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WRFW to celebrate 40 years on the air

November 13, 2008

The UW-River Falls radio station WRFW is planning an anniversary banquet Saturday, Nov. 22 to celebrate its 40 historic years of broadcasting. The event will take place in the Riverview Ballroom of the University Center.

The banquet is primarily being held for UWRF alumni who contributed to the station, Journalism Professor Sandy Ellis said. Faculty and students with current involvement or interest in WRFW can also attend.

WRFW Chief Engineer Al Murray, who helped found the station in 1968, had much to tell about its history.

Murray said he had been interested in broadcasting since the late 1950s. He first went to UW-Madison, but later transferred to UWRF and soon wanted to start a HAM radio station here. He attempted this in a small room next door to a math professor, but it did not last long.

Then Murray met Lorin Robinson, who worked in the journalism department at the time. They put their heads together and started planning for a more advanced radio station around 1966. According to Murray, they did not know just how much work it would involve.

“I probably shouldn’t say this,” Murray said. “But if we knew what we were getting into, this radio station probably would have never happened.”

Robinson went to E.H. Kleinpell, the college chancellor at the time, and managed to secure a $7,500 grant to establish WRFW. Around 1966, he and Murray formed the original station in a series of storage spaces in the basement of North Hall. Also contributing was Mike Norman, a student who went on to become chair of the journalism department and retired in 2003, after 30 years with the University.

Murray’s work on the station was interrupted when he was drafted to the Navy during the Vietnam War. He served as a radioman on a repair ship, the U.S.S. Tidewater, where he gathered much of his experience. Murray was taken off active duty when the Tidewater was decommissioned in 1971. He returned to UWRF as the chief engineer for WRFW, a position he has held ever since.

In the mid-70s, the station was given better technology and relocated to the third floor of North Hall. Murray said the station’s technology is better and more reliable now, but that good preparation and lots of backup equipment have also helped to keep WRFW going strong.

“It was a real adventure in radio. What you see up there today is a result of good planning,” Murray said. “We’re one of the few [colleges] that preserves a lot of our broadcast time for the students.”

WRFW General Manager Rick Burgsteiner, who has taught journalism at UWRF for 10 years, expressed similar feelings.

“Working at WRFW is great. To me, what’s fantastic about it is that it’s a student-run organization,” Burgsteiner said. “They learn by experience.”

Music Director Jerry Clark said holding a student director’s position at WRFW is fun, but not without its difficulties.

“It’s been really nice. All the people who work here—I really enjoy working with them,” Clark said. “It’s a little frustrating because we’re really understaffed. We have enough DJs, but the directors get a little overwhelmed.”

WRFW News Director Adam Vircks also said he enjoyed his job.

“There’s always something new happening. A new obstacle, a new challenge.” Vircks said. “But when you’re able to overcome them, it’s a feeling unlike any other. It’s a rush.”