Sound bites from a rock ’n’ roll radio reunion

Sunday, May 2, 2004
WPGU News veterans
Lynne Stiefel, Jerry Role, Allan Loudell, Jack Schmerer
[Reposting a draft of a piece published in—but no longer available on the website of—the University of Illinois Alumni News, back in 2004. Note: Much of the info herein is dated as of 2019.]

The reunion plan was hatched on a WPGU alumni e-mail list in November, when alum Dane Placko, now a reporter for Chicago’s WFLD-TV Ch. 32, suggested, tongue-in-cheek: “Let all the alums come back some weekend and run the station for 24 hours. Call the FCC in advance and get a waiver for any on-air violations. No post-1986 music allowed.”

With viral speed only the Internet can render, the idea quickly won support from other alums and officials of Illini Media Company, parent of WPGU and the Daily Illini.

The WPGU reunion lured Chicago radio news veteran Charlie Meyerson back to campus for the first time since 1987, his soon-to-be-college-age son in tow. Here’s his account:

FRIDAY, APRIL 2. First stop: Allen Hall, my original home at the U. of I. Construction all around, including a new student athletic center going up across from the dorm, give the neighborhood an unfamiliar feel. But Ground South still bears that old musty bouquet. And some things never change: I place my hand on a doorknob and realize someone has slimed it with petroleum jelly.

As my son and a friend take the official tour for prospective students, I drive to WPGU’s new Green Street studios to prepare for production of our two-hour ’70s segment of the on-air reunion, lining up a sampling of rock that once we billed as “progressive,” but that now get filed in the “classic” bins.

The station’s array of networked-computer/touchscreen-controlled/hard-drive-storage audio equipment makes the turntable/reel/cassette technology we used seem as dated as chisels and rocks. But the station’s present staff has resurrected that ancient technology to help us revisit the ghosts of radio formats past.

FRIDAY NIGHT. A too-long debate over where gathering alumni should eat suggests a shortage of family-friendly eateries in Campustown. And I’m sad to learn that the old Co-Ed theater hasn’t been replaced by some other commercial movie venue in Campustown. (Note to Campus Visitor’s Center: No student tour is complete without giving kids a list of entertainment opportunities for the evening.)

SATURDAY. Unable to sleep (I haven’t, after all, played DJ for 27 years), I get up early and begin final polishing of the playlist and the guest lineup. (As the reunion date has approached and word has spread, more and more ’70s-era alums have surfaced. Some, having learned of the reunion while touring the campus with their teenagers — imagine that! — appear just before showtime.)

We hope to get as many voices and as much music as possible on the air during “That ’70s Segment.” And, of course, we run out of time before we can do all we’d hoped. But, thanks to the packrat mentality that seems to afflict so many ’PGU alums, we manage to expose today’s listeners to rarities like old National Lampoon Radio Hour comedy bits (John Belushi, among other), and the late Harry Chapin performing on campus (“I am the morning DJ on WPGU-U-U-U”).

And the highlight of the 1970s rock ’n’ rollback may be the first new episode in more than a quarter century of WPGU’s radio comedy, “Flush Bizbo, College Freshman,” produced on extremely short notice by Flush creator Stew Oleson and fellow alumnus John Axness, with John’s son Ian as Vice President Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia).

LATE SATURDAY AFTERNOON. Even a miserable traffic jam on Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway at the end of the ride home can’t dim the glow of a great reunion and fond memories of a time and place that shaped my career and my life.

How did it all sound? I have no clue. I was too busy running from studio to studio, mapping strategy, directing traffic, renewing great old friendships and making cross-generational new ones.

Which is why I’m looking forward to hearing the whole day*, recorded to disc, now for sale as a fundraiser to pay for a memorial marker at WPGU’s former digs in the basement of Weston Hall and for IMC’s new multimedia headquarters in Campustown, where future generations of WPGU staffers can experience the roles that will shape their lives.

Charlie Meyerson (, WPGU reporter and DJ from 1973 to 1977, went on to work at WXRT-FM 93 and WNUA-FM 95.5 in Chicago. As columnist and senior producer at the Chicago Tribune Online Edition  (, he also contributes reports daily to Chicago’s WGN-AM 720.

Hear the WPGU Rock ’n’ Roll Reunion audio collection here.

Join the WPGU alumni e-mail list by writing to


* Hear the 1970s segment, newly uploaded to the Internet Archive here in 2021.

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