WORT memories – for the 50th Anniversary

This is a scratchpad post to collect “stuff” for the upcoming 50th anniversary of WORT.  Cautionary note: the newsletters and other documents behind the “click here” links are hosted here on my site.

Wishlist of documents

  • Initial Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws (ordered a copy of the Articles from WI – 7/10/24) done
  • Initial application for the FCC license (locations – WORT public-file archive, FCC archives, NFCB archives)
  • Newsletter Volume 1, Number 1 (locations – other old timers, working papers of the 25th book, WORT archives, WI Historical Society)
  • Audio of inaugural broadcast (locations – WORT audio archive)

Key Dates leading up to going on the air

WI Dept of Financial Institutions – Articles of Incorporation – click here

  • 12/13/1973 — Back Porch Radio Broadcasting, Inc. is incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation.  Articles were drafted by me, with a lot of help from Robert Jay Stein (our Washington DC based lawyer), Terry Clifford and Tom Thomas (Terry and Tom eventually became the founding staff of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters).  You can tell I drafted them because there was a typo that got corrected on the fly rather than retyping the whole bloody thing.  Filed with the state by me (incorporator).  Mark Korbell (a colleague of mine from WHA) and David Deveraux-Weber were the other two initial board members.  The registrar at the State probably also pointed out that my signature didn’t match the name on my driver’s license so i scribbled my first name on after the fact.  Precision — always a hallmark of my work.  🙂

FCC “Broadcasting License Record” — click here

This FCC microfiche records the process of applying for the license for the station.  Key dates are:

  • 4-12-74 — Application first received by the FCC — written by Terry Clifford, Tom Thomas and me, engineering by Jeremy Lansman, filed by Robert Jay Stein. 
    • HAAT (height above average terrain) – 149 feet,
    • ERP (effective radiated power) – 8.54kw
    • Antenna – Gates-FMA-3, 3 bays
    • Transmitter – RCA-BTF-3 (3kw output power)
    • Location – 101 E. Mifflin St (the top of the YWCA Building) –  43°04’34″N 89°23’09.0″W
  • 11-14-74 — Construction permit granted — this was when we came out of stealth mode and publicly announced the project to the Madison community
  • 1-17-75 — Call letters assigned — we first applied for WART, but by the time our request arrived at the FCC it had been snapped up by an “arts” station.  John Ohliger (RIP) mentions my bright (and quickly shot down) idea of WOMB in his “Early Days at Back Porch Radio” speech.
  • 5-13-75 — Application to amend the Construction permit to move the station from Capital Square to 2047 Winnebago St — again written by Tom/Terry/me, engineered by Jeremy, filed by Bob Stein — granted 8-4-75
    • HAAT (height above average terrain) – 104 feet,
    • ERP (effective radiated power) – 3.975kw
    • Antenna – Earl Fessler’s Collins 732-A, 4 bays
    • Transmitter – Earl Fessler’s Collins 37-M-8 (rated at 8kw(?, Pat Ryan, serial number?) but we only used the first, 1kw, stage) output power 1kw
    • Location – Earl Fessler’s old WMFM studios at 2047 Winnebago Street – 43°05’35.0″N 89°21’12.0″W
  • 3-9-76 — Broadcast License granted (we went on the air under the Construction Permit and ran that way for several months before the permanent license was granted)

First broadcast – December 1st, 1975 – Click here

Listen to the first moments on the air at the “WORT’s History” page.  The recording is highly edited — I’m hoping that the unedited recording is still available in the WORT archive.  Alas the original was recorded by Richard Mahler (RIP) who’s no longer with us.  Richard was focused on audio and news news production and Spanish-language programming and recorded our broadcast from his home.  Click here to read his recollection of that event in the “WORT – 25 Years of Community Radio” book.

I’m hoping the crackling in the audio was added after the fact — it sounds like an AM-static sound-effect to me — but it may be coming from our audio.  We did have our fair share of audio issues, as you’ll read in some of the newsletter articles,

I’m behind the board and announcing, Jeff Lange (RIP) can be heard as he pops the cork on the champagne, and Jerry Dahlke (RIP) is heard talking about dry docks and sinking ships – an uncanny prediction of the series of technical failures that happened later in the broadcast when I tried to cut away from the studio and various devices all failed in a row.

