WPGU began as an experimental radio station by engineering students at the University of Illinois. It was not broadcast, but aired via carrier AM into the dorms. If you had a radio plugged into an electrical outlet, WPGU showed up on 640 AM. After an initial technical problem, WPGU went “on the air” Dec. 7, 1953, for three hours. It played an hour of jazz, an hour of classical music and an hour of news.
WPGU joined the then Illini Publishing Company in 1964 and procured an FCC license for FM broadcasting. FM broadcasting began on April 17, 1967. WPGU began broadcasting in stereo in 1972 (at 6 p.m. on April 16, 1972), and the first song broadcast in stereo was “Volunteers” by the Jefferson Airplane. In 1973, the station began broadcasting 24 hours a day.
Carrier AM broadcasts were continued by WDBS, a training station for budding WPGU on air personalities. When cable came to Champaign-Urbana, the company agreed to broadcast WBDS on FM 101 for dorm radios that had a special cable hookup. FM cablecasts began on Oct. 8, 1982, and continued until 1992.
WPGU is named for the “Parade Ground Units”, where the station was originally located. When the Parade Ground Units were demolished in the early 1960s to make room for the “six pack” dorms, WPGU moved into the basement of Weston Hall. It remained there until 1995, when the station moved off-campus to 52 E. Green St. In 2006, WPGU along with the other Illini Media outlets (The Daily Illini newspaper, Technograph engineering journal, Illio yearbook) moved to a new building at 512 E. Green St., Champaign.
WPGU has had many slogans through the years. It was “Full Service Radio” in the early 1960s, “Progressive Rock” and “The Sound of the Seventies” in the 1970s and “Champaign-Urbana’s Home of Rock and Roll” in the 1980s. WPGU-FM was once known, during the heyday of the alternative/grunge music genre in the 1990s, as “Champaign-Urbana’s Modern Rock, 107.1, The Planet.” It has since reverted back to “WPGU.”
It has had various yearly slogans including:
- “Whether You Insist on the Twist or Strings are Your Things, WPGU for You” (1963)
- “The Radio Station” (1974)
- “No Pinhead Radio” (1988)
- “Twenty Five Years and Still Rockin” (1992)
- “Either You Rock or You Suck” (1993)
- “No Rules Radio” (2004)
- “True Alternative” (2007)
Each and every member of the WPGU staff is not only part of a well-respected radio station, but also part of a learning opportunity. Professional radio stations throughout the country look to WPGU for their future employees, with WPGU alumni working at major radio stations like WKQX, WTMX and WGN in Chicago. These stations understand that WPGU creates highly marketable employees through comprehensive hands-on training.
WPGU broadcasts a 3,000-watt signal, reaching an effective coverage area of 50 miles. WPGU can be heard throughout Champaign County as well as parts of Douglas, Ford, McLean, Piatt and Vermillion Counties.