Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Happy 50th, Bruce Douglas!

Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: Happy 50th, Bruce Douglas!

The history of WILL Radio

Ninety-two years ago Sunday, WILL-AM Radio — then known as WRM —first signed on, broadcasting from the University of Illinois’ Electrical Engineering Laboratory.

Just 18 months before, the first American radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, had signed on the air. Using a 400-watt transmitter, WRM (which stood for “We Reach Millions”) possessed the only two vacuum tubes on campus. The tubes were so fragile, it was said “they had to be cooled by blasts of an electric fan to avert disaster.”

In 1926, the station moved to a site now occupied by the Beckman Center, complete with a 1,000-watt transmitter and tower. Two years later, the call letters were changed to WILL. In 1929, Frank Schooley became the station’s first full-time employee, eventually becoming its director of broadcasting. It wasn’t until 1946 that WILL began broadcasting Illini athletic events, just in time for Illinois’ Big Ten football championship and its first appearance in the Rose Bowl.

The original WILL radio booth still stands at the top row of Huff Hall, where Schooley, Jim Turpin and others used to broadcast Illini games. In 1954, WIUC changed its call letters to WILL-FM and moved to its present frequency, 90.9. A year later, WILL-TV began broadcasting from improvised studios under the stands of Memorial Stadium. Seven years afterward, it went on the air from Main and Goodwin streets in Urbana. More than 77 years after WILL first went on the air, thanks to a $5 million donation from Robert and Alice Campbell, the University of Illinois dedicated Campbell Hall, Richmond Studio and Swanson Center on Sept. 24, 1999.

Illini birthdays
Sunday: Nick Zambole, golf (55)
Monday: Courtney Abrahamovich, volleyball (22)
Tuesday: Darius Paul, basketball (20)
Wednesday: Bruce Douglas, basketball (50)
Thursday: Paul and Phil Judson, basketball (80)
Friday: Fritz Harms, football (68)
Saturday: Dave Scholz, basketball (66)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore

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