Category Archives: Waldron Center

A New Baby, Not Yet Named

I had reps from the Cardinal Stage Company, the Bloomington Playwrights Project, and the Pigasus Institute on my Zoom screen Monday afternoon, talking about their at-the-time not-yet-announced merger, scheduled to take place on July 1st. One of my spies from inside one of those organizations tipped me off to the upcoming union and when I inquired about it, all parties were more than happy to sit for a Big Talk recording as long as I promised not to divulge the news before their own press release d-day of March 2nd at 1:00pm. That was today.

Those organizations have now revealed to the world that they’re becoming that organization and that they’re taking over the Waldron Center. It’ll be the new organization’s headquarters and, it is hoped, the old hulk of Bloomington’s former city hall and fire station will be reinvigorated as a destination for arts lovers. The Waldron has been a theater, gallery, exhibition, and classroom space, on and off, for quite a few years now. Of late it’s been off because Ivy Tech gave the place back to the city early last year. The local branch of the state’s community college system had been running the Waldron until — and, man, it sure gets tiring writing this — that goddamned pandemic put the kibosh on public gatherings. The Waldron no longer was pulling its own weight in terms of space rental fees, ticket and class revenues, art sales, etc. and so it because a millstone around Ivy’s neck. The city wasn’t thrilled to have it as a millstone either and then, lo and behold, along came the three aforementioned arts orgs who figured the more-than-century-old structure would suit their new, merged entity just fine. That is, as long as somebody coughed up a million bucks to put the edifice right.

The Waldron Center

Built in 1915, the Waldron has experienced any number of renovations and rehabs, usually grudgingly agreed to only after folks started worrying that somebody’d get kill’t sooner rather than later. By 2022, the old hulk was in need of yet another nip/tuck. And an extensive one at that.

The city unbelted a half million, which is as good a start as any, and a fellow named John Armstrong, the founder of Pigasus Films and the for-now exec director of the Pigasus Institute, who’s going to be the new organization’s chief fundraiser, had to find the other half mill. He put the touch on Carl Cook, scion of the Cook Group founder Bill Cook. Old man Bill was the richest bird in Indiana when he died eleven years ago. There was enough lettuce left in his estate to keep his entire family and their successive generations fat and happy until well into some future century, so long as we humans don’t burn ourselves up from global warming or nuclear fireworks. Sonny boy Carl just might have found a half mill by rooting around for change under his living room sofa cushions.

Anyway, I produced a nifty feature for WFHB‘s Daily Local News today about the merger and the acquisition of the Waldron. And, BTW, the Waldron deal isn’t technically complete yet although no one seems to think the final handshake will be delayed much longer than a few weeks. So, just in case you missed today’s DLN, I’m posting that feature for your pleasure. Click on the media bar up top.

Oh, and make sure you tune in to ‘FHB tomorrow, Thursday, March 3rd, at 5:30pm for Big Talk. You’ll hear the entire interview I had with the Cardinal’s Kate Galvin, the BPP’s Chad Rabinovitz, and Armstrong. Galvin will serve as the new entity’s co-artistic director with Rabinovitz. The Cardinal’s Gabe Gloden will be its new managing director. Armstrong, as I’ve already mentioned, will be the hat-in-hand guy.

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If you miss the broadcast tomorrow afternoon you can always listen online as all Big Talk editions are archived on the ‘FHB website. Go to, pull down the Programs menu, and select Big Talk.

One more thing: the new organization’s name is a closely held secret right now. Galvin and Gang will reveal the new name at a big fundraiser, the Big Bang, to be held Saturday, April 23, 2022 at One World at the Woolery Mill. Tickets for the bash will soon be available on the Cardinal’s website.

Jim Manion, Raw

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.

That’s Manion, 3rd from the right, with (gasp) dark hair, in WFHB’s early days.

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.

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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.

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