Power Increase

  • 1-22-79 — Application for the move from Winnebago Street, to the west-side towers, radically increasing HAAT (and thus coverage) — granted 10-9-79 — I was long gone (left in early summer 1977 to go to grad school) — Joan Rubel, Vinnie Curren and others can flesh out this story.
    • HAAT (height above average terrain) – 937feet,
    • ERP (effective radiated power) – 1.3kw
    • Antenna – Phelps-Dodge FMC-LP-2, 2 bays
    • Transmitter – ?? – no info in the FCC history cards
    • Location – 43°03’01.0″N 89°29’15.0″W

Scans of early newsletters – Spread the WORT


Volume One Number I

I’m missing this one — I hope to add it soon


Volume One Number II – click here for the whole issue

Published mid-summer 1975

I write about how these alternative institutions we’re creating provide value to da peepul who do the work.

Don Alan – writes about how decision-making was coalescing in the emerging program, news and music committees.  The consensus process that we evolved at WORT left out (at least) one thing — how to avoid the single-person veto — so we had some really exhausting meetings.

Jeff Lange (RIP) – writes about the implications of the decision to abandon our plan to house the station and transmitter on the Square and instead rent Earl Fessler’s old WMFM studio, transmitter and tower on Winnebago Street.  In hindsight, that probably saved us a year or more getting on the air.  Note:  we organized and put that station on the air in 1 year after we came out of stealth mode with a  construction permit and announced the project to the world.  Not bad!

Somebody (me?) – provides a status update on the big accomplishments since the first issue came out.  The first example of the staggeringly small amounts of money that powered the effort.  Raised $4000, spent $1,800.

Don Alan – writes about the National Alternative Radio Konvention, which, since we didn’t have enough to do getting the station on the air, I volunteered us to host.  Don’s opener captures this pretty well.  “A National Alternative Radio Konvention (NARK), so unkle Mike hasn’t been dragging us halfway to the moon by our ears with endless dribble about a “pie in the sky” radio that’s listener-sponsored, with community input and free-form programming.  No folks, skeptical as I can be, this scheme is real, crazy maybe, but NARK displayed that it does work and it’s beautiful.”

John Ohliger (RIP) and I – write about the two community-radio cultures we hearken from.  John writes a story about Pacifica and I write about the KRAB Nebula.

Gay Eder (aka Goldie) – shares the recipe for a WORT-shake and writes about our outings to salvage an old Wisconsin Public Radio transmitter.  She reminds us of my accidentally not shutting off the 440 power to the transmitter thus almost electrocuting Mark Stoelting (another WHA engineer who, along with Pat Ryan and Al Reiland, built the audio and radio infrastructure at WORT).  Other senior engineers at WHA very quietly helped us as well but chose to remain anonymous at the time and I’ll continue to honor that promise unless we can track them down.

That transmitter was our third — Jeremy Lansman had one that we specified in the application, this one was the one we were planning to use until the third one (WMFM’s Collins) came along.  This one made it’s way to Cincinnati and became the transmitter for WAIF (of Stepchild Broadcasting).

Jerry Dahlke (RIP) – writes about the two benefit concerts that happened that summer — one by Bonnie Raitt (who would later return for a repeat visit).


The layout — these early hand-drawn WORT newsletter just gun me down.  My memory is that Jeff Lange did the the heavy lifting but it seems like others must have contributed too.  Pay especial attention to detail when looking at the front-page layouts.  Astounding.

The crystal — several mentions of the new crystal that we needed to buy in order to re-tune the transmitter from the WMFM frequency to WORT’s 89.7.  That re-tuning, not just of the ancient transmitter but also the antenna, is the gating item that needed to get done before we could go on the air.  Pat Ryan bore the brunt of the pressure on that Herculean effort.  I did the tower-climbing stuff (dismounting and remounting the antenna and coax, and tuning the antenna).  The first time up the tower was terrifying — Jeff Lange (RIP) was my spotter — we sat at the bottom of the tower cried together when I got back down to earth.

The advertisements — are a wonder to behold.  Some bring back fond memories of Madison in that time (and of their owners, who were our sponsors).  Others are just a laugh riot and display wondrous creativity.


