Impact 89 FM, gearing up for its spring open house, has a huge milestone on its horizon — 30 years on the air. Michigan State University’s student radio station, founded as WBDM but rebranded to WDBM due to a misprint on press materials, first debuted Feb. 24, 1989, and has been a staple on campus ever since.
“I think it just attracts a certain kind of person that’s very engaged with radio and wants to see things grow and to contribute to making Impact their own place,” said current student manager Olivia Mitchell.
Impac t ’s roots begin with the Michigan State Network, which students could tune into using their dorm room’s radio. It was the largest of its kind on an American university campus. Impact grew out of this system after receiving FCC approval in 1988 to move to FM, about a decade after it applied.
The station’s original general manager, MSU faculty member Gary Reid, came on board after the university’s initial choice canceled at the last minute.
Reid would end up holding that position for more than two decades. He oversaw many decisions that solidified Impact’s status as an alternative media presence in Michigan.
“The one thing that is kind of rewarding to me, although to be honest it makes me feel very old, is that I’m still in touch with a vast number of the students that I worked with,” Reid said.
“Two that were with me 30 years ago ended up getting married; their son is now enrolled at MSU.
To have their kid as a student really brings it full circle.”
Impact’s lifeblood? The students.
Current general manager Jeremy Whiting, the station’s third, began as a volunteer DJ in 2002, spinning songs from then brand-new groups like The White Stripes.
Whiting attributes Impact’s 15 College Radio Station of the Year awards from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters to the students.
"I look back at the difference between now and when I was a student, and the talent pool is even better,” Whiting said. “As a person coming in to lead it, I think it’s a great opportunity to always stay on the forefront of what’s current.”
When Whiting began at Impact, many innovations in radio had yet to take place, relegating him to a graveyard shift of broadcasting on weekdays from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Without the common automated playlist systems of today, somebody had to man the booth — no matter how impractical the time slot.
“You don’t have to pull out CDs anymore; you don’t have to worry about scratching them; you don’t have to worry about missing things,” he said.
Many of Impact’s important decisions that seem to have carried it gracefully through the past decade were left up to Whiting’s predecessor, Ed Glazer.
Glazer, who also began as a student volunteer working the same dead-of-night hours, rose through Impact’s ranks as a production director and student manager before graduating. He eventually came back on board to manage Impact’s website and took over in 2012 for Reid, who left to oversee WKAR.
“My first task was to rebuild and do as much recruiting as possible. We built up our staff — when I left we had about 40 or 50 paid staff and upwards of 200 volunteers,” Glazer said. “It was a year-by-year process. We completely replaced all of the analog consoles with newer digital ones.”
Glazer placed a strong emphasis on digital content, including Impact’s social media presence and allowing his students to create podcasts.
“A radio station can’t just have a radio signal anymore. You have to have a presence in the realm of social media,” Glazer said. “The students consume the media that they’re most interested in, and they should be able to practice producing the media that aligns with their interests, as well as the marketplace.”
And the marketplace has fondly welcomed many Impact students. Alum who worked for the station under Glazer have gone on to companies like Sirius XM, Roc Nation, NPR and Gimlet Media.
It’s now up to Whiting to oversee Impact’s next steps, which will likely be further punctuated by a heightened focus on digital content — podcasting in particular — and covering news and sports along with the usual diet of alternative music.
“They’ve always predicted the end of radio and TV whenever a new technology comes out. I think we’ve seen that radio has survived though it for a long time,” he said.