June 28, 2024

WDBM-FM Student Radio Celebrates 35 Years of Impact on Air 

Impact 89FM Radio hosted a celebratory event the evening of Saturday, June 22 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center to mark its 35th year on air. 

About 50 Impact 89FM alumni were joined by friends who have supported the station through the years to enjoy an evening of reminiscing, food and live entertainment that included Detroit-based alternative rock band, The Hard Lessons. The band consists of married couple, Augie Visocchi and Korin "Ko Ko" Louise Visocchi, both of whom were also Impact 89FM student staff members. Will Henry, the current host of The Progressive Torch & Twang!, also performed some original music.

Most importantly, staff from across the decades were able to reconnect and celebrate all eras of MSU campus radio. Alums were even able to come in early and guest DJ at the station, streaming throughout the day. 

Jeremy Whiting, director and general manager of the station, believes the station has lasted this long for many reasons, most rooted in the staff’s passion for keeping the station fresh and innovative. Impact continues to be one of the nation’s longest-running college radio stations.

“I think we’ve stuck around because we’ve remained relevant. Our station wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of generations of students. Thirty-five years is a long time to be broadcasting, and many things have changed,” noted Whiting, who was also a student staff member in his time as an MSU undergraduate and graduate student. 

Allyn Shaw, assistant vice president for Student Development and Leadership, sees the station’s success similarly: “It’s a great accomplishment reaching 35, but I think what is also exciting is there are no signs of slowing down. The radio station has a bright future, and that’s a testament to their ability to connect with the student body and, further, the mid-Michigan community as a whole. Impact is a special part of the university experience.”

Creating An Impact from the Start

That experience started for students in the 1950s as a series of campus radio stations that broadcast from locations across campus through carrier current, connected by wires that were strung through steam tunnels. WDBM-FM is the successor to the Michigan State Network, which by the 1970s, was the nation’s largest college carrier current radio network.

The Network was eventually consolidated to one carrier current station, WLFT, which broadcast music, news and sports through the existing wiring in buildings. Students could simply plug in their radios and listen.

WDBM officially began its journey broadcasting at the MSU Auditorium from 1989-95, then moved to Holden Hall where it has remained since. With the boom of easier access and the 24-hour news cycle, the station grew into one of the few student-run college radio stations to broadcast 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2004, the Impact was the nation’s first college station to broadcast in HD radio. Since the early 2000s, the station has gone on to win over 18 College Radio Station of the Year distinctions from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and Broadcast Music, Inc. Most recently, the station received numerous state and national awards this past March. 

Jim Tarladgis was part of the team from 1986 through his graduation in the spring of 1989, eventually becoming station manager. He says the vision was to create something that would last.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years. When we received notice that MSU was granted an FM license, we made it our mission to construct something special.  We were lucky to have passionate people in every department – music, production, news, sports, promotion and management – that all worked very hard in a relatively short period of time to put it all together,” Tarladgis recalls.   

For the inaugural episode of “Behind the Mics,” Impact 89FM’s newest podcast, Tarladgis and some members of the initial team discuss what it was like to kick off the station at MSU. The episode includes audio highlights from the actual first hour of programming.

Connecting and Adapting Key to Impact 89FM’s Success

Delaney Rogers has been Impact’s station manager since 2022 and will be the station’s first graduate assistant in August. It’ll be her fourth year on staff after joining in September 2020, when staff meetings were held over Zoom. 

“Coming to MSU during a pandemic inevitably brought its challenges, but Impact genuinely made everything feel less anxiety-inducing. If it weren’t for Impact, I think my experience at this university would have been drastically different,” says Rogers. 

Whether it was a pandemic or changing industry landscapes, the staff has always been committed to ensuring the station adapts to meet the needs of its listeners. The technology is better and more reliable, the music played on air is more diverse, and the staff has expanded the content to delivery over the web in various ways over the years. Whiting says they now time shift content to when people want to hear it on their schedules. That’s why podcasts are so important, along with playlists the team create and share each week. 

The key to the station’s ability to adapt is intention. Though they are also part of the station’s audience, the student employees put in the effort to engage with the larger student body, even with events and programs that are not for the air.

“If you’re not engaging with your audience, they will not engage with you. Our staff is out every week across campus talking with students, DJing events, hosting open mic nights, tabling at career fairs – the list goes on. We’re amplifying student voices and telling their stories – whether it’s news, music, entertainment, culture, sports or simply relaying information on upcoming events.”

Rogers agrees: “Impact is entirely student run, and while we have our fun, we also still display so much professionalism and get to be a part of bigger real-world experiences. My time at Michigan State has been better than I could have ever imagined because of Impact 89FM and, for that, I am forever thankful.”

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