History of WICN
WICN Public Radio, Inc. has been a vibrant presence in the cultural life of Central Massachusetts for 55 years and counting! The Worcester Inter-Collegiate Network, Inc. was created in April 1968 as a nonprofit Massachusetts corporation to manage the construction and operation of the yet-to-be-built college radio station WICN.
The station’s original home, comprising a studio, transmitter, and transmitting antenna was at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In a joint partnership with The College of the Holy Cross, a studio was also located at that campus. Programming was shared on an equal-time basis between the two campuses beginning in 1969.
We have a rich heritage of locally-produced shows over the years that have included blues, classical, folk, bluegrass, jazz, rock, new age, cultural music, public affairs, and community-focused shows.
Since the late ’90s, WICN’s core programming has focused primarily on jazz, a true American art form. We take the responsibility of being the last jazz radio station in New England very seriously.
Here are just a few of the highlights from WICN’s first 50+ years. How many of these do you remember?
1970: WICN broadcasts its first classical show, Montage.
1973: WICN moved its WPI and Holy Cross studios to a single unified studio on Grove Street as the station moved to a listener-based financial support structure. That location today is the site of apartments for WPI students and the growing collegiate population in Worcester, which now welcomes over 36,000 students into the city each year.
1977: WICN publishes its first program guide, The Gamut.
1980: WICN formalizes its NPR affiliation.
1982: WICN broadcasts the first Brown Bag Concert from Mechanics Hall, a partnership that continues to this day. These free lunchtime concerts have become a community staple and have featured a variety of renowned artists over the years while entertaining hundreds at each concert (and thousands more listening to the simulcast!).
1982: WICN wins a national award for the Best Classical Recording of the Year, and Spin Magazine awards WICN the Best Musical Selection of the Year.
1984: WICN begins a collaboration with Music Worcester to present the Mass. Jazz Festival
1986: Spin Magazine names WICN Best Rock Station in the Country.
1987: WICN moves its studios to 6 Chatham Street and receives national accreditation by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This location was an old YMCA facility and WICN utilized the old swimming pool for LP record storage!
1987: WICN begins a partnership with Audio Journal, serving as a subcarrier to broadcast Audio Journal’s programs for visually impaired people.
1991: WICN presents Jazz at Sunset in collaboration with the New England Science Center (now known as The Ecotarium). This partnership continued for 20 years.
1997: WICN begins broadcasting 24 hours a day.
1999: WICN becomes “New England’s Jazz & Folk Station,” with core programming focused on jazz and folk music.
2000: WICN begins broadcasting to the world via webcasting, and NPR names WICN its “Jazz Station of the Month.”
2003: WICN is rated as one of the top webcasting radio stations in the world according to Warp Radio, WICN’s web host at the time.
2004: WICN moves into its current home at 50 Portland Street in the historic Davis Printers Building. This space allowed WICN to begin live broadcasts from our performance studio, Studio 50.
2006: WICN is ranked the #4 jazz station in the country by jazz programmers nationwide.
2007: WICN partners with The Hanover Theatre to bring top jazz performers to Worcester, including the Glenn Miller and Count Basie Orchestras and Dave Brubeck, among others.
2009: WICN moves its tower from Boylston to Paxton, increasing the range of our broadcast area.
2011: WICN launches a new website; live streaming is in full force.
2012: WICN begins the Instrumental Partners program with the Worcester Public Schools; this program continues today and has put more than a thousand musical instruments into the hands of Worcester Public Schools students.
2014: WICN wins “Most Supportive of Local Music” award for the second year in a row.
2015: WICN collaborates with WPI to expand our smartphone app to include iOS and Android devices.
2016: WICN, in partnership with The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts and the Theatre District Alliance, brings back the Jazz at Sunset Concert Series after a long hiatus, this time in the heart of the Theatre District with a sold-out outdoor performance by the world-renowned Grace Kelly.
2017: WICN launches an educational platform, “Jazz 101,” a series of 8-week courses, all taught by Professor Ben Young, a staff lecturer at Jazz at Lincoln Center as well as host of WICN’s Artistry of Jazz, airing Thursday nights at 10 pm.
2018: WICN creates a state-of-the-art recording studio and helps several local artists to make their first professional recording. Latin Jazz Now with host Jim Benitez becomes a bilingual broadcast.
2019: WICN’s Colors of Jazz host, Bonnie Johnson, is recognized in Radio Ink Magazine’s “Future African-American Leaders in Radio.” WICN launches its first Youth in Harmony recording class for local public high school students.
2020: WICN brings back its Annual Vinyl Record Sale fundraiser more than a decade after its debut, and Worcester Music Awards recognizes Nick Noble (Folk Revival host) as the Best Radio DJ. (This was the second consecutive year a WICN host won the award, as Rick McCarthy was honored in 2019). Also, WICN creates an ongoing Girls in Radio program with The Girl Scouts of Central & Western MA.
2021: WICN launches the weekly public affairs show Culture Beat, hosted by WICN GM David Ginsburg and Nikki Erskine of the Worcester Cultural Coalition, to amplify the vibrant arts and cultural scene in the greater Worcester area.
2022: WICN launches the Brian Barlow Concert Series and Emerging Artist Series, dedicated to the memory of our late General Manager and Host and his legacy of supporting emerging talent and live music. Cassandre McKinley headlined the inaugural performance at the JMAC BrickBox Theatre, while emerging artists from across the Jazz+ landscape are featured throughout the Friday edition of The Blend with Steve Miller. WICN also co-created and began airing Infused Influence, hosted by Ulysses Youngblood and Ravon Williams of Major Bloom. This is one of the first, if not the first, public affairs programs focused on the realities of the cannabis industry, on public radio in the country. Additional new programs include World Rhythms and Mediterranean Music, both of which highlight global music in the jazz world and beyond. Mediterranean Music is offered in a bilingual format, in Arabic and English, focused on music from North Africa and The Middle East, serving a large community in Central Massachusetts.
2023: WICN’s latest programming innovation is Crocodile River Radio: Heart of Africa, airing Saturday nights at 9 pm and hosted by renowned musical collective Crocodile River Music. With a large African population in Central Massachusetts, this show enables WICN to serve another segment of our community lacking representation on the FM dial.
At its core, WICN is about people. On-air hosts—most of whom are volunteers– that truly love the music they play and know how to present it knowledgeably; musicians that showcase their talents on the air and in local concert halls; volunteers who devote their time and energy; members of the business community who generously donate their resources; institutions and non-profit organizations that partner with us; and especially the listeners who support us with their generous financial contributions.
WICN is focused on the future while building on our 50+ year history. The radio industry is rapidly evolving in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Thanks to mobile apps and web streaming, WICN can be heard around the world: in homes, businesses, and on-the-go. And this gives WICN the ability to further our mission far beyond the boundary of our FM broadcast signal with music, public affairs, and community partnerships that educate, entertain and inspire listeners all over the globe—with special emphasis on Worcester and Central Massachusetts.