MOUNT VERNON — For 25 years, WNZR–FM 90.9 has been serving the Knox County area with its blend of adult Christian contemporary music, family programming, news, weather updates and university sports coverage.
Spearheaded by then-communications professor Henry Smith, the battle for an educational, non-commercial FM license took about four years. Finally, in the spring of 1986, a 300-foot tower was constructed between Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene and the campus and a transmitter installed. Although still lacking an FM license, Smith obtained a special program test authority from the Federal Communications Commission so that the seniors who had spent four years raising money and working on broadcasting techniques could reap the fruits of their labor, and the station went on the air in May, with official licensure being granted in October.
As student Christa Earnhardt said, WNZR is not a college radio station, it is a radio station based in a college. It aims to reach out to the entire community. It’s part of a ministry with an emphasis on the family and Christian values.
The station has also provided valuable hands-on experiences for students who are an integral part of the station’s operations.
Under the direction of director of broadcasting Joe Rinehart and station manager Marcy Rinehart, students are involved in all of the decisions that are made at the station.
“They are a part of deciding our calendar,” said Marcy. “They are a part of deciding what events we do. They are a part of all the planning process and are very invested in all that we do. It is true hands-on experience throughout all operations.”
That hands-on opportunity is what the broadcasting/communications students like most about WNZR.
“The stuff that we do,” said Alex Gray, “it’s real. We don’t just broadcast from one end of campus to the other. It’s legit. It’s a real radio station. The work that we do really matters. That’s what I appreciate most about it.”
DJ Mills said he loves being on the air, and Chris Runion really likes covering sports. Stephen King said he enjoys broadcasting, and confessed that his greatest fear is sounding silly on the air.
“That speaks to how awesome Joe and Marcy are,” he said. “That we can come to a program knowing nothing and they are so cool about letting us be amateurs and still be on the air.”
As broadcast technology has advanced, WNZR has embraced it. Students no longer have to “spin records” and physically be in the studio at all times. Computers have allowed the station to broadcast 24/7, the Internet and digital technology allows complementary video production and streaming online. The station has also gone from 100 watts to 1,300 watts when television broadcasting switched to high definition. A broadcast vehicle makes live shows from remote locations possible, and social networking has allowed station personnel to connect with listeners in a way they couldn’t before.
“With all that, though, the main advantage of having computers,” Marcy said, “is that the focus of what we do on the academic side can be on the students’ performance. Once they learn how to operate the board and operate the software we can really hone their skills for broadcasting. They can really learn how to develop their personality, how to really communicate with the listener, and, in a sense, make a difference when they are on the air.”
Student Zach Roys said making a difference is one of the reasons he decided to major in broadcasting.
“I like the hands-on aspect,” he said, “but it is also a great form of ministry.”