WPDR Celebrates 25 Years As Dayton’s ‘Voice Of The Arts’
By Deborrah Adams
Dayton Public Radio, Classical 88.1 FM “The Voice of the Arts,” is celebrating its 25th year. While November 11 will mark the anniversary of the first live broadcast in 1985 the station is celebrating so much more.
Unlike a commercial radio station, WDPR did not begin as a corporation venture padded with investment capital. Instead what is known today as Dayton Public Radio, with a network of two transmitting stations, a dozen employees, along with scores of members, supporters, and volunteers, was “started with people talking to people about living in a major metropolitan area that had no classical radio station” according to Ed Kuhns, a member of the original group.
Centerville native and Fairmont High School music teacher Clark J. Haines, who also served as choir director at Grace Methodist Church on Salem Avenue, is credited as the visionary who inspired a whole network of individuals to bring a classical FM station to Dayton. Among this core group were: Alan Johnson, director of the Dayton Chapter of the Red Cross whose wife taught music at the University of Dayton and sang in the Grace Church choir; Lloyd Bryant, the original on-air announcer and current host/producer of Live & Local and the Dayton Opera broadcasts, assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, who knew Haines; Ed Kuhns, the original attorney for the fledgling nonprofit venture who served on the board of directors of the Dayton Red Cross; John Kohnle who was from a manufacturing family but had an interest in opera; Jim Stewart, general manager of WING radio at the time; Doris Ficka, former president of the Dayton League of Women Voters; and Sybil Pomeroy who was with the Dayton Council on Foreign Affairs.
The group’s members, despite their diverse backgrounds and fields of expertise, found a common bond in the love of classical music and the arts as well as civic-minded initiatives and agreed to a meeting about starting a classical music station. From that initial meeting the group linked with other community and media connections who helped the group navigate the bureaucratic maze to get incorporated, and then to find funding, equipment and an affordable frequency from which to start broadcasting.
By 1981 the group had formed a board of trustees and incorporated initially as Dayton Community Radio -later it would be changed to Dayton Public Radio. Still it would take nearly five years to begin actual live broadcasting because, according to Larry Coressel, “it was difficult to get FCC approval for a new frequency in a saturated market like the Dayton area, and buying an existing frequency took a lot of cash the group did not have laying around.”
“An important connection the group would make,” said Kuhns, “would be with Harold Parschall who owned half of the FM frequency 89.5.” Dayton City Schools used the signal during school hours for its 200-watt broadcast laboratory in the Career Center. Initially operating on a time-share agreement with Dayton City Schools to use the frequency between 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m., WDPR would man 7 hours of broadcasting a day, from 6 to 8 a.m., and from 5 to 7 p.m. plus extended evening hours until 10 p.m.
On November 11, 1985, WDPR signed on the air as a 200-watt monaural station manned by volunteers. According to Kuhns, a simulated sign-on and launch party was held at noon in the rotunda of the Arcade on Third Street. Lloyd Bryant, the original on-air personality, sat at a mock-up of a production studio and read through the station sign-on he would deliver live later that day for the station’s actual inaugural broadcast during the afternoon drive time.
The first studio was in the basement of the Hills and Dales Shopping Center where it remained until the early 1990s when the station moved to the Metropolitan Arts Center. In 1998 it was housed temporarily over the former Yellow Rose Saloon in the old WAZU studio during the renovation of the Arts Center before returning to its current location.
In late 1986, Coressel started volunteering once a week when he was just 21 years old. He was approached about getting involved with DPR by a friend … Lloyd Bryant. By January 1987 he was hired as paid announcer. Still, Coressel was not the first. The first paid staff and on-air host was Paul Lane who has since moved away. Others among those first paid staffers were the first general manager, Bill Combs, and the first director of development, Anne Brown.
Coressel pointed out that most of the early equipment was donated, borrowed, or purchased second-hand from closed or closing stations and rehabbed many times. Today, (thanks to faithful supporters, sponsors and contributors) the station has a modern live production board and preproduction capability, and a download studio; transmitters for both stations; satellite feed uplinks, Internet access and feed capability, and remote recording equipment.