Volume One Number 3 – click here for the whole issue

Published in November 1975 — the last issue before we went on the air.  The period leading up to the December on-air date was grueling for Pat Ryan, Mark Stoelting and Al Reiland, the engineers who carried us across the finish line.

Undetermined author (me?  Jeff?  Don?)  – chronicles the “whole history of WORT” which lays out a timeline of events that mirrors my recollection.

  • WORT was a new project (and corporation) that came after several prior community-radio efforts, including David and Danielle Deveraux-Weber’s Human Radio Corporation.
  • I was set on this project by Lorenzo Milam after I told him that I was following my sweetheart Carol Patterson to Madison.  My recollection is that Lorenzo provided funding that supported the effort to apply for the FCC license but I never knew the details (and didn’t receive any funding directly).  Terry, Tom and Bob (see immediately below) might.
  • The first phase was the “stealth” effort by Terry Clifford, Tom Thomas, Jeremy Lansman, Bob Stein and me to shepherd an application through the FCC without letting anybody in Madison know about the frequency that Jeremy had found for us (for fear of drawing a Petition to Deny like the ones that had stalled similar efforts in Minneapolis and Chicago).
  • The second phase was the very-public year-long effort to organize and build the station that quickly added the core volunteers who you’re reading (or reading about) in these newsletters.

Jeff Lange (RIP) — writes about the “curious fack” that nobody can quite explain how decisions get made at the station.  A lovely piece that reminds me so strongly of Jeff every time I read it.  I really miss that guy.  I think David Chandler had it right when he wrote in WORT – Madison: 25 Years of Community Radio   “To this day I believe Jeff was the indispensable person at WORT.  He could do almost anything and he did — wiring, carpentry, paste-up, painting, carpet-laying, writing, artwork, ‘requisitioning.’  He launched ideas and provided inspiration of all kinds, and eventually carried a ten-ton load of recruitment, training and production work.  Despite his deeply guarded personality, Jeff was a leader because he was a doer.”

Unknown — writes about the horrific radio interference that overwhelmed WORT’s immediate neighbors.  Living right next to a broadcast station is miserable because of that interference – which is allowed (and protected) by the FCC.  We did what we could to help, but…

Progammers! — write program listings!  For their programs!

Unknown authors — write program listings!  For tapes from Bill Thomas and Betsy Rubinstein’s NFCB Tape Exchange (see below).

John Ohliger (RIP) — writes about his hopes, dreams and fears about what WORT might become.  I think the 50th would have seen him smiling broadly were he still with us.

David Chandler — writes about the number and variety of formats of shows that will appear on WORT — comparing it to the (then dying) “Progressive” radio format.

Jeff Lange (RIP) and unknown others — lay out the first edition of the Program Schedule — a masterpiece of hand drawn and hand lettered design that occupied the centerfold of the newsletter.  A stupendous undertaking.  Capturing the pioneering programmers who all worked hard at non-programming tasks too — as that was kinda the expected thing, doncha know.

Don Alan — reports on the “constitutional convention” meeting of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters in Columbia, MO (hosted by Pat Watkins, Steve “Checker” Dreher and the other volunteers at KOPN) that followed up the NARK meeting.

John Ohliger (RIP) — writes an invitation for folks to create radio dramas at WORT.


This was the last of the three “pre-air” newsletters.  There were a lot of people who had worked really hard to get us to that place.  You’ll have seen articles by some of those folks, but check out the centerfold Program Guide for lots more.  And there were even more than that.  For example, the people who did the engineering (Pat Ryan, Al Rieland, Mark Stoelting and many others) don’t appear in these pages for the most part.

I love this issue because it captures the Whole Thing — the excitement of an oncoming launch, the exhausted satisfaction from many big accomplishments and jobs well done, the hopes for the future.  Pretty darn nifty.


Volume Two (1976) – January – click here for the whole issue

Jerry Zeiger — writes about the effort he led to build up a record library for WORT.  A daily event was the hoped for arrival of new records — some days none, some days a couple and on Good Days five or more.  All had to be cataloged, ID’d with colored tape on the end and shelved.  I think Jeff Lange built the shelves, which looked pretty empty at the beginning.

John Ohliger — writes about Media Interbang, a weekly commentary about bias in local TV news coverage.  I only just now learned what an “interbang” is.

… and more…  stay tuned.