Early in December 1995 I was unemployed, after having been laid off at WCIL-FM. I was weeks from leaving southern Illinois and going who-knows-where, when I spotted a help-wanted ad in the Daily Egyptian that said, “Radio Station Manager Needed.” Well, what’s this? I thought to myself. I had 10 years of professional broadcast experience and a couple of years of management experience under my belt. I called the number and made an appointment for an interview.
When the day came for my interview my car wasn’t working. I live south of Murphysboro and so I rode my bicycle the 10 miles to Carbondale and made it just in time. I learned about this community radio station to be started in town and the plans for it. All of a sudden, during the interview, my leg began to cramp up due to the exertion of the bike ride. I was in excruciating pain but did my best to hide it and stretch my leg out under the table. Somehow I managed to get through without revealing my agony.
A week later I was offered the job. I got a tour of the facility, which only consisted of the transmitter, one small mixing board and a couple of CD players. There was as yet no furniture in the building. For the next few weeks I would come in most every day around 4pm and play music over the air for a couple of hours, then shut down and go home. No one knew we were there yet. On February 6, 1996 we held our first public meetings at Longbranch Coffeehouse inviting anyone interested in joining up to attend. Over 100 folks came to the two meetings held that day. The mayor was there as well as other city officials, myself and our founders. Speeches were given and then a tour of the station was held. Of the 100 people at the meeting, about 40 began training sessions with me and in about two weeks WDBX signed on the air with our first volunteer staff. At the start, the station was on the air from 4-10pm daily.
The first DJ to sign on was Bob Dunn, a delightful elderly gentleman from Harrisburg, over an hour’s drive away. You couldn’t even pick up WDBX in Harrisburg, but this man would commute each week to play music from his extensive collection of bluegrass. Bob did his show, “Nuttin’ But Bluegrass” until April of 2006. He passed away that June.
Another of the original DJs was Tom Connelley, another bluegrass aficionado. Tom already had a show on WSIU and was worried he’d get fired there if it became known he was also on WDBX. So for his show, “Back To Bluegrass” he created the persona of “Foghorn”. He’d use a “southern-hick” drawl which he’d frequently lose when he wasn’t concentrating on it and along with his buddy Brian Kennedy (a.k.a. Johnny Mango) created one of the most popular shows in WDBX history. It’s the only show that has aired without interruption in our nearly 15 years of operation.
Over 600 others have followed in their footsteps. And it all started 15 years ago today.