“When I came to the station,” Coressel said, “we owned one CD (but) it was just the beginning.” Most of the early recordings came from various sources such as “a donation of several hundreds of LPs” (long playing vinyl discs). Also, “WHIO (WHKO) originally had a classical show in its lineup and we acquired their collection. Sometimes we called on recording studios for copies. Finally there was a budget through which Charles Wendelken-Wilson was able to purchase recordings to fill gaps in the collection.”
Coressel said he had no doubts the station would still be here 25 years later and that the founders and supporters would keep the station going and growing. As for his long tenure, “while it has been exciting to be on the ground floor,” he has been surprised to still be here considering his background in theatre (he founded and directs StageWorks in Springfield) and his eclectic taste in music (his first radio work was at WYSO).
As for the slogan “The Voice of the Arts,” Coressel said, “When the initial programming was discussed a deliberate decision was made not to provide the local news and traffic already offered by other stations in the area but instead that the arts and art events would be the new station’s news and information.” From that modest decision, WDPR has positioned itself to be a voice for the arts as well as classical music.
Georgie Woessner, WDPR’s general manager since 1999, originally joined the station in 1995, responsible for selling corporate support. She sees her role as GM as “about getting them all the tools to do the job well.” When asked why she agreed to become the current GM she responded “because it was time for professionalization of the station; it was time to grow up. This was my vision and the reason I considered becoming GM.” The focus, according to Woessner, is on the “unseen family … creating opportunities to meet the public … to build trust with announcers about why they play the recordings they do … (and) especially introducing listeners to new pieces and composers as well as cultivating new listeners. One of the happy surprises with getting ready for the anniversary has been discovering that 88 of the original members have been continuous members for all 25 years and are still living.” The station will be putting together some special recognition of these faithful supporters for the anniversary, including attempting to contact and meet each one personally and recording station testimonials from as many as possible to broadcast during the on-air anniversary promotions.
A recent initiative for encouraging new connections with classical music has been the annual Youth Talent Search competition. Created by station newcomer Shaun Yu, program director and midday host, the program attempts to spotlight a new generation of classical-style musicians emerging within the area. Yu, who was born in Korea but grew up in Alaska and was “pleasantly surprised to find that Dayton is a well-kept secret,” came here three years ago by way of a classical radio station in Oregon.
But while the station continually looks to attract new listeners to insure its future it is still mindful of honoring those who made it possible. One way has been the founding of the Clark J. Haines Society to recognize major donors and contributors with annual contributions of $1000 or more. Woessner said “These are our most loyal supporters and the membership has been growing.” Haines passed away 2001 and a statement on the Web site notes: “He will be missed by the many in this community who benefit every day from his vision, his kindness and his enthusiasm.”
Several special anniversary events and activities are in the works to commemorate WDPR’s 25 years of service and achievement including a formal gala and fundraiser, listener participation Web activities such as a series of “the 25 bests,” and special interviews throughout the year.
The station will formally kick off its Silver Anniversary year on Saturday, October 16, at 6:30 p.m. in Dayton Art Institute’s Gothic Cloister. This one-time gala event celebrating 25 years of bringing classical music to its listeners as well as serving the local arts community will also help to raise critical funding for the station.
The evening will feature a social hour with music provided by the Oakwood Brass Quintet, Silent Auction, dinner, a short commemorative program and a special recital by internationally acclaimed violinist Rachael Barton Pine.
Tickets for the anniversary gala are $125 to $200 per person and can be reserved through the Web site at www.DPR.org. Corporate sponsorships for the event are also available.
WDPR Dayton Classical 88.1 FM, located at 126 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton, is a 600-watt station with a second station repeater, WDPG Greenville transmitting on the frequency 89.9 FM at 50,000 watts, and operates as a community licensee owned by the board of trustees. The combined stations reach an audience from Richmond and Fort Wayne (IN) to Springfield (OH) and from Piqua to northern Cincinnati plus online streaming 24 hours a day. Based on the Spring 2010 Arbitron estimates, the station serves 45,000 unduplicated listeners weekly in the Montgomery, Miami, Clark, Greene and Preble county areas. In addition, KeyNotes, a weekly information and program guide update is emailed every Friday to subscribers. Classical 88.1 FM broadcasts as a nonprofit commercial-free station supported by funding from membership at various levels, corporate sponsorships, program underwriting, CD adoption, grants, government arts programs, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Dayton Public Radio is online at www.DPR.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Deborrah Adams at email@example.com