WONC at 50: North Central radio station celebrates 5 decades on the air

  • North Central College broadcast communication student Jared Roberts works Friday with WONC General Manager John Madormo at the station, which is celebrating 50 years broadcasting from Naperville at 89.1-FM.

      North Central College broadcast communication student Jared Roberts works Friday with WONC General Manager John Madormo at the station, which is celebrating 50 years broadcasting from Naperville at 89.1-FM. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Student DJs have kept WONC radio live on the air for 50 years at North Central College in Naperville. The station is celebrating with an open house 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 11.

      Student DJs have kept WONC radio live on the air for 50 years at North Central College in Naperville. The station is celebrating with an open house 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 11. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • The North Central College radio station, WONC 89.1-FM, is celebrating 50 years on the air with an open house at its studio at Oliver Hall in Naperville.

      The North Central College radio station, WONC 89.1-FM, is celebrating 50 years on the air with an open house at its studio at Oliver Hall in Naperville. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted5/7/2018 5:35 AM

During 50 years on the air at 89.1-FM, WONC radio at Naperville's North Central College has given hundreds of students the chance to hone their skills, adjust to significant changes in technology and play music.

Lots and lots of music.

 

The commercial-free station has played vinyl records, then single-song cartridges, then CDs, then digital audio files on computers, and through most of it, General Manager John Madormo has been there as a guide.

The station will celebrate dual milestones -- its 50th anniversary and Madormo's retirement after 38 years -- with an open house from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 11, at Oliver Hall, 232 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.

The event will feature a live broadcast on the studio lawn, including interviews with Madormo, North Central President Troy Hammond and five WONC alumni -- one from each decade. The station also will premiere an hourlong radio documentary about WONC's history produced by broadcast communication major Brandon Herman.

Preparing for the anniversary celebration already has required a trip down memory lane for Madormo, 66, an assistant professor of broadcast communication who has been running the pure rock station since 1980.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In those days, WONC was on the fourth floor of North Central's original building, Old Main. The building at that time had one set of bathrooms, on the first floor.

John Madormo is retiring after 38 years as general manager of the pure rock radio station WONC at North Central College.
  John Madormo is retiring after 38 years as general manager of the pure rock radio station WONC at North Central College. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Madormo says alumni have reminisced about timing their bathroom breaks to coincide with extra-long songs, such as "one of the staples of classic rock," the 17-minute "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly.

"Longer music cuts came in handy," he said.

Now, DJs such as broadcast communication major Jared Roberts stand or sit at a dual-screen computer pulling up audio files of songs, public service announcements, promos and "sweeper" statements that remind listeners what station they're tuned into. For all its content and talent, WONC was named National College Radio Station of the Year in 2015.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I've seen quite an evolution technologically over the years," Madormo said. "I've had to learn to stay one step ahead of the students."

Madormo has upgraded tech to keep it in step with the world of professional radio.

"I don't want them to experience any surprises after graduation," he said.

That means no freewheeling DJs can take over and play all their favorite songs.

"Jocks," as Madormo calls them, follow music logs generated by a program from a library of 5,000 songs. Students who serve as program director and music director choose "currents," or new songs to feature each month, then program how the logs balance currents with "re-currents" from the past three to six months, and "oldies" that have long been favorites.

Student Jared Roberts goes live on the air Friday at WONC 89.1-FM, which is celebrating 50 years at North Central College in Naperville.
  Student Jared Roberts goes live on the air Friday at WONC 89.1-FM, which is celebrating 50 years at North Central College in Naperville. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

"This is how it is in commercial radio. No jocks pick their music anymore," Madormo said. "We want them to learn the discipline of following a music log."

Madormo also teaches WONC student workers -- about 40 percent of whom major in something other than broadcast communication -- to be disciplined with their word choice and demeanor, even on overnights. The station often hosts tours for groups of Scouts, who can serve as a test.

"If you wouldn't say it in front of a pack of Brownies, don't say it on the air," Madormo tells DJs.

North Central is working to hire a new general manager to take over when Madormo retires June 30, and all of the finalists are WONC alums. Dozens of alums and supporters are expected to turn out for the open house and live broadcast, which also will give visitors a look inside a studio decorated for the occasion.

"I'll go out with a big party," Madormo said. "Say goodbye to the students that way."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.