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Friday, 18 September 2015 10:02

Timeless tunes, community character at Burlington High School radio station

Written by  Dennis Hines
Production director and Burlington High School senior Julianna Usher works at WBSD FM on a recent school day. The high school radio station broadcasts 24 hours per day and has been going strong for more than 40 years. Classic rock and newer songs both find a home at 89.1 FM, in addition to broadcasts at some high school sports games and local events. Production director and Burlington High School senior Julianna Usher works at WBSD FM on a recent school day. The high school radio station broadcasts 24 hours per day and has been going strong for more than 40 years. Classic rock and newer songs both find a home at 89.1 FM, in addition to broadcasts at some high school sports games and local events. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- For a little more than 40 years, WBSD 89.1 FM has been providing music and entertainment to area residents who want to listen to the favorite songs they grew up with as well as some from newer artists.

Thomas Gilding, WBSD general manager, said if you walk into a Burlington-area business, most likely a radio is tuned into 89.1.

“It’s a part of the community. A lot of people in Burlington can’t imagine being without the station. They listen to it all the time,” Gilding said. “The hospital’s cancer ward has it on all night. Fred’s Burgers has it on. If you go to Cousins Subs, you can hear the station. If you go to Love Inc. or Fred’s Salvage, you will hear the station.

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“You ask them what do you think, and they will say the music is great. They like the hometown atmosphere. They like the community involvement. They like the students, and they know the students are playing artists from the ’50s and ’60s, as well.”

WBSD is owned by the Burlington Area School District and staffed by Burlington High School employees, BHS students and volunteer adults. The station has about 12 adult employees and 25 student workers.

Students can be involved with broadcasting, production or behind-the-scenes work, Gilding said. Students who want to be on the air live must take a broadcasting class, which is offered at the high school, to obtain their Federal Communications Commission license.

Students often work at the station during lunch or study hall or after school. Some students are involved with the station through the School to Work program, in which they get paid for working at the station for about 10 hours a week.

“It’s a discipline. It’s a commitment. It’s like a club,” Gilding said. “Some people want to go all the way and be a DJ and host their own show, and some people are content with just doing the charts and the labeling, just to be a part of something. ... There’s all kinds of stuff you can do.”

Some students go on to a career in broadcasting. The station awards three scholarships a year to students who plan on studying broadcasting in college, Gilding said.

Isaiah Graetz, a junior, said he’s uncertain if he wants to go into broadcasting, but he definitely has learned from the experience.

“It’s a great learning environment for everyone involved,” Graetz said. “It's a great opportunity and it looks great on a resume.”

Production Director Julianna Usher, a BHS senior, said she enjoys working at the station and interacting with other students.

“It’s like a family,” Usher said. “It’s a home away from home.”

WBSD broadcasts 24 hours a day. The station has an Adult Album Alternative format from midnight to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and midnight to 6 a.m. on Saturday.

“It’s a few classic songs and new stuff,” Gilding said. “It’s stuff that interests the older adults and new stuff for the kids.”

Retro Decade is broadcast around noontime weekdays and features songs from the 1950s on Mondays, ’60s on Tuesdays, ’70s on Wednesdays, ’80s on Thursdays and ’90s on Fridays.

“We used to just have the ’80s (for Retro Decade), but that got boring,” Gilding said. “How many times can you listen to ‘Come On Eileen’?”

The station broadcasts syndicated shows during the evenings and weekends, including “Women in Rock,” “Midnight Special,” “Phishin’ Thru the Archives,” “Into the Music,” “Cruisin’ Oldies,” “The Big Band Show,” “Acoustic Café” and “Beatles Hour.”

WBSD also broadcasts Burlington High School football, basketball and baseball games.

“I usually try to get an adult announcer and a student announcer,” Gilding said. “I want an adult announcer so it really sounds good, and I want a student announcer because they know the players and they give us a lot of color commentary, especially around homecoming. It really works out well.”

The station airs interviews with local bands and broadcasts at local events. The station also has instruments and sound equipment that are used for concerts.

“We have everything from a mandolin to a ukulele, and we have an electric bass, small amps and stand-up bass.” Gilding said. “The drum set is amazing.”

Gilding said the station has a selection of at least 43,000 CDs, most of which have been donated by band promoters. Staff members listen to each CD to determine which songs will be selected.

“We try to listen to everything. It’s really amazing. We reach out to the obscure bands, because we know we’re their lifeline,” Gilding said. “According to ‘Billboard’ magazine, 60 percent of people hear new music first on the radio, so radio is still a viable source, especially stations like us that feature new artists.

“If the station was around when the Beatles first started, we probably would’ve been the first station to play them.”

The station mostly is funded through local sponsors, including strong support from area businesses, Gilding said.

“We have a budget with the school district but not very much,” he said. “About three-quarters of our money comes from sponsors, so sponsorship is important.”

WBSD was started in 1975 by a group of students. Terry Havel, the original general manager, later was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

“A couple of students wanted to start a station that wasn’t just a hallway station, so they needed a tower and a transmitter,” Gilding said. “So, they got enough money, about $20,000, and brought an antenna.”

The station can be streamed online at wbsdfm.com.

“We have people who listen to us from all over,” Gilding said. “We have listeners in Hawaii and Alaska.”

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