Indiana State University Newsroom

WISU marks 50 years of broadcasting

October 16, 2014

A passion for broadcasting brought Marty Conner, Howard Espravnik and Carl Gustin to Indiana State University more than 40 years ago.

Fond memories of their time as student broadcasters, in an era before satellite radio and automated stations, have kept them coming back for homecoming year after year. This year, they joined other alumni in marking the 50th anniversary of WISU-FM.

"The communication department was one of the best in the country at the time," Espravnik said. The Wanatah native is associate professor of communication and manager of WVCP-FM at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn., outside Nashville.

"It was easily the best in the state," Conner added about the Indiana State broadcasting program. Conner, who is originally from Indianapolis, works in information technology for Georgia-Pacific in Atlanta.

Espravnik said he chose to attend Indiana State after learning he could not take communication classes at Ball State until his junior year. He and Conner had met the year before as Summer Honors students at Indiana State when both enrolled in a radio-TV class for high-achieving high school student.

Espravnik got his first taste of broadcasting at a radio station operated by the Gary Career Center and Conner had a similar experience at his high school in Indianapolis.

At Indiana State, radio-TV-film majors not only took classes in their chosen field from the start, many also landed jobs at WISU in their first semester on campus. Espravnik recalled that it was a full-service operation.

"I ran the board for presidential press conferences, had a deejay show, did news, I ran the board for the Metropolitan Opera, which in those days came on big 10-inch tapes," he said. "I would put the big 10-inch tape on and then basically get paid to sit there and do my homework for an hour and a half and then change to the next big 10-inch tape, but I got to do a variety of things."

Reel-to-reel tapes have long since been replaced by compact discs. CDs later gave way to computer files for music, and automation now handles the switching of sources at many stations. In the ‘70s, though, regulations required a human "operator on duty" who had to be licensed by the FCC.

"When we walked into WISU we were already credentialed. We helped kids study and learn and get their third-class license," Conner said.

After a couple of years at WISU, Espravnik landed a gig at 50,000 watt WBOQ, while still a student. He and Conner later worked at WAXI, which had just signed on the air serving Rockville and Clinton.

While Gustin was never on the air at WISU, he and his friends worked together in video production from studios in Dreiser Hall.

"We did programs for Indianapolis and all over the Midwest," Gustin said. "We were the No. 1 crew for TV services and when they needed a crew, they called us. It was fun and it was a good time to be here. We got a lot of different experiences and we got them right off the bat. When you got done as a senior, having worked in TV, you were more than ready to work at a commercial station."

One of the more widely known series the three worked on was "Dr. Hopp and Friends," in which Indiana State zoology professor William Hopp featured various animals - most memorably snakes - and discussed the wildlife in a Terre Haute version of the widely seen national show "Wild Kingdom."

All three men were in the Alpha Sigma Iota broadcasting fraternity.

"It was a unique, local fraternity," Espravnik said. "It was a combination social and professional fraternity and we were co-ed. We had a lodge on Ohio Street and later next to Tirey Memorial Union at Seventh and Cherry streets."

All three graduates said they are encouraged about the future of student broadcasting at Indiana State, especially the campus radio facilities, which now boast two stations. WISU now carries news and information programing from National Public Radio by retransmitting the signal of WFYI in Indianapolis and the student-focused music station has moved to WZIS, 90.7 FM, a frequency formerly used by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

"The signal footprint of the student station is a little smaller but they do want to try to upgrade it in the future, and it's a big enough signal," Espravnik said. "The university has put a feather in its cap with the NPR station. It's a good thing to do and at the same time there are not going to be any fewer opportunities for students."

Phil Glende, executive director of student media at Indiana State, looked to the future during the WISU anniversary celebration.

"It is our intent to create local programming in coming months and this is going to create new opportunities for our student broadcasters while offering a new level of community service to our audience," Glende said. "We see this as a time to look forward to the next 50 years of broadcast education and experiential learning at Indiana State."

Dave Sabaini, WISU station manager from 1983 until his death in 2012, floated several proposals during his career to bring NPR programing to WISU, noted Joe Tenerelli, professor emeritus who taught from 1980-2007. Economics was the primary reason most of those proposals were unsuccessful, he said.

Long before Sabaini, and before WISU, Clarence Morgan, speech and theater department faculty member and Indiana Broadcast Hall of Fame member, laid the groundwork for student broadcasting in the 1930s, during the Golden Age of Radio, when live entertainment programs were a mainstay.

"He's the one who had the foresight to realize that we needed well-trained personnel in the radio industry," Tenerelli said. "It was he who pioneered the remote studio arrangement with WBOW-AM continued into the 1950s."

WISU's first broadcast was Nov. 13, 1964. The 50th anniversary observance was scheduled in advance of the actual date to coincide with the university's annual homecoming celebration.

Format changes have followed the station throughout its history, said Joe Tenerelli, professor emeritus of communication, who taught from 1980 to 2007, but WISU and Indiana State remain committed to student success.

"One thing remains constant and that is the belief that the industry needs a well-prepared and well-educated workforce serving the public interest," he said. "Giving students the opportunity to work in news, sports, production, on air and community relations remains at the station's core regardless of what its call sign is. Programs such as ours have been on the leading edge of experiential and engaged learning long before the rest of the world realized its value."

Photo: - Indiana State University radio-TV broadcasting alumni (left to right) Carl Gustin, Howard Espravnik and Marty Conner check out a display at WISU radio's 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 10, 2014. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - A 50th anniversary celebration for Indiana State University radio station WISU featured a display of awards and historical newspaper clippings. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Joseph Tenerelli, professor of communication from 1980 to 2007, speaks during the 50th anniversary celebration for WISU radio Oct. 11, 2014. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or