In Praise of Marc Conlin

Once upon a time, there were 6 campus radio stations at Michigan State. Between 1968 and 1985, “The Michigan State Network” was under the care and guidance of Marc Conlin. We’re honoring Marc this weekend at homecoming which inspired me to dig up this piece I wrote about him 14 years ago.


Marc Conlin with Gary Reid in 2001
Marc Conlin with Gary Reid in 2001

Marc Conlin, who guided student radio at Michigan State from 1968 to 1985 was honored with the Founders Award at the 2001 Radio Reunion held during Homecoming, October 13. Conlin, who earned an Electrical Engineering degree and an MBA from MSU, began his campus radio career as a swing announcer at WBRS. “I was one of those guys who would show up on the spur of the moment when somebody needed to fill a shift,” he remembered.

Conlin became the third network general manager and served the longest, guiding the expansion of the Michigan State Network to a peak of six stations. But perhaps his greatest contribution was initiating the license proceedings that ultimately lead to the creation of WDBM, Impact 89.

“The process began in the fall of 1978,” Conlin noted. “We ended up filing over five thousand pages with the FCC. I thought that there should be some sort of automatic rule where once you submitted over one hundred pounds of paperwork, you were automatically granted a license.”

The battle for a student FM station at MSU lasted over a decade. Harold Gross, owner of the WJIM stations, fought the application, claiming the signal would interfere with the audio carrier of his channel 6 television property. This lead to a landmark FCC rulemaking that ultimately cleared the way for a number of new FM licenses in markets with a Television station on channel six. The proceedings provided term paper fodder for many a telecom student.

“Nobody at the University thought that we would really get the license,” Conlin said. “Here was an institution that already had a Television station along with an existing FM and AM station. They were shocked when the construction permit finally came through.”

When the battle was finally won, the University was so stunned that it never filed for call letters for the new station and the FCC automatically issued WBDM as a moniker. However, WKAR GM Steve Meuche confused the arrangement, telling Gary Reid that the calls were WDBM. It was not until two weeks before the station’s on-air debut that the error was discovered and Reid had to initiate an emergency request to modify the calls, so that thousands of dollars worth of promotion and printing would not have to be un-done.

“Marc Conlin’s legacy is something that will benefit generations of Impact people,” Reid said. “His persistence, political skills and patience helped create today’s student radio facility, and built a campus radio institution that is still without peer anywhere in the country.”

“At it’s peak, MSU had more people on the air at more stations than any other university operation,” said Steve Schram ’75, who worked at WBRS, WMCD and WMSN. “Somehow, Marc always managed to keep an effective conduit open to the administration. We always got the resources we needed.”

“That’s quite an achievement, especially when you think about the egos that came in and out of our studios,” said Jim Marshall, ’76 who managed a large air staff as program director at WMSN. “We were always pushing the edge of the envelope. Today what we did doesn’t compare with the stuff you hear from Bob & Tom or Howard Stern, but back then it sometimes got pretty close to the edge.”

“Marc was often the guy who had to keep the peace,” said Kip Bohne, ’75 who was general manager at WBRS and a long term member of the Radio Board. “We all wanted more equipment, more all-campus airtime, more of everything. Somehow, Marc made sure that each of our operations could maintain a unique identity and continue to grow.”

“Then as now, student radio’s primary purpose was to help kids learn the craft,” said Scott Westerman, ’78 WEAK/WMSN. “We all needed a place where it was ok to be bad while you were learning how to be good at what you did.”

“I still cringe when I listen to some of my MSN Jock stuff,” said Chuck Goudie, ’77, who served as news director at WMSN in the mid 70s. “My focus was news, but we all did the jock thing at one time or another. It gave us great respect for the guys who could do it consistently well.”

“When we would go to the national student radio conventions, it was clear that nobody had a network that came anywhere near to what we enjoyed at State,” said Jeff Smith, 75 WEAK/WMSN. “And it showed in the talent that came out of the MSN organization over the years.”

“I knew when I turned the office over to Marc he would make a major impact,” said John DeGroot, who preceded Conlin as Network General Manager, “But I never expected he would accomplish so much… or serve so long.”

The “House that Marc Conlin Built” is in great shape, according to Dean Jim Spaniolo, who noted that today’s iteration has been a two-time winner of the Michigan Association of Broadcaster’s Station of the Year award. “We don’t just have the best student radio station in the state,” Spaniolo said, “We have the best student station in the country.”

“We all worked for little or no money in those days and mostly because we were bitten by the radio bug and (despite the personalities involved at times) because we liked the people who were there. I don’t think any of us ever expected to be recognized for our contributions and I certainly could not have guessed how many people years later would appreciate and remember fondly the people and the time they spent in campus radio.”

MSN Network Managers:

Ken Gimble 1966-1967
John DeGroot 1967-1968
Marc Conlin 1968-1985
Mike Hugo 1985-1987
Ed Cohen 1987

One Reply to “In Praise of Marc Conlin”

  1. I spent time at WEAK from ’76 to ’79. It was really valuable in learning alot about the industry. I now work at Town Square Media, where we have 6 radio stations, and do internet broadcasts and websites. I remember Marc and Fred, and I congratulate them on their hard work.

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