Michigan Radio

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Michigan Radio
CityWUOM: Ann Arbor, Michigan
WFUM: Flint, Michigan
WVGR: Grand Rapids, Michigan
BrandingMichigan Radio
SloganYour State, Your Stories, Your NPR News Station
FormatPublic radio: News/talk
AffiliationsNational Public Radio
Public Radio International
American Public Media
BBC World Service
OwnerUniversity of Michigan
WebcastListen Live
Michigan Radio studios reception area

Michigan Radio is a network of three FM public radio stations (WUOM/Ann Arbor, WFUM/Flint, and WVGR/Grand Rapids) in the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan operated by the University of Michigan through its broadcasting arm, Michigan Public Media. The network is a founding member of National Public Radio and an affiliate of Public Radio International, American Public Media, and BBC World Service. Its main studio is located in Ann Arbor, with satellite studios in Flint and offices in Grand Rapids.

The network is known as Michigan Radio: Your NPR News Station. It currently airs news and talk, which it has since July 1, 1996. All three stations broadcast in HD Radio, although there are currently no HD subchannels.


Combined, the three stations of Michigan Radio cover most of the southern two-thirds of the Lower Peninsula.

Location Frequency Call sign Operator
Ann Arbor 91.7 FM WUOM University of Michigan
Flint 91.1 FM WFUM University of Michigan–Flint
Grand Rapids 104.1 FM WVGR University of Michigan

Station beginnings[edit]

Before the university had applied for its own radio station, the University of Michigan Extension Service Bureau of Broadcasting produced programs for other stations starting the 1920s. For instance, in November 1944, the Bureau of Broadcasting produced "Stump the Professor" for WJR in Detroit and "The Balkan States: Places and Nations in the News" for WKAR in East Lansing.

In the early 1940s, the University of Michigan applied for an AM radio station. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) turned down the application because there were not any available frequencies at the time. (WPAG, now WTKA, would become Ann Arbor's first radio station in 1945.) Around this time the university began working on plans for a statewide network of four FM stations to be located in Ann Arbor, Mount Pleasant, Manistique and Houghton. The university applied to the FCC on September 11, 1944 for a station at 43.1 FM (part of a band of frequencies used for testing of Frequency Modulation) with a power of 50,000 watts; by 1947, the new station was given the call letters WATX and was assigned to 42.1 FM. (At the time, a station on the new FM band was seen as being at a significant disadvantage.)[1]

The FCC granted a license for WUOM (for University Of Michigan) at 91.7 in the brand new FM band; the station went on the air in 1948, broadcasting from studios in Angell Hall on the UM campus. In 1949 the station moved across the street to newly completed studios on the fifth floor of the Administration Building, now known as the Literature, Science & Arts Building. Michigan Radio remained in those studios until August 23, 2003, when it moved off campus to the Argus Building on Ann Arbor's Old West Side. Its signal covers most of the southeastern and central Lower Peninsula, from Lansing to Detroit. The station provides 24-hour NPR news service to the state capital for listeners without HD Radio sets. Lansing's main NPR news member, WKAR-AM, must sign off at sundown and WKAR-FM airs the Classical 24 network from 7 pm to 5 am weeknights with minimal if any interruption for news. While an NPR news and talk station is available on WKAR-FM's HD subcarrier, this still leaves conventional radio listeners out in the cold.

WFUM (for Flint University of Michigan) has been on the air at its current 91.1 frequency since August 23, 1985 when it first signed on as WFUM-FM. The original WFUM operated at 107.1 MHz during the 1950s and was also a simulcast of WUOM. WFUM (FM) was shut down after WUOM increased its power to 115,000 watts, giving it adequate coverage of Flint and meaning that WFUM, which operated with only 400 watts of power, was no longer necessary. WUOM has since reduced its power to 93,000 watts, but still can be heard with a fair signal in Flint. WFUM today operates with 17,500 watts of power. Its signal reaches the immediate area around Flint primarily but also can be heard in far northern parts of the Detroit metro area on selective radios. The current incarnation used the "-FM" extension because the WFUM callsign was also assigned to the University of Michigan's television station in Flint when the station first signed on, WFUM (TV). In 2009, the TV station was sold to Central Michigan University and the call letters changed to WCMZ-TV, so WFUM-FM adopted the simplified call letters WFUM.[2]

WVGR (Vogt Grand Rapids, after Fred Vogt, who led the campaign for public radio in the area) has been broadcasting since December 7, 1961. It covers West Michigan with a powerful 96,000-watt signal. WVGR had long operated at 108,000 watts from rented space on NBC affiliate WOOD-TV's tower, but had to move in 1999 because WOOD needed the space for its HDTV transmitter. It temporarily moved to CBS affiliate WWMT's tower while it raised money for a new tower of its own. WVGR was forced to downgrade to a mono signal at 20,000 watts, but resumed broadcasting from its own tower in the fall of 2006.[3] It is the only station in the network that directly competes with another NPR member station, namely Grand Valley State University's WGVU-FM. Although flagship WUOM decently covers Detroit, Ann Arbor and Detroit are separate radio markets.

