The Henry Ford College’s radio station will celebrate its 30th year on the air this Sunday.
On Dec. 20, 1985, WHFR-FM 89.3 made the transition from its origins as a radio station over the public address system (from a closet-sized studio in the Pagoda Room on Henry Ford Community College’s Dearborn campus) to an FM broadcast station. That FM broadcast station operates from the same building on Henry Ford College’s Dearborn campus, but as a fully-functional 24/7 station with a state-of-the-art-facility in two broadcast studios, a performance studio and a large office area.
While no special broadcast or event marks the anniversary on Sunday, WHFR.FM did have a reunion earlier this month of alumni who formerly worked for the station in the 1980s and 1990s. Jay Korinek, WHFR Station Adviser, said that recordings of their reminiscing would be edited and eventually aired in the new year.
“It’s not edited, and I don’t think it will be airing until I edit it over the holidays,” Korinek said. “We did record a lot of responses to how they got involved with the station, and what was the most fun they had in their experiences.”
The Henry Ford Community College first opened in 1960, he said, and the radio was one of the first clubs on campus, operating the public address radio beginning in 1962. Next year will be his 40th year as advisory to WHFR, Korinek said, becoming advisory to the public-address radio station in 1976. The start of actual broadcasting in 1985 was only for a few hours a day (only the six hours minimum required to hold an FCC license), and all the programs were prerecorded for a year and a half.
The college administration insisted the station could not be live. In the second year, Korinek asked if the station could start doing current updates on the news, because at that time most commercial radio had formats dominated by news, weather and sports (in contrast today, in which most stations do the same music hits, and a couple will do news 24/7).
The academic dean thought what the station aired “sounded pretty good,” according to Korinek, and was surprised that the station was not doing live shows. From that point on, Korinek said, the station slowly switched from pre-recorded programs, until it broadcast live exclusively by the mid 1990s, with the exception of recorded programs overnight (eventually replaced with the classical music picked up from satellite, which the station still broadcasts overnight until this day).
The station is still manned by 50 student volunteers, Korinek said, though he has been joined in the station administration by a couple other long-time Henry Ford College professors. General Manager Susan McGraw formerly was WHFR’s first live on-air DJ as an HFCC student in the 1980s, and later returned as full-time professor and coordinator of the HFC Telecommunication and Journalism area; and 1990s WHFR DJ Lara Hycaj later returned as Operations Manager. Both finished their academic and professional work in radio elsewhere, and returned to help Korinek in 1997.
The volunteers earn academic credit, or they are high-tech professionals looking to upgrade their certification by doing non-credit training out of the M-TEC building on Rotunda Drive, or they come from the college’s adult-education program. The radio class meets for two hours over an eight-week program.
Compared to modern commercial station formats, Korinek explained, these volunteers do not play hits. Rather, he said, the format is unusual in taking the approach of playing music “that’s better than pop,” looking for local and regional artists who never get on the radio (such as from the Detroit blues scene), as well as finding live performers to broadcast.
“We have archived on our website a lot of local bands, as well as new musicians and new styles,” Korinek said. “We have a bit of everything.”
The local programming is supplemented with Korinek’s own WHFR Journal on local news; as well as national outside shows such as “Mountain Stage,” which records folk, bluegrass, rock and jazz in West Virginia; Amy Goodman talking about social movements and liberal-oriented news from noon-1 p.m. (repeated 1-2 p.m) on Fridays, a couple of Stanford University professors discussing philosophy (interspersed with pop songs commenting on the issues they discuss) from NPR; “Big Picture Science” out of California which discusses new issues on science, as well as Korinek’s own WHFR Journal on local news.
Though the station’s anniversary broadcast will not be edited before the first of the year, he said, the WHFR DJs will be sharing their favorite alternative holiday music, stories and individual reflections during the special “Winter Season Celebration 10 a.m. on Christmas Eve, and running through 10 a.m. on Dec. 26 (even bumping the overnight classical. Though the station will be playing Christmas music, Korinek added that some of the music could have a New Year’s theme, and some could be on peace (like one of John Lennon’s songs) or social issues. Two or three DJs each have been providing these holiday programs for two days for the past several years.
After Christmas Day and evening, Korinek said, the next week through midnight New Year’s Day will showcase WHFR DJs highlighting their favorite music from 2015 (albums, songs, artists, etc.) Actually, since the station began with pre-recorded programming in the 1980s, it has always aired these specials in December, “but we did it helter-skelter, scattered during the month of December, so nobody was listening unless they happened to find a show accidentally.
“So we decided to group them together, during the holidays when we would have the least volunteers coming in,” he said.
The anniversary show does promise to be interesting when it is edited and aired next year, Korinek concluded.
“It’s not only on their broadcasting, some of our alumni went into fields like nursing and doctoring,” he said. “There was at least one who hired on as a broadcaster at a commercial AM station.
“The reason they came back at all was that our station seemed to have a special place in their lives. It was like a family experience, not only from our staff working on-air, but also doing other work like promotion of our programming,” Korinek said.
For more information on WHFR’s upcoming programming, or for information on how to take the radio class for academic credit or on a non-credit basis, call McGraw at the station office number of (313) 845-9842.