A radio station that lost its will

Me on the air at WMHD in 1987
Me on the air in 1987

Last November I shared with you that my alma mater’s radio station, WHMD at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, had shut off its transmitter and gone Internet-only.

Last week’s Indiana Radio Watcha weekly e-mail digest of statewide radio happenings, reports that Rose-Hulman is selling WMHD to crosstown Indiana State University for $16,465, to be a companion to ISU’s existing WISU.

This is a sad end, but probably only for those of us who gave our hearts and a lot of our time to this radio station during our college years. Terre Haute and even Rose-Hulman students probably barely noticed WMHD’s passing. Radio’s place in our lives has been pushed into a niche role, now that YouTube breaks new music, which we listen to on our iPods or on Internet streaming services such as Spotify. WMHD, always a niche station, simply never found a way to remain relevant in this landscape. I don’t think the station even tried.

Me at WMHD
Me outside the station in 2012

Indiana Radio Watch speculates that ISU might make one of its two radio stations an NPR affiliate. NPR is available in Terre Haute only on a weak signal that repeats Bloomington’s WFIU. NPR’s news and talk programming is a great radio niche. When I’m not listening to music from my iPhone as I drive around, I’m listening to Indianapolis’s NPR station.

Something similar is happening in Atlanta. Georgia State University recently handed over control of its station WRAS to Georgia Public Broadcasting, which wants to make it an NPR outlet. Read the story here. Georgia State is keeping the student-generated programming sort of alive by allowing it to continue on the Internet and on HD radio. But do you know anybody who has one of those? Me neither.

But here’s the big difference: when the news broke, hell broke loose, because WRAS has a dedicated and vocal audience. I’m sure WRAS’s audience isn’t large by Atlanta standards. But those who listen love their station, probably because it remained well programmed and interesting.

WMHD, on the other hand, was neither of those things in its last several years. Students simply lost interest. Over the past ten years or so, more and more of the broadcast day kept being given over to an automated music stream. Listenership was never large in the first place, but with nobody running the show I have to think it fell to zero. I’ll bet that if you search the Internet, I’m the only person lamenting WMHD. Search for WRAS and you’ll find lots of anger and hand-wringing.

Any radio pro will tell you: people will listen to a station where the programming is thoughtfully chosen, where there human beings on the air relate well to the listeners, and when these things come together to make listeners look forward to what will happen next. The days of radio commanding the enormous audiences of 30-50 years ago are probably permanently over. But a university- or college-funded station that tries can still find enough of an audience to at least justify its existence. WMHD simply lost the will. Here’s hoping that WRAS, which hasn’t lost the will, finds a way.

Hear me on WMHD’s air here. Hear me on the air professionally here.


18 responses to “A radio station that lost its will”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    I’m genuinely sorry to hear the station you were a part of has silenced itself, Jim. I can imagine how bitter that is on a few levels. But at least you were part of it. I did bugger-all like that during my university years and I wish I had them to do over, being the person I am now instead of the timid wallflower I was then. But you, you were out there. Whatever WMHD was in the late 80s, part of that belongs to you for good.

    Geez, the difference between the two pictures of you 25 years apart makes it look like you gambled a stamp to Charles Atlas at some point, LOL. :D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was a late bloomer. I put on about 30 pounds in college and the reaction was pretty consistently, “You look so much better with a little weight on you.” Then in my early 20s my muscles finally arrived — not like they’ve ever been large, mind you, but I finally stopped being scrawny. It’s like I got everything three years late.

      I was a timid wallflower, too, but I had an insane desire to be on the air. I’d always wanted to do that and so I took a big risk and asked for it. But what happened next was that I ended up doing a lot of things around the station because I was conscientious and willing — and then later my buddies said, “You should run for General Manager, because you already do everything around here anyway.” So I did, and I won two terms.

  2. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    College radio and small-market radio, to some degree, used to be the places where young talent honed their craft and where Program Directors had the latitude “try things.” I guess that’s happening on the internet now?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I guess. I think the progression from college to small market to medium market, etc., is largely a thing of the past. I have no idea how people make a career in radio anymore. There’s so few entries for talent, that people who would have done radio 20 years ago have to be doing something else now but I couldn’t tell you what it is. The paradigm has changed entirely.

  3. pesoto74 Avatar

    It is too bad to hear about your old station. I wonder what it is today that the young people get excited about the way we once got excited about radio?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Great question! When I was running WMHD in 1987-89, we had more than 100 students on staff. When you consider that there were only 1500 students in the school, we were a significant group. I hear that in the last few years, WMHD attracted maybe 15 students a year.