Early growth and Precursor to NPR Take-Over[edit]

WUOM quickly established itself as one of the leading educational broadcasters. Because the station was not affiliated with any of the commercial radio networks, it produced nearly all the programs it broadcast in the early days. The program guide for October, 1949 shows the station on the air from 12:00pm–10:00pm on weekdays (the station had just expanded into evenings), with a few hours of programs on Saturday and Sunday. The programs listed in the 1949 guide include "From the Classrooms," "Songs of France," "Tell Me, Professor," "Especially for Women," "Around the Town," "Record Rarities," "Hymns of Freedom," "Angell Hall Playhouse," and "Tea-Time Tunes." The station also offered live play-by-play of Michigan football games that month, as well as two live concerts from Hill Auditorium - recitals featuring University of Michigan faculty. Some of the programs featured recorded music, but nearly all programs were performed live to air in the first days. By the early 1950s many of these shows were being transcribed and sent to other stations.

In the mid 1960s, the station had the largest staff of any FM radio station in the country. WUOM produced programs that were broadcast throughout Michigan on commercial and educational stations, and many of its programs aired around the country. The tapes were "bicycled" from one educational station to another.

In the 1970s and 1980s, WUOM hosted classical music Sunday through Friday, and jazz on Saturday afternoons. Radio plays were sometimes featured as well. Classical music host Peter Greenway was a beloved DJ in much of the heart of the Ann Arbor community, and sports caster Tom Hemmingway could be heard across the city on football Saturdays, often telling stories about the history of the game that only such local "townies" would be able to remember. In the 1980s, the station added a nationally syndicated New Age music program, Music from the Hearts of Space, as well as an hour of more eclectic music before the midnight sign-off, featuring the University of Michigan Mens' Glee Club. Instead of a faceless news-bot from the increasingly conservative NPR federal center, it was a lively local station run by deeply dedicated DJs, knowledgeable about music and the local community. New and often risky ideas were presented on the New Dimensions program, and Marion McPartland's legendary program interviewing jazz musicians from every corner of the music was played alongside programming created by professional, local DJs.

WUOM's popularity gradually decreased from the height of the 1960s, though it still retained enough prestige to become a charter member of NPR in 1971. It was one of the approximately 90 stations that aired the inaugural broadcast of All Things Considered. However, by the early 1990s, Michigan Radio (as it has been known since 1989) was seen by some as a neglected backwater. One important cause of the decline was that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, created in 1967, tended to divert funding away from university owned stations to stations in large urban areas, frantically trying to consolidate as its funds were cut. Another cause of WUOM's decline that was citied by the incoming new management was that radio listening patterns changed, and listeners had new expectations. However, this could plainly be seen to be false from the outcry the community made when its beloved local station was gobbled up by nationally syndicated news programming. WUOM, while making some changes to accommodate the so-called "new realities" of broadcasting, did its best to maintain the integrity of the hgih quality programming it had offered the public for decades, which included with its locally programmed classical music, jazz, documentary and spoken-word programming. Driving the whole thing were the cuts to public broadcasting and cultural life that came with the ascension of right wing republicanism under Ronald Reagan.

As a result of Reaganism and its aftermath – and opportunism on the part of NPR – the station faced a declining situation throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1995 the CPB informed the station that its audience was so small that its federal funding was in jeopardy, due to new rules in line with the drastically reduced funding for public broadcasting across the United States. Around the same time, the University of Michigan commissioned a private (not public) study that recommended the university divest itself of the radio stations. The university decided against that plan and instead decided, over and above the voice of the community, to hand the station over to NPR's syndicated programming.

Take-over and Destruction of Michigan Radio's Programing[edit]

Donovan Reynolds became the manager of Michigan Radio in 1995. He determined that the only way to save the stations was to execute a marked broadcasting departure from the past with a focus on nationally syndicated programming. Firing all the stations DJs on short notice,including one who had been due to retire in less than a year, Reynolds changed the format to News/Talk on July 1, 1996. Although a few public radio stations had a news/talk format in 1996, most were on AM. Classical music was still offered, but only during evenings, overnight and on weekends. The more adventurous programming was all slashed from the station. In the wake of these brutal changes there was even a reported suicide at the station, while public outcry was firmly ignored by the station's pompous new director. The classical music programs were phased out in July 2000, but continued to be streamed on the Internet from the station's website until 2004. This was a devastating blow to Ann Arbor's then-thriving classical music community, who were deeply unhappy with the changes, as well as all the people who listened to the other local programming. However, the station maintains that the format has been extremely successful in terms of attracting new listeners and therefore listener donations.

