As the broadcast arm of Northern Illinois University, the mission of Northern Public Radio is to enrich, inspire and inform adults in northern Illinois through programs and services that share ideas, encourage thought, give pleasure and create community. We work every day to meet your need for in-depth news, information, and entertainment. Find out more about who we are today and what we're doing to preserve and build upon the important work of public broadcasting: read the 2016 Annual Report.
Northern Public Radio's history began in 1954, when WNIU signed on the air at 10 watts. Broadcasting only a few hours each day, programming included announcements of campus events, lectures and music.
In 1964, transmitting power was increased to 2,500 watts, allowing WNIU to serve DeKalb, Sycamore, and most of the rest of DeKalb County. Programming evolved as well, to focus more on music and local news and less on campus information.
In November 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law setting up public broadcasting in the U.S. and establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB’s mission is to ensure universal access to non-commercial, high-quality content and telecommunications services. It does so by distributing more than 70% of its funding to nearly 1,500 locally owned public radio and television stations. WNIJ and WNIU maintain required CPB and FCC documentation to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations of each agency.
In 1971 WNIU became a charter member of National Public Radio, and a tradition of bringing the best in national and international news to northern Illinois began. NPR's first major program was All Things Considered, and the network made an early name for itself by providing live coverage of the Watergate hearings.
1974 brought a significant increase in service, as the station received authority to raise its power to 50,000 watts. Classical music and jazz were programming staples, along with NPR's All Things Considered. The power increase also brought WNIU's unique programming to listeners in Rockford for the first time, although reception was spotty at best.
A second service was added in 1979, as the Northern Illinois Radio Information Service (NIRIS) signed on the air. NIRIS provides the reading of daily newspapers, magazines, books and other materials for people with print impairments. NIRIS is staffed primarily by volunteers who give their time and efforts to providing this important service.
In 1988, WNIU moved its transmitting tower to a site near Lindenwood, Illinois. This move provided significantly better reception to listeners in the Rockford area, and immediately provided an opportunity for more people to hear public radio's unique programming.
Other changes were in process at the time, and they came to fruition in 1991. WNIJ signed on the air that year, and the programming previously provided by WNIU was split into two distinct services. WNIU became an all-classical music station, and WNIJ provided news, jazz and entertainment.
That same year, two new facilities were opened. The NIU Broadcast Center, 801 North First Street in DeKalb, is a 17,000 square foot facility housing WNIJ and WNIU. It provided expanded studio space, reception areas, and offices. Riverfront Museum Park, 711 North Main Street in Rockford, now houses much of the NIRIS operation along with auxiliary studio and office space.
In 1997 a significant commitment was made to news and information, as WNIJ became a news-talk station. Jazz was still played each evening. In addition, the stations "swapped frequencies," with WNIU moving to 90.5 and WNIJ to 89.5. This allowed more people to hear the NPR news programming that is the heart of Northern Public Radio's service.
In 1995, Northern Public Radio received a grant from the US Department of Commerce to build "repeater" stations in LaSalle, Sterling, and Freeport. These stations were placed in these particular communities because they were previously unserved by public radio. While some listeners were able to hear WNIU, WNIJ, or stations in other locations, most were not.
Northern Public Radio officially became a "network" in 1998, when WNIW in LaSalle (91.3-FM) and WNIQ in Sterling (91.5-FM) signed on the air. They were followed by WNIE in Freeport (89.1-FM) in 1999, bringing the Northern Public Radio network to five stations. Classical WNIU also broadcasts to the immediate Rockford area on "translator" frequency 105.7-FM.
Northern Public Radio will continue to look for opportunities to provide true public service to listeners in our broadcast area. Thanks for listening!