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Radio active; Volunteers have kept WICN strong for 45 years.

Byline: Richard Duckett

WICN's 45th anniversary celebration

When: 7 p.m. April 2, doors open at 6:30 p.m. for mix and mingle.

Where: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester

How much: $65, $32.50 students with school ID. $120 for VIP event beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call (508) 752-0888 or visit

WORCESTER -- When Mark Lynch was hosting the offbeat "Psychic Journal -- A Weird Pause in Your Otherwise Normal Day'' during the earliest days of radio station WICN-FM (90.5), he could have pondered the following futuristic questions while huddled in his small studio booth at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Do you think you'll still be involved with this radio station 45 years from now? Do you think there will actually be a radio station WICN 45 years hence?

The prognostications might well have been "no.'' But as things have turned out ...

"It's weird looking back on it. I have spent my whole life in a broadcasting relationship with this station,'' Lynch said.

Lynch has been at the microphone for shows for almost all of WICN's 45 year history -- and all as a volunteer. He is one of about 50 to 60 volunteers, with tasks ranging from DJing to stuffing envelopes, who form the backbone of the radio station.

"We couldn't do it without them,'' said WICN's general manager Gerry Weston.

WICN -- located downtown in a nice space in the Printers' Building at 50 Portland St. -- is a National Public Radio station that is on the air 24 hours a day, but most of its programs are locally produced and hosted.

The radio station will be celebrating its 45th anniversary at Mechanics Hall April 2 with an event that includes humorist, speaker and author Loretta LaRoche as master of ceremonies for performances starting at 7 p.m. that feature an array of talent with a big accent on jazz. The lineup of about a dozen acts includes Grace Kelly, Giacomo Gates, Rebecca Paris and Pamela Hines. A number of WICN hosts past and present will be on hand.

WICN calls itself "Jazz + For New England,'' reflecting its emphasis of jazz programming. But it wasn't always thus.

From the late 1970s into the '80s, Lynch was one of the hosts of WICN's "Positive Noise,'' which won a loyal following of fans of alternative rock. Also in its earlier days, WICN was well known for its classical music broadcasts.

WICN was founded in 1969 and officially went on the air in 1970 as Worcester's Inter-Collegiate Network (WICN), joining The College of the Holy Cross and Worcester Polytechnic Institute with other local colleges. It broadcast initially from 5 p.m. to midnight weekdays and noon to 1 a.m. weekends. The intent was to have music and educational programs. Folk music was another early mainstay and is still part of the radio station's programing.

WICN would soon set out on its own, becoming a member of National Public Radio in 1980, and was accredited by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1987. On the flip side of the dial, there would be financial ups and downs and internal disputes. In 1995, WICN announced "sweeping changes,'' placing the main focus on jazz.

There have been several physical moves along the way. At first, the studios were at Holy Cross and WPI. Lynch said that at WPI, "where I was recording, it was maybe the size of a small phone booth.'' Later, there were moves to Grove Street and then to the troubled Center for the Performing Arts on Chatham Street. To move on short notice into the Printers' Building just over 10 years ago, WICN had to raise $1 million in nine months.

Originally from Watertown, Lynch came to Worcester to attend Clark University and stayed here after he graduated. He taught art at the Worcester Art Museum for many years, and is also an ornithologist who leads birding classes for Mass Aubudon and is the book review editor for Bird Observer.

He said he first got involved at WICN because he knew a couple of people who were in on things at the beginning.

"I started frankly as a lark,'' he said.

"Psychic Journal'' consisted of "weird stories I dug out that were supposedly true,'' Lynch said. It ran as short segments throughout the day. Another of Lynch's early shows at WICN was "Put Your Head On My Shoulder,'' now described as "WICN's only advice to the lovelorn show.''

But he quickly saw that an independent, commercial-free radio station could have an impact. In the "Positive Noise'' alternative rock days, "We were internationally known. We wrote letters to bands and they would write back and send us material.''

But could he see the radio station lasting 45 years back then?

"No,'' Lynch said. "In those days you were always working hand-to-mouth. It always seemed as if we were gonna fall off a cliff. But people were dedicated. It's a huge volunteer staff. They're coming in week after week, year after year, and really caring about it. And you get swept up in that.''

Since the late 1980s, Lynch has been the host of "Inquiry,'' which runs as two separate 30-minute shows at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Sundays. Lynch interviews people in the arts and sciences (and more) locally and internationally.

WICN has been on the air just a little bit longer than community radio station WCUW 91.3 FM, which started out at Clark University. Both have similar histories.

"We urged each other on in being great,'' Lynch said.

Lynch credited former general manager Brian Barlow with putting WICN on a firmer footing than it had enjoyed and overseeing the successful move to the Printers' Building. For his part, Barlow noted in a 2007 interview that it has helped in terms of listener support that jazz aficionados happen to be "extremely well-educated.''

However, WICN isn't all jazz. Weston said the "plus'' in "Jazz + For New England'' refers to the folk music, blues and bluegrass programing that also airs, as well as Sunday evening talk content that has the programs "Business Beat'' and "Public Eye'' in addition to "Inquiry.''

Besides programming changes, Lynch has seen the physical practicalities of radio not only evolve but revolutionize. "When I started editing a show, it was two reels of tape and a razor blade. In the old says I hated editing. Now editing on a compute is just fantastic,'' he said.

Speaking of computers, anyone around the world can now listen to WICN at www

"When we converted to the Web we had long conversations about that,'' Lynch said. "It's a weird thing. We broadcast old-style. Central New England is our beat. You have an audience here that's gonna care about what you're doing.''

Weston called Lynch "great to have around. He's a treasure trove of information, not just about the radio station but all the subject matters on his show. He's a Renaissance man. There's never a dull moment when Mark's around.''

Weston has been general manger at WICN for four years, but another change at the radio station is in the offing as he plans to retire effective July 1 after 30 years managing public radio stations around the country.

WICN currently has a paid staff of three full-time people and six part-time, including the on-air morning and afternoon drive hosts.

"When I came in in 2011 we were struggling,'' Weston said, who observed that the recession of 2008 had hit radio stations such as WICN particularly hard. "We've made some headway. We finished in the black on a cash basis in 2014. It's tight. That's why our event (April 2) is important.''

Thursday's Mechanics Hall gala and performance program is a fundraiser for the station.

Lynch said everyone at WICN has been getting ready for the event. So has his wife, Sheila Carroll. "Everyone pitches in. That's what makes it a really good station.''

So some good things remain the same from 1969.

"We're still independent. Most of us are volunteers. We're a very serious station, but it's a lot of fun,'' Lynch said.

Contact Richard Duckett at
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Duckett, Richard
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 31, 2015
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