Michigan Radio's transition to a news/talk format coincided with NPR's offering of a new package of talk programs spanning the gap between Morning Edition and All Things Considered. These new programs included the Diane Rehm Show, The Derek McGinty Show, and others, and Michigan Radio was the first station to sign up to offer this package to its then-upset listeners.

As a public radio pioneer in the news/talk format on FM, Michigan Radio may have helped influence similarly terrible transitions to that format by stations including WUNC in Chapel Hill, NC, WBUR-FM in Boston, WAMU in Washington, DC, KPCC in Pasadena, CA, WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and WBEZ in Chicago, helping to destroy local music radio across the country, and consolidate news programming, which was once local and multi-dimensional in scope, to a single source in Washington D.C. For several years after 1996, Michigan Radio's rise was a case study in the public radio industry, and its financial success for NPR, at such great cost to the Ann Arbor and surrounding communities, still fuels change elsewhere, including in Iowa, where the Bornstein and Associates Report on Iowa Public Radio consolidation devotes a chapter to studying Michigan Radio's format change. However, all trace of what the station once was in the 1980s and 1990s before this catastrophic take-over and re-organization have otherwise been buried, so that present-day listeners, researchers and others don't even have the opportunity to make a comparison.

What Remains of WUOMs Programming[edit]

Michigan Radio provides a variety of programs from NPR, Public Radio International and American Public Media. In addition, Michigan Radio broadcasts the BBC World Service as distributed by PRI during the late night and early morning hours. In 2012, the station created its daily, locally produced talk show, Stateside, which covers a wide range of Michigan news and policy issues — as well as culture and lifestyle stories. Stateside is hosted by Cynthia Canty (Mon-Thu) and Lester Graham (Fri). The program airs live weekdays 3-4pm, with encore playback at 10pm weeknights.

Local hosts include Christina Shockley (afternoons during All Things Considered), Mike Perini (middays), Kyle Norris, Rina Miller,and Mercedes Mejia. The news staff includes Steve Carmody, Dustin Dwyer, Jennifer Guerra, Lindsey Smith, Kate Wells, Sarah Cwiek, Rebecca Kruth, Tracy Samilton, Sarah Hulett, and news director Vincent Duffy. Michigan Radio produces The Environment Report with host Rebecca Williams, sports commentary from John U. Bacon, the latest political happenings in Lansing on It's Just Politics and That's What They Say, a weekend feature from UM English Professor Anne Curzan that explores our changing language and discusses why we say what we say. The music programming that was so rich and vital until 1995 is gone without a trace, while the station parrots the same centralised programming taking over so many wonderful, unique public radio stations throughout the country.

Station finances[edit]

Michigan Radio receives the largest portion of its funding from listener contributions (55% in 2014). These contributions are solicited during two fund drives. As you can see, the numbers are pitifully small for a well-heeled university town full of high income earners – a clear rebuke to the claim that the station was "declining" before its disastrous reorganization in the 1990s.

The second largest revenue source for Michigan Radio is underwriting contributions (19%) with the corporate support sponsor typically receiving on-air mentions in return. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides $465,000 or about 6%. As of 2014, The University of Michigan no longer provides direct financial support, although they do provide $305,000 in indirect administrative support or about 4% of the funding.[4]

Michigan Radio Financial Information (in thousands)[5]
Year Ending June 30 of 2014 2013 2012
Private gifts $4,136 $3,848 $3,769
Underwriting Revenue 1,425 1,641 1,508
Total Revenue 7,570 7,443 7,658
Operating Expenses 7,122 7,500 7,574
Total Net Assets 7,356 6,908 6,965


  1. ^ 1947 Radio Annual, p. 123
  2. ^ http://www.cm-life.com/2009/10/28/cmu-seeks-to-use-flint-tv-station-purchase-to-expand-academic-programs/
  3. ^ http://www.michiganradio.org/media/docs/west_michigan_tower.pdf
  4. ^ FINANCIAL STATEMENTS FOR THE YEARS ENDED JUNE 30, 2014 and 2013 with INDEPENDENT AUDITOR’S REPORT pg 12 http://pod.michiganradio.org/station_docs/A-MPM%20Radio%20FY14%20FINAL.pdf
  5. ^ WUOM/WVGR/WFUM-TV Financial Statements for years ending June 30. Audited by PWC.

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