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Former WKAR Employee Recounts Launch Of NPR's All Things Considered 50 Years Ago

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Via Zoom, Dan Wardlow looks back on the first All Things Considered broadcast May 3, 1971. He was in the control room in the WKAR studios.

The first broadcast of NPR’s All Things Considered was 50 years ago Monday. WKAR was a flagship station for the fledgling network.

WKAR's Scott Pohl talks with Dan Wardlow, who was a WKAR student board operator at the time.

SCOTT POHL: What do you recall about why WKAR decided to get involved with launching NPR?

DAN WARDLOW: WKAR was a big, in terms of staff and budget, public radio station, and WKAR produced a lot of original programming and distributed it on its own tape network at the time and at the same time was buying a lot of programming or getting a lot of shared programming on tape. So, it was sort of a natural development for a station that had 30 or 40 full time staff members, as well as a large part time staff, to want to take that step and be a founding member station for NPR, which WKAR was. I think there were 80 founding member stations and WKAR was one.

POHL: You were at the station when that first All Things Considered broadcast hit the air, weren't you?

WARDLOW: I was, I was. A little bit of background on that: National Public Radio was distributed, in Michigan anyway, on low quality monaural telephone line. So it was the best that Michigan Bell could provide as I think they call it a full period service line or something like that. It was a dedicated connection.

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Student production assistants Dan Wardlow and Dick Rosemont in an undated photo from the 1970s.

Two weeks before All Things Considered launched, NPR had broadcast some live congressional hearings, and if I remember it right, they were on the Vietnam War. The technical quality as it arrived at WKAR was terrible. It was really, really awful. It sounded like a really bad telephone connection. So, after that experience, there was a real engineering push to figure out the problems and try to improve the audio fidelity, because if we were going to be running 90 minutes, we had to have better quality. I was involved in in troubleshooting some of that, along with the engineer John Hawkins, in the lead up to that. So, I was present in the control room when All Things Considered began, when it first went on the air on WKAR.

POHL: What was the atmosphere like in the room?

WARDLOW: People were really tense, really nervous. Is this going to work? In fact, our clocks were two seconds ahead of NPR time, so when Steve Jensen, who was the local news anchor said, live from Washington, All Things Considered from National Public Radio, there was a two second pause, which, if you know radio, is a hugely pregnant pause. Everybody looked at each other. And then, Robert Conley said from National Public Radio in Washington, this is All Things Considered, and we smiled and took a big sigh of relief, and listened to the program. It was an amazing program, so different from any radio I'd heard before.

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