WILL: The first 100 years

WILL at 100: A century of programming for the farming world

When WILL-AM made its first broadcast in April of 1922 (under the call letters WRM), it included a talk on dairy farming, “Turning Cream into Gold”. Rural audiences were an important audience for early radio, which was seen as a way to bridge distances at a time when good roads and comprehensive telephone service were still spotty in the countryside. 100 years later, agricultural programming remains a regular part of WILL’s schedule.

three women stand in room looking in filing cabinet

We’ve Got a Friend in You

Established in 1974, the Friends of WILL have played an integral part in securing WILL’s future over the last 48 years. The Friends organization grew out of an American Association of University Women study group on the media, who asked then-general manager Donald P. Mullally if they could start a group to raise funds for the station. 

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

WILL at 100: For two decades, Ed Kieser was WILL’s go-to guy for weather

Weather forecasts are a standard part of nearly every radio station’s programming in the U.S. But for many years, WILL went beyond forecasts from the National Weather Service, with its own staff of weather forecasters to provide in-depth forecasts and coverage of severe weather.

football players lined up from one side of field to the other ready to kick off
University of Illinois Archives

(W) I-L-L! I-N-I!

Today’s listeners might not immediately associate WILL with sports, but for a time, tuning to WILL was the only way to catch Illini football, basketball, and baseball games outside of the stands. 

man and woman sit around radio in 1930s

Supporting area farmers from the beginning

In 1930, 27% of farmers had a radio set, while only 10% had electricity. Many farmers saw its immense value not only for connecting them with the world but also for protecting their livelihoods, and WILL has provided this vital resource for area farmers since the station’s inception.

Children on the set of Olive Lives Here with Scratcho the Scarecrow

A place to learn before PBS KIDS

Known in the beginning as the “University of the Air,” WILL has always seen the importance of educational content. College lectures dominated the airwaves during the first few decades, but WILL soon realized radio’s potential for broadening the minds of children, producing the beloved radio program Stories ’n Stuff and later innovative television shows in an era before PBS.

brochure says this is the NAEB tape network

Public broadcasting’s roots in Urbana

In 1948, Illinois Professor of Communications Wilbur Schramm brought a loose-knit group of educational radio station managers, called the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB), to Urbana to discuss their mission and how to attract funding. These discussions and subsequent conferences would go on to form the philosophical cornerstone of public broadcasting as we know it today.