Back in 1963, nobody in Traverse City had yet considered planting a vineyard, there was no Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and native American tribes still had no recognition by the federal government. But it was that year that Interlochen Arts Academy Founder Joseph Maddy had a dream to launch a radio station. And in July of that year, just after Interlochen became a year-round institution, WIAA went on the air. Now it’s called Interlochen Public Radio or IPR.
“As far back as 1958, Joseph Maddy planned a classical music FM station,” IPR General Manager Thom Paulson tells The Ticker. “Maddy was acting on his own. In July of ’63, there were maybe only five FM stations on the air in northern Michigan.”
WIAA launched with four full-time workers and one part-timer on weekends. It broadcast only eight hours a day, from 1:55 p.m. to 9:55 p.m. The station now airs 24 hours a day with seven full-time on-air staffers and one part-timer, according to Paulson, who marked his 37th year at IPR earlier this month. In addition to his GM gig, Paulson plays classical music on a Saturday morning show.
IPR’s classical music airs at 88.7 in Interlochen, 94.7 in TC, 88.5 in Mackinaw City and 109.4 in East Jordan/Charlevoix. The news broadcasts are at 91.5 in TC, 89.7 in Manistee and 90.1 in Harbor Springs.
In 1970, WIAA was one of the 90 charter members to form National Public Radio (NPR). “Most of those were college radio stations,” says Paulson. “We’re still one of a handful that are not college stations.” In 2000, the station added News Radio, greatly increasing its emphasis on news content.
Financing is one of IPR’s biggest challenges. It operates on a $1.4 million annual budget with about half of that coming from donations by listeners. About three times a year the station launches fundraising efforts and fans have been supportive, according to Paulson.
Starting July 1, IPR celebrates its birthday with “50 Years of Big Ideas,” a series of historic reports looking back at major events in the region over the past five decades. “These reports aren’t comprehensive,” explains news reporter Linda Stephan, who prepared the series. “They don’t cover every event during the past 50 years. We chose topics that had a major impact on the region and that made good radio.”
The series includes reports on:
• The founding of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a center of controversy.
• The Kalkaska Schools crisis of 1993 when the cash-strapped schools shut down mid-year.
• The Natural Resources Trust Fund and the unprecedented use of oil and gas royalties.
• Salmon planting and the growth of the sport fishing industry.
• Native American fishing rights and the federal recognition of area tribes.
• The planting of vineyards and the growth of winemaking in the region.
• The refurbishing of the State Theatre and its impact on downtown TC.
To learn more, visit ipr.interlochen.org.