July 31, 2015

The History of WOAS-FM 88.5


The first official broadcast of the WOAS radio station started at 8:00 AM on Friday, December 15, 1978. The station was managed by the Ontonagon Area High School librarian, Thomas Graham Lee. At the time, the station featured two reel-to-reel players and a vinyl record turntables as well as wiring for remote broadcasting in the cafeteria and gymnasium of the high school building. It would be difficult to compile a list of names for those who helped build the station, but Electronics Teacher Larry Matioli and Engineer Jim Bradley would need to be mentioned for the problem solving and station development work they did.  Our superintendent at the time, the late Louis Gregory, was also very supportive of the concept from the start.

Margaret Muskatt succeeded Thomas Lee as manager in 1985 and, in the years that followed, the station operation began to suffer due to under-funding and aging equipment (which was donated to begin with);  ultimately this lead to a lull in staff morale and decreased participation by OASD students.   In 1987, the Community Schools program took over daily operations under the leadership of Community School Director Mike Bennett.  What followed was a decade of growth fueled by an increase in operating income for the station.  Manager Mike ‘Zenith’ Bennett should be given a lot of credit for thinking outside of the box and expanding the WOAS programming and vision during this period of the station’s history.

As the 1990s progressed, the profile of WOAS again bottomed out as the Community Schools budget took massive hits and their involvement in the radio station eventually ended.  The Ontonagon Area School District continued to be the station’s owner and operations continued with a skeleton crew of volunteers when the Community Schools program ceased to exist in 1994.   In 1995, Bennett became the OASD elementary school principal and eventually left the area for other employment opportunities.   Bennett’s departure  left the station without an acting manager.   In 1997, the station hit its’ nadir when our FCC license  was about to expire  and the Ontonagon Area School District board was either unaware of the situation or had decided to let the station fold.

It was in this same year (1997) that science teachers Ken Raisanen and Chuck Zelinski made a pitch to  OASD  superintendent John Peterson to take over station operations and begin renovating not just the program, but the entire studio.  They renewed the broadcasting license and began refurbishing the station’s infrastructure and equipment.  With generous grants from the Ontonagon Area School District (OASD), the Upper Peninsula Power Company  (UPPCO), community members and volunteers, the station underwent a major remodeling and equipment replacement campaign. The station rehab took two years to complete and periodic equipment replacement is an on-going process..

Ken Raisanen officially assumed the Station Manager position in 1997 and he continues as the Station Manager today (August 2015).  The most vexing problem we have dealt with since the turn of the century has been establishing a stable web presence.  The foundation for our web and video streaming was done by former OASD student Mark Szaroletta who built our earliest servers (Kang and Kodos) from spare parts.  Doug Mechlin took us to the next level and Ted Belej took us even further.  Ted put ISD employee Stephen Radachy on the case and the web presence we now enjoy are largely due to his efforts.

As a rule, I don’t list names of people when saying thank you for fear of missing someone.  The few listed here are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the people who have been involved with WOAS-FM since Tom Lee first dreamed up the idea.  We owe every one of these folks a large ‘thank you’ for all your efforts.  Please join us as we carry WOAS-FM forward to its’ 40th birthday.

Ken Raisanen, Manager    August 2015

Summer updates – we are usually on summer hiatus but this year we were on the air for the All School Reunion July 24 – 26.  It was a great pleasure to see former WOAS DJ Tommy BoDean and his lovely wife Melissa when they stopped by to tour the studio – you will be hearing more about Tommy’s radio career in a future From The Vaults.  As I will be visiting the new Western Bureau digs in Eugene, OR the week prior to the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival, the pre-PMMF broadcast will be shortened to a couple of days, depending how jet-lagged I am coming back on the red-eye through Chicago the Tuesday before the festival.  Either way, we will begin the usual broadcast year run up with on air testing of equipment taking place from PMMF to the official start of the broadcast year on September 8, 2015.   The Rusty Wright Band concert held at the Ontonagon Theater on July 26th was great – looking forward to more musical adventures at PMMF #11 – see you there – stop up at the Singing Hills stage and say ‘hey’ – I will be MCing Fri and Sat – I will be the guy wearing the WOAS-FM cap!  ker