A high school radio station in New Albany, Indiana is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. WNAS, located in New Albany High School, can be heard in about a 25-mile radius around the transmitter located at the school. It reaches down to Jefferson County in Kentucky and covers all of Floyd and Clark counties in Indiana.
According to Brian Sullivan, who manages WNAS and teaches high school radio, the first time the station went on air was for graduation ceremonies in 1949.
Sullivan says that in the formative years of the station, during the 1950s, Hoosiers in southern Indiana were tuning into the station in large part because of the school’s basketball team.
“When we went on the air coincided with New Albany basketball really becoming extremely popular,” Sullivan said.
Back then, you couldn’t just turn on your TV to watch live sports. You either went to the game, or listened on the radio. Sullivan says that because the team was good, the station was well-liked.
And the station remains well-liked today. Beyond basketball games, the station plays music like oldies and classic country. You can even hear more modern music if that’s what the students want to play.
Earlier this month, some of the original broadcasters from the 1950s came back to the station to celebrate its 70th anniversary. Henry Denton, 85, was at the event; he was also at the station when it was founded. He read news, handled some engineering duties and called basketball games across the state.
“In ’52, we covered every game, home and away,” he said. “Traveled from Evansville all the way to South Bend.”
It was a bit unusual at the time: high schoolers in the 1950s, traveling around the state to broadcast basketball games. But it’s part of the reason why WNAS has stayed on the air so long. Because New Albany fans could hear the games throughout the season, WNAS became a staple in the community.
Another reason the station has stayed on the air is because it wasn’t afraid of change.
At first, WNAS was mostly news, sports and educational programming. In the 1960s and 1970s, they dabbled in game shows. Then, around 1980, the first high school FM station in the U.S. decided to get into television, which they still do today.
As trends have changed, so too, has the high school station in New Albany. It’s easy to change when there’s a steady turnover of staff each year.
Krissie Miller, 18, is a senior on her way out the door at WNAS. She’s on the cusp of graduation and like the station, she’s changed a lot too.
When she started at New Albany High School, Miller thought she wanted to be a teacher. But then she started at the radio station, calling basketball games. Now, Miller wants to be a basketball analyst.
“The guys you see at the circle table at the end of the basketball game? I wanna take their spots one day,” she said.
In a few months, Miller will attend Indiana University Bloomington, studying sports media on a full-ride scholarship.
As much as WNAS has changed, there’s still a constant factor that’s remained throughout the years: learning new things. This is a high school, after all.
But Brian Sullivan says it’s not just about the technical stuff. Soft skills, like working on deadline and critical thinking, are easy to come by.
“Even if you never do radio and television past WNAS, those are still qualities that I think apply to any potential job or field of study that you’re looking to get into,” he said.
These days, the station is humming along and the students who run it are trying new things, like YouTube and podcasting. They’re taking the opportunity to leave their mark on the station, just like their predecessors.
Junior Greer Manger, 17, said it’s important that her class is shaping the station in their image.
“This has always been here. It’s been here for so long. But this version of it is so unique to us right now,” she said.
After 70 years of success and change, it stands to reason that more is on the way. As graduation approaches, seniors will pass the torch to their fellow students. Next year, a new batch of students will join. Before long, all the students working at the station today will be gone. But they’ll be always be welcome to come back, just like the students before them.