History of WCBU

Peoria Public Radio History

Phil Weinberg
Phil Weinberg

WCBU signed-on officially on January 20th, 1970, thanks in part to Phil Weinberg, former dean of the Bradley University College of Engineering, who was the driving force behind the establishment of WCBU as a full power public radio station.  WCBU is the direct descendant of WRBU, a studentradio service that operated out of the Bradley Student Center.  By 1969 the transition was underway: WRBU became WCBU, which in 1970 became a charter member of the fledgling organization, National Public Radio

The station’s coverage of the Peoria City Council meetings began its long run during those early days, anchored by Bradley students Fred Weinberg and Frank Thomas. 

In late 1974 Thomas became WCBU’s first full-time operations manager. The station was going to leave behind its “student station” status, hire a staff and apply for CPB funding. WCBU recorded and broadcast Peoria Symphony Orchestra concerts as well as other musical events on campus and in the community

Control Room
Control Room

In the ‘80s WCBU received a grant that allowed an increase in power and begin broadcasting in stereo. The signal could now reach Galesburg and LaSalle and almost to Champaign. Beginning in 1981, the Radio Information Service has broadcast local newspapers, magazines and grocery ads to the blind over special receivers provided free of charge.
 
In the early 90s WCBU moved, when Bradley University joined Jobst Hall to the Jobst Hall Annex.  The “back studio”, home to all-night jazz shows, is now a hallway connecting the two parts of the building.  Master Control is now an office, but the studio window is still there.  The new home of WCBU was, and remains, virtually the entire west side of the second-floor of the Annex. The newsroom moved south by the main office, and the Development and Membership staff was moved to Jobst from Bradley Hall.
 

Lynne Cardwell and David Houghtaling in the news room
Lynne Cardwell and David Houghtaling in the news room

By the time WCBU celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1995, “the times they were a-changin’”.  Congress talked about “zeroing out” funding for public broadcasting, and WCBU responded by ramping up its membership drive goals from $25,000 in the spring of 1996 to $100,000 in the spring of 2003.

Nathan Irwin, Steve Alfred and Tom Hunt push the button to sign-on WCBUHD2, as Jerry Rickert, Joan Ruppman and Betty Beard look on.
Nathan Irwin, Steve Alfred and Tom Hunt push the button to sign-on WCBUHD2, as Jerry Rickert, Joan Ruppman and Betty Beard look on.

By 2005, the station’s program guide talked about “the challenge as we make the transition from analog FM broadcasting… to a digital, multicasting audio delivery service.” WCBU soon embraced digital or HD radio, with its ability to carry multiple channels from one transmitter.  On February 15, 2007, WCBU2 went on the air.  In 2010, programming was consolidated, and Peoria Public Radio now offers two distinct program services, News and Information on the main channel and 24 hours of classical music on HD.  With an HD radio receiver, listeners can enjoy uninterrupted music or news by switching between the two broadcast program services.  Both services are also available on the internet.