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A few years ago, perhaps 2018, give a take a year, I was sitting in the reception area at WFHB waiting for my Big Talk guest to show up for recording that day when the station’s music director, Jim Manion, strolled in. He carefully noted that we were alone and proceeded to confide a secret. He was thinking of retiring, he told me. No one was to know.
To that end, Manion added, he wondered if I’d consider interviewing him on Big Talk when the time came and after he’d made his announcement. Well sure, I replied. Heck, Manion’s one of founding members of the WFHB family. He was in at the very beginning, ab ovo as it were, when a crew of young dreamers came up with the bright idea to start a community radio station here in Bloomington, Indiana.
People like Brian Kearney and Jeffrey Morris and others were excited to start an FM station that’d add the the tiny but growing list of other such radio outlets, supported by listeners, without commercials, and playing something more — a whole hell of a lot more — than the two-minute, 30-second bubble gum pop hits the Top 40 stations had been airing throughout the 1950s and ’60s. “There was a real creative renaissance going on at the time,” Manion has been quoted as saying regarding the FM radio revolution of the late 1960s and early ’70s. That crew formed a nonprofit organization in the mid-’70s and started the byzantine application process for an FCC license. It’d take them nearly 20 years to get approved and go on the air.
When WFHB went on the air in December 1992 for a test run and in January 1993 for real, the station’s headquarters and studio were crammed into a tiny cinderblock shack underneath the WFHB broadcast tower off Rockport Road southwest of the city proper. It’d be another year before the station found a proper home in the city’s old firehouse behind what is now known as the Waldron Center. Ergo our corporate moniker, Firehouse Broadcasting.
I could have rubbed my hands together in greedy glee at the thought of steering Manion through the history of WFHB as well as his own colorful life. Manion reminded me the day was years off before he retreated into his grotto-like office. I never forgot about his proposal but, as the years passed, the idea became more and more just that — an idea, a wisp, a dream. Retirement, for me and my contemporaries, remained a distance prospect, something we knew was to come, but, like kids, we could still pretend it was in the far future.
At our age, Manion’s and mine, the years pass as months or even weeks did when we were in our teens and twenties. Next thing I knew, earlier this spring, an email came from Manion telling me the day was at last approaching. He would retire at the end of May 2021.
It was time to set up that Big Talk he’d suggested, his valedictory.
And so we aired Part 1 of the life and times of Jim Manion and of the radio station, WFHB, a week ago, Thursday, May 20th. Today, we aired Part 2. As with all my recordings, I carefully snipped out all the ums and ahs and ers, all the coughs and belches and lip smackings, all the “Oops, did I say that? I meant to say….” misspeaks and recants. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced I ought to put up the raw audio of Jim’s and my conversation. It took place, via Zoom, on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, starting at 12:30pm. Jim had to squeeze the interview in between a scheduled meeting he’d had with station general manager Jar Turner and a doctor’s appointment. I was afraid we’d be rushed but, no, Jim was voluble and expansive. We went on and on and, of course, I was able to turn the interview into a two-parter.
So, give a listen to the unedited chat. If you love WFHB, if you love Bloomington, if you love Jim Manion, you’ll love it.