Going back to the University of Illinois was an out of body experience, sort of like visiting a parallel universe. Some of the stuff was the same: my dorm looked the same; the Quad was pretty much the same. But so much else was changed.
When I worked at WPGU, we were crammed into the basement of Weston Hall, one of the dorms down by the football stadium. After the game, we wandered over there. I knew – of course – that there would be little trace of WPGU there. They had moved out of The Basement in the 1995. But still, I didn’t expect that it was all gone. They had even bricked over the door!
The new building was in the heart of Campus Town: most of which I didn’t recognize. It’s a nice building. The main studio is on the first floor with a big window looking out on the street. There were a ton of people there, but – sadly – no one I knew personally from the “old days”. In fact, there were very few radio people there at all.
I know from working there, that WPGU relished its heritage as being one of the oldest FM stations in the country, but we didn’t have the time or the resources to really hold on to that heritage. Sunday nights, I produced a show called The Week that Was. It was on during the oldies show – Past Tense – so we did “oldies news”: clips from events between 1960 and 1980 (more or less). I remember going through most of the morgue tapes we had and only coming up with a smattering of stuff: a commercial reel from 1963 promoting “the best 15 cent hamburger in Champaign!” and part of the live coverage of the Kennedy Assassination. Fifteen minutes after he was shot (and still alive, mind you), they had already mentioned possible assassins on a grassy knoll. Being a history buff, it was a tantalizing taste, but just a taste. So much was lost. Even the names of old reporters were gone. In 1973, WPGU read the names of the dead soldiers from central Illinois to commemorate the end of the Vietnam War. Twenty years later, when we rebroadcast it as part of our “Week that Was” look at that conflict; we knew the soldiers’ names, but none of the names of the reporters reading them.
So, while I could wander around the new building, marveling at the computers and digital production equipment (and the fact that it was all above ground), I felt rather detached. This was a radio station called WPGU, but it wasn’t my WPGU.
Then I met the current News Director. Actually, she is more than that: she has to manage both the news on WPGU and the news for the Daily Illini newspaper. We had an interesting conversation about her challenges with “convergence” and trying to get people to write for air, print and internet. While we were talking, I mentioned some of the stuff I had worked on: The Week that Was, for example. She brought me over to a young man who was now running the Week that Was. So, while the names and the faces had changed over the years, the day to day problems and the concerns had an eerie familiarity to them. In the end, I did feel a kinship with this new version of WPGU. I was glad to have gone back to see everything.
And – by the way – when you participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony, they let you keep the scissors!