Happy 60th Birthday To WGUC!

Sep 21, 2020

Roll over Beethoven, and tell Pagliacci the news!

WGUC-FM (90.9), Cincinnati's classical music and opera station, turns 60 at 4 p.m. today. 

The station will repeat its inaugural broadcast at that hour, a 20-second clip of the University of Cincinnati chimes followed by then-chief announcer George Brengel proclaiming, "This is WGUC in Cincinnati!'

Paul Laumann hosted the morning 'Kitchen Koncert' for decades.
Credit WGUC file

For 60 years, WGUC has played the best oldies from centuries past. The station was established by UC in 1960 after a three-year effort by classical music enthusiasts Dan Ransohoff, Bruce Petrie and Addison Lanier. They were members of the Queen City Association, which had received more than 1,500 letters and postcards from people "decrying the lack of classical music and fine arts broadcasting in Cincinnati," according to Petrie's WGUC history on the station's website.

The trio explored importing WOSU's classic format to a repeater station here before UC President Walter Langsam was persuaded to launch the station on campus 4-11 p.m. weekdays and 12:30-7:30 p.m. on Sundays.

From the start, WGUC had a professional staff to play the best of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Schubert and Strauss.

Music host Gary Barton.
Credit WGUC file

However, WGUC also squeezed in some public radio classics around the grand masters: All Things Considered, Car Talk,  A Prairie Home Companion and Oscar Treadwell's Jazz With O.T.

As a charter member of National Public Radio in 1971, the station aired the national ATC premiere May 3, 1971. But WGUC passed on launching Morning Edition in 1980 due to the popularity of Paul Laumann's local Kitchen Koncert morning music show. So Morning Edition aired on WVXU-FM until 2005, when Cincinnati Public Radio acquired the Xavier University station.

Jazz host Oscar Treadwell conducts a WGUC panel discussion.
Credit WGUC file

All the NPR news programs were consolidated on WVXU in 2005, clearing the airwaves for around-the-clock classical music – including broadcasts of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Opera seasons, the annual May Festival, and other local music specials.

Morning host Brian O'Donnell.
Credit Courtesy of WGUC

Morning host Brian O'Donnell (6-11 a.m.) was first heard on WGUC in the early 1970s, when UC students on WFIB, the campus station across the hall, staffed the station from midnight to 6 a.m. WGUC had no money to pay an overnight board operator or a licensed third-class broadcast engineer to take transmitter readings every two hours, so students played progressive rock on Full Moon Radio for no pay or class credit.

"I wasn’t there too long because a job became available at WEBN and I got it," O'Donnell says. After that he was on WMOH-AM, LITE-95, The FOX, WVAE/The WAVE and WNKU before coming full circle back to WGUC in 1997.  O'Donnell is followed by music host Elaine Diehl (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Andy Ellis (4-9 p.m.).

Myron Bennett, Gary Barton and Oscar Treadwell were broadcasting on WGUC from CCM when Tom Sandman debuted on Full Moon Radio in 1974.

"We played an extremely diverse blend of progressive rock with a wide record library, from A (Aerosmith) to Z (Zappa), and Steve Miller to Stevie Wonder," says Sandman, a WEBN and WARM98 veteran who hosts Sandman Standards on WMKV-FM.

John Birge and Gary Barton participate in WGUC's "Show Off" fund drive in the 1980s.
Credit WGUC file

"Our mentor/advisor was WEBN's Ginger Sutton (Steve Sinton). In mid-1975, WGUC received a grant to pay an all-night board op so all the students were gone," Sandman says.

They were asked to take their rock records with them – and they did.

In 1980, WGUC moved from UC to its present location, sharing the Crosley Telecommunications Center on Central Parkway with WCET-TV. The previous year, WGUC aired the first simulcast with WCET-TV, allowing listeners to hear music performances in stereo while watching Channel 48.

With the spacious new location came many technological innovations in the 1980s, according to Petrie.

Mark Perzel also was another UC graduate hired by WGUC.
Credit WGUC

WGUC did the first U.S. broadcast of the entire Bayreuth Festival and the Berlin Philharmonic's Centennial Season; announcer Lisa Ledin hosting -- in both English and Swedish -- the nation's first transatlantic digital satellite broadcast-of a live concert from CCM in 1983; and Barton hosting live satellite broadcasts of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1984 to England and eight other European countries. The monthly Artscape magazine for members arrived in 1985.

Over the years, WGUC continued to produce national programming such as Mark Perzel's A Feast For The Ears and Tunes from the Crypt; Naomi Lewin's Classics For Kids; and Jazz Live From the Hyatt.

Suzanne Bona does her national Sunday Baroque (8 a.m.-noon) from WGUC. And some of WGUC's CSO recordings air nationally on SymphonyCast (7-9 p.m. Tuesdays).

Under manager Ann Santen in 1994, WGUC changed its relationship with UC and became a separate tax-exempt nonprofit, Cincinnati Classical Public Radio Inc. UC transferred the license to the nonprofit organization in 2002.

WGUC staffers Brent Reider, Lin Wendell, Jeff Krys, Bruce Ellis and an unidentified employee show off the station's new van.
Credit WGUC

After Santen retired in 1996, Brenda Pennell was hired as general manager. She lured Thane Maynard's 90 Second Naturalist from WNKU-FM.

Afternoon host Frank Johnson, who died in 2019.
Credit WGUC

"WGUC has a vastly bigger reach than WNKU did, and of course, the station is just a couple of miles from the zoo, so I made the switch and never looked back," says Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. His feature airs at 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on WGUC and 9:04 p.m. on WVXU, plus on stations across North America through the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).

"Given the feedback I have long received about the show, I think it is a good fit for the audience at WGUC," Maynard says.

Richard Eiswerth -- hired as WGUC's eighth general manager on July 1, 1998 -- says that WGUC "has been a proud partner of arts and cultural institutions in Greater Cincinnati, right from its beginning. Back in 1960, the station was conceived to be a 'Voice of the Arts,'  and we have strived to remain true to that ideal, built upon it, and expanded it."

Former music host Lisa Liden.
Credit WGUC

Here's a link to the WGUC history, which includes audio from announcers Perzel, Treadwell, Laumann, Barton, Bennett, Brengel, John Birge, Carolyn Watts and Elaine Kennedy. Other WGUC alumni include Frank Johnson, Peggy Schmidt, Larry Thomas and engineer Bruce Ellis, father of current afternoon host Andy Ellis.

And here's the WGUC timeline with more photos and audio.

Jeff Krys, Brent Reider, General Manager Ann Santen and two other staffers in WGUC's van.
Credit WGUC

Editor's note: John Kiesewetter's reporting is independent and only edited by Cincinnati Public Radio for style and grammar.