  4. Bernie Kasper Avatar

    It’s sad to see places that were such a big part of your life go by the wayside Jim, it seems like I see more and more of this each day and I find it a little depressing sometimes.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I guess this is a normal part of life — things have their natural lifespan and it is disappointing when things that were so important to us find their natural end.

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Radio is changing. Corporate ownership has changed commercial radio for sure. At a recent media conference I attended, one of the speakers talked about “over the air” radio pretty much dying a slow death over the next five years–probably extinct in a decade. When you consider the cost of keeping 5,000, 10,0000 and even 100,000 watt transmitters burning 24 hours a day, you can certainly imagine the attraction of delivering content over the internet vs analog transmission.

  6. Chris J. Anderson Avatar

    As a WMHD alum from the early 80s, this saddens me as well. Back in the day, we produced “Midnight Madness,” a weekly comedy program (mostly playing tracks from comedy albums, but usually with one or two original bits as well, including our own Star Trek parody that satirized campus goings-on). The late “Brother Roland” Rogers filled the air on Sunday nights (prime cramming time) with his Gregorian chants show on which he’d layer multiple chants together to psychedelic effect, with the occasional barely-audible strains of early Pink Floyd mixed in for good measure. Good times.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      By the time I got there in 1985, Midnight Madness had morphed into Radio Free Terre Haute, which was such fun. And the Gregorian Chant tradition had been handed down through several stewards. We also had the Magnetic Record Shop playing whole albums and The Catalpa Tree playing spacey new age ephemera. It *was* such fun!

    2. Kris Bachmann Avatar
      Kris Bachmann

      Kathy and I have several Brother Roland show taped recordings.

  7. Mike Buccieri Avatar
    Mike Buccieri

    I spent many hours at the station between 81-85. I had many fun experiences helping to build on to the radio station. Glad to hear from Chris Anderson. I remember the midnight madness show. Sorry to see the station go away, but I guess communication methods change with the times. When was the last time anyone wrote a letter?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Times do change. The 20-year-old me that was General Manager of WMHD could never, ever, ever have foreseen the demise of radio.

      Those building years must have been fun. By the time I got there in ’85 things were functioning and it was our task to keep it that way. However, we did build a production studio.

      1. Mke Salay Avatar
        Mke Salay

        I too was saddened to hear of WMHD’s demise (especially given I have 2 boys currently enrolled at Rose).

        During my tenure (1979-83) I donated plenty of blood, sweat and GPA to the construction and day to day station operation (including a stint as chief engineer).

        Memories that stick with me to this day:
        Roland Rogers and his infamous Gregorian Chants….if only a recording survived!?! I vividly remember the day we purchased a Sony TCD5 recorder, Roland was so excited to take it on the road for interviews. Midnight Madness was always a classic. Of course our GM Mike Henson (FYI – MHD does not stand for Mike Henson Designed) and working with my good friend Chris Meyer (aka Mr. Hawkwind).

        I toured the studio last week and can report the only thing still intact from 1983 is the over engineered angled double pane “sound proof” studio window and the album collection! Someone even painted over the Yes Fragile mural in the entrance area (circa 1981 courtesy of Greg Roush and Alan Tuner). What can we say, except time changes everything.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar


          A fellow alum and friend who still lives in Terre Haute kept a show on the station for years after graduating, and I’d go visit from time to time. I watched the “remodeling” of the broadcast studio with some horror, as the work they did certainly didn’t improve it. I was especially sad to see the Fragile mural go away, as it was well done.

          That friend and I took the TCD5 with us on band interviews. It was a great recorder. My friend still has the tapes from the night we interviewed the founder of heavy-metal band Grim Reaper. The fellow treated us like we were from Rolling Stone, not some 160-watt station in Indiana.

          Gregorian Chant continued on WMHD well past the time I graduated, but the originals from Roland Rogers were legend in my time. Midnight Madness morphed into something called Radio Free Terre Haute, to which I sometimes contributed, at least in the background.

          Two boys enrolled at Rose?!!? Given that Rose is a quarter-million-dollar education now, my hat is off to you. I’m not sure I could make Rose happen for my sons if either wanted to go.

  8. Scott Avatar

    I was at the station the same time as Mike and Chris. 81-85. Dj and production director, I did the only blues show on WMHD at the time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Cool! I missed you by one year – I started in 1985.

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