,407,023 in FY04.
  •             Spending increased from $541,094* in FY89 to $1,252,670* in FY04.

*excluding in-kind and indirect support reported as income and expense, and depreciation reported as expense

Support from members/individuals grew from $192,166 and 3,874 members in FY89 to $601,112 and 5,440 members in FY04, having peaked at $686,000 in FY03. Support from corporate and organizational underwriters increased from $37,791 in FY89 to $578,051 in FY04.

The principal of WWNO’s endowment (which isn’t a true endowment, but a fund created from an accumulation of small surpluses) grew from $350,000 in 1989 to $800,000 in 2004.

WWNO’s metro cume audience was 58,200 for the summer of 1989 and 91,500 for the spring of 2004.

In June 2004, WWNO set its FY05 budget at $1.8 million, excluding indirect and in-kind support.

WWNO’s programming format has changed significantly since the station first began broadcasting. The first WWNO schedule was a checkerboard of programs and included a much broader range of music and information programs than its current schedule. Pop music shows, psychology programs, and children’s shows were scheduled at prominent times on the schedule.

Although we have no hard audience numbers from the early days of WWNO, the audience was probably fewer than 10,000 listeners per week. In the late 1970s, WWNO’s program guide boasted that WWNO's audience had grown to 15,000 listeners, thanks to the interest in NPR’s coverage of the Panama Canal hearings. Although the checkerboard schedule didn't help, a large part of WWNO’s inability to draw an audience was due to a technological factor. FM radio had not yet developed as a mass medium. Most automobiles did not have FM receivers and most radio listening was limited to the AM dial. Without a substantial drive-time audience, it is not surprising that WWNO (and other FM stations) had small audiences.

As FM radio evolved into a mass medium in the 1970s and early 1980s, WWNO began to grow. By 1985, WWNO’s audience grew to well over 50,000 weekly listeners. Much of this growth was due to the emergence of FM radio, but programming and operational changes that occurred in the 1980s gave WWNO a more significant presence in the New Orleans radio market. The program schedule was streamlined to emphasize classical music, news, and jazz, and the program day was lengthened to 24 hours. In July 1999, WWNO took steps to strengthen its Sunday schedule by adding “This American Life,” “Fresh Air-Weekend,” and “The Thistle and Shamrock” to the evening line-up. In January 2005, WWNO added daily editions of “Fresh Air” and two classical music programs, “From the Top” and “Exploring Music.” The latter program, hosted by Bill McGlaughlin (who also hosts “St. Paul Sunday”), replaced “Adventures in Good Music.”

In the fall of 1992, WWNO began broadcasting concerts of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra recorded during the previous season, as WWNO had done for several years with the New Orleans Symphony before its dissolution. For at least 20 years, WWNO has recorded and broadcasted selected chamber music recitals presented by the New Orleans Friends of Music, local university music departments, and other presenters. From time to time, WWNO has broadcast live or select recorded for broadcast jazz performances at local venues.

WWNO started the 1990s with a bang. The Persian Gulf War established NPR as a mainstream news source, and WWNO saw a surge in listenership in the winter of 1991. After a brief period of audience stagnation, WWNO began initiatives to improve its schedule in the fall of 1996. In fall 2000, WWNO reported its highest level of listenership in its history thus far with 99,300 listeners in its total survey area (TSA) and a market share of 3.4 percent.

In the summer of 1990, the WWNO Advisory Board began meeting every other month.

WWNO discontinued live broadcasts of the New Orleans City Council meetings in December 1991, after carrying them every other Thursday for 13 years.

WWNO began automating its overnight service in late summer of 1993.

WWNO purchased and installed its Macintosh-based Pro Tools digital editing system in the spring of 1994. In 2002, we replaced this system with two Windows-based editing systems.

WWNO’s satellite station, KTLN, was constructed with partial funding from NTIA/PTFP and began broadcasting in the Houma-Thibodaux area in August 1995.

WWNO completed construction of 2,100 square feet of additional office space in January 1998 at a cost of about $144,000; this addition expanded the station’s space by about 85 percent.

WWNO negotiated an agreement with Vietnamese Public Radio in February 1998 to carry its programming on a WWNO subcarrier channel. VPR continues to lease this channel, but at a reduced charge since early 2004, as they cannot afford to continue the lease at the higher rate.

WWNO negotiated and executed a tower site lease with Lodestar (now Spectrasite) in February 1998, and began operating from the new tower in July 2001, following installation of a new transmitter and antenna system. After a few attempts to correct design flaws in the antenna system, we returned the antenna system to the manufacturer for redesign and replacement at no additional cost to us. This work was completed in early March 2004.

In 2002 and 2003, we replaced the production and broadcast consoles in the main production studio and the master control studio; we also rewired and refurnished both rooms.

Since August 2003, WWNO has broadcast a digital signal after installing a digital transmitter. Listeners will continue to hear our analog signal for years to come, but those who buy the digital receivers that are just hitting the consumer market will be able to hear our programming transmitted digitally.

We are currently exploring the feasibility of upgrading and relocating the KTLN transmitter to increase its output and expand the coverage of its signal.

In February 2000, WWNO presented a concert by the Russian ensemble Trio Voronezh as a “thank-you” to our loyal listeners. In March 2001, WWNO presented a concert by Quartetto Gelato, the cost of which was met with funding from a State grant and ticket sales. WWNO plans to present two or three such concerts per year as a way to strengthen its identity and its relationship with its listeners, as well as offer a music experience that is somewhat different from those offered by other presenters.

In the late 1990s, WWNO began making a number of public appearances at festivals, concerts, and other events. These include the Warehouse Arts District’s “White Linen Night” and “Art for Art’s Sake,” “WWNO Night at the [LPO, Friends of Music, Opera, etc.],” the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans’ International Piano Competition, the Crescent City Farmers Market, and Covington’s “Spring for Art Festival.”  In June 2000, WWNO presented an “Evening with [NPR’s] Linda Wertheimer” at the Doubletree Hotel. In November 2002, WWNO presented an “Evening with [NPR’s] Bob Edwards” at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. In February 2003, WWNO presented a “Radio Expedition” special effects program featuring NPR’s Alex Chadwick at NOCCA. In the spring of 2003, WWNO signed on as a sponsor of City Park’s Thursday evening twilight concerts; we again sponsored these concerts in the spring of 2004. In May 2004, we hosted an event featuring columnist, author, and NPR/ABC commentator Cokie Roberts and her mother, former Congresswoman and Ambassador Lindy Boggs.

In February 2002, WWNO hosted a live Saturday broadcast and special Sunday presentation of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” at the Saenger Theatre with a patron party following the Saturday show at the Ritz-Carlton. WWNO netted almost $90,000 from these “PHC” events.  In February 2004, WWNO hosted another live broadcast of “PHC” at the Saenger with a post-show reception at the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel. These “PHC” events netted almost $36,000.

WWNO established its current website, wwno.org, in October 2000 and began accepting online contributions the same month. In April 2001, WWNO began online “live streaming” of its full program schedule, and expects to offer selected “archived” audio content by July 2001.

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