WCSR - Your Friend
Mike Flynn badly needed a bathroom break. He placed the needle on the 45 record and made a break for the door. Streaking past the station’s secretary and Girl-Friday, Joyce May, Mike ran into the rest room. Mission accomplished, he grabbed the door knob … and stood dumbfounded when it came off in his hand! Forty-fives only had a few minutes on them. Mike didn’t have time to waste, so he crawled out the window, careened around the side of the building to the front door and again raced past an astonished Joyce.
Running a radio station came with plenty of challenges.
WCSR was originally Baw Beese Broadcasting. Established by Russ Holcomb in 1955, it was a low-power A.M. station. In 1962 Fahey Flynn bought the station, located above Hickok’s Appliance and across North Street from the Keefer Hotel, with the aerial located on West Street. Fahey was a television news anchor in Chicago and wanted to invest in a radio station. His brother Tony was involved in tv and radio in Milwaukee, so Fahey hired him to manage the newly acquired station. Little did either of them realize that this acquisition would become an integral part of Hillsdale County.
Frequency modulation, or FM, is a steadier signal and more reliable when the power is boosted. A new building for the station was built in 1964 on West Street where the aerial had been located from the beginning. In the mid-1970s the Flynns added an FM signal to WCSR. With the new FM signal they could stay on the air at night with full power. Instead of having someone man the board all night, they purchased an automated system that used individual tapes recorded with music, news and commercials. This allowed the Flynns and their employees to get some sleep at home while the signal beamed out without human input.
This was an ingenious solution, and the sizable machine was babied along until the 1990s, when Mike, then a regular broadcaster at the station, turned on the radio in his car at 5 a.m. and heard Marilyn Manson’s spicy lyrics and hard beat coming from WCSR. It did, in reality, originate from a Lansing station whose signal reached Hillsdale County through an atmospheric anomaly. It was not what had been programmed into their system and was certainly not the kind of music Hillsdale County listeners expected from their station. Their current transmissionduring the night—without a human to monitor it—was clearly not reliable. It was replaced by a lease with a company that broadcast their requested types of music and news and also maintained the system. In return, WCSR provided commercials advertising for the company, a modern barter arrangement.
Mike Flynn was in 8th grade when his dad brought the family to Hillsdale. He often went to the station with Tony on Sundays, where he would “run the board” while Tony spoke to the listening audience. By high school Mike was a part-time employee, running the board and occasionally sending his voice over the air waves. Post-high school, Mike worked full time for the station while attending Hillsdale College part time. He eventually completed a basic tv and radio coursein communications at MSU. After a stint in the Navy, Mike returned to Hillsdale and WCSR. He’s been a mainstay as a broadcaster, as well as helping the county respond to the unexpected forces of nature.
Until recently, school, event and factory delays and closings were announced to those affected through the radio. (There were some listeners who actually thought that WCSR decided which school would delay or close because of the weather.) Anxious parents listened to see if their children’s school was on the list. Factory employees waited to hear whether they would be working. And the phone at the station rang incessantly when people simply couldn’t wait to hear an announcement that would answer their question. Tony Flynn was usually the person on the board in the morning. Often Parke Hayes, usually the soul of patience and a master multi-tasker, arrived at the studio second. On those days of bad weather, Parke’s full-time job once he arrived was to answer the phone. Occasionally his calm demeanor slipped when people called the station rather than listening for the weather related closings. His last nerve was vibrating one morning when a man called to see if his factory was closed. “Do you have a radio?” Parke asked him. “We announce closings regularly.”
“I don’t have a radio,” answered the caller.
“Well, do you have a radio in your car?” Parke asked, his usually kind voice verging on sarcasm.
“Yes,” came the answer.
“Then go out to your car and turn on your radio,” Parke snapped.
The Palm Sunday tornado of 1965 was the watershed of emergency notification in Hillsdale County, precipitating changes to communication methods used during emergencies. But during that most disastrous event law enforcement had only land lines and two-way radios to contact each other. Potential dangerous weather was monitored by spotters who called law enforcement via the two-way radios. In the aftermath of that tragedy, phone lines were clogged ,and WCSR stepped into the breach, reporting to the public where help was needed. They did it using an emergency generator that occasionally needed to be started with a jump from a car.
Aware of their importance during weather emergencies, the Flynns got to the station no matter what so that the county would know what was happening. It meant developing the driving skill to get through snow white-outs and on roads too slippery to traverse—and how to get out of a snow bank without help. When driving was impossible, Tony or Mike walked. During the 2011 ice storm the generator was off for 20 minutes. Afraid it couldn’t be started again if they turned it off, they refueled as it continued to run. (Sometimes a sense of responsibility trumps safety concerns.) Today a new, larger generator keeps WCSR up and running during power outages.
Now weather warning sirens and national weather service reports help people prepare for an emergency. In the day-to-day broadcasting over WCSR, regular employees Russ Martin, Bob Flynn, Juli Morgan and a small group of part-timers (with Cindy Young and Scott Phillips handling marketing) connect the citizens of Hillsdale County to one another by bringing news of what’s going on in the county’s communities, schools and organizations.
JoAnne P. Miller - 2016