WIRQ: Friendships and learning, not just music

IHS radio WIRQ celebrates 60th anniversary
Posted on 01/08/2020


WIRQ-FM isn’t just a student-run radio station at Irondequoit High School that has been on-air for 60 years. For hundreds of students it has been a place to enjoy and share good music, develop their speaking skills and foster friendships.

“There really is a tight-knit group,” WIRQ Faculty Advisor, Mr. Rich Jones, says of this year’s 19-member staff, “and I think it’s an oasis for lot of kids in school who,” aren’t involved in other clubs. “There’s a niche for everyone in high school and sometimes I think radio is a niche for them.”

Located at 90.9 on FM radio, online and the Google Play app, WIRQ will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a party/reunion on Friday in the small cafeteria at IHS. There will be refreshments, commemorative T-shirts and a whole lot of “remember whens” from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

“There are not a lot of broadcasting radio stations across the United States in schools,” Jones says, “so this is kind of a unique situation.”

WIRQ is believed to be among the oldest student-run high school stations in the country. Its maiden broadcast was Jan. 7, 1960, an anniversary it celebrated on Tuesday. IHS speech and drama teacher Eric Young and students were the driving force behind the station’s launch in the late 1950s. It was originally called WIHS and broadcast at 35 watts. Now it’s 10 watts. WIRQ is governed by FCC rules and that’s why after starting on 90.9 FM in 1960 it has been displaced by higher-level stations and moved to 93.3, 94.3 and 104.7. It returned to 90.9 about 10 years ago.

WIRQ features about 10 weekly shows that students broadcast during free periods or lunch. The station is on 24/7 thanks to free, automated software that plays music. Students broadcast shows between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., said Jones, who coaches them on how to be better disc jockeys and hosts.

“I loved music and I thought it’d be really cool to meet new people and get more involved in the school,” junior Liliana Lipera recalled about why she joined WIRQ as a freshman after being urged by a friend. “I’ve gained a lot of new friends and I think I’ve learned a lot about leadership.”

She was station co-manager last year and took over as manager this school year, a challenging task after many staffers graduated. But she advertised WIRQ aggressively with posters at IHS, has overseen renovations to the station’s office and the production of a new WIRQ wall mural in it. She also manages show logs and schedules with assistance from Jones, who has his own WIRQ history.

While in college in the early 1990s, he was the station’s evening manager. After an IHS Faculty Advisor left for the day, Jones took over for a few hours in an advisory role. He also helped restore its broadcast signal last spring after being hired by the West Irondequoit Central School District as an audio/visual technician. WIRQ was still being streamed online but Jones researched the mechanical issue and found the part to fix the problem.

“Rich has been instrumental in facilitating the WIRQ team in the past year, working with students to create a warm and welcoming environment while providing direction and growth opportunities for our kids,” said WICSD’s Director of Technology, Mr. Dan Fullerton.

A radio veteran who has worked for a few stations locally, Jones has been a longtime producer for WCMF-FM (96.5) but mostly at Rochester’s iHeartRadio stations such as Fox Sports 1280 (AM) and Radio 95.1 (FM). He also has hosted at weekly talk show, “The Pain Clinic,” about professional wrestling for more than 20 years. The Irondequoit resident replaced Mr. Pete Nowak in February of 2019. An IHS graduate, Nowak was another great caretaker of WIRQ for more than seven years.

“WIRQ has always been a place of belonging and acceptance for students,” said Nowak, advisor from 2011 to 2019 and a 2003 IHS graduate who DJ’d on WIRQ for three years. “Anybody can come and express themselves through music (or) artwork for the various T-shirts we made over the years – just everybody feels they have a place.”

At its heart, WIRQ is about students. They were the ones back in the 1950s who sold “stock” for $1 to raise funds to launch WIRQ, and they were the ones who lobbied the administration for its return after a brief hiatus in 1993. Over the course of six decades students have learned how to think on their feet while on the air and use technical equipment. They also learn how to work together in a collaborative environment.

For many, that camaraderie is important.

Said Lipera: “A lot of (students) come here as like a safe spot and a place you can express yourself through music or be with friends – really to enjoy yourself.”

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