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WYSO founder's death leads to reflection on station's history

Terry Herndon (center) with his wife, Eva (right) at a WYSO Reunion in 2015. Terry was honored as a WYSO Hero at that event. To his left is YSO co-founder Ed Richard.
Scott Sanders and the Antioch College Archives.
Terry Herndon (center) with his wife, Eva (right) at a WYSO Reunion in 2015. Terry was honored as a WYSO Hero at that event. To his left is WYSO co-founder Ed Richard.

WYSO has lost a founding father. Antioch College alum Terry Herndon died Aug. 6 in Carlisle, Massachusetts. He was 87 years old.

He was an electrical engineer, an inventor and the owner of company named Path Scientific in Carlisle, Massachusetts. Herndon was one of three Antioch College students who put WYSO on the air.

Neenah Ellis has this remembrance:

There had been experiments in radio broadcasting at Antioch College since the 1920s, when a physics professor got a hold of a transmitter and set it up in one of the towers of the main building. But when Terry Herndon arrived as a first year student in 1952, there was no Antioch radio station.

One day he met two other students who were building a transmitter on the lower floor of the main building, and since he was an electrical engineering major and a self-proclaimed gearhead, Herndon joined them. Soon they created WABS, the Antioch Broadcasting System.

"Now, WABS was an AM station. It was a wired radio station, which is something that's permitted by the FCC," Herdon told Ellis in a 2015 interview.

"What's that mean?" he said. "You send the signals by wires that are hooked into the electrical system of North Hall, South Hall, and I think over in science building. The RF signal on the transmitter goes into all the electrical wires in the buildings and it acts like a big antenna, and you can hear it on any of the radios that are in the rooms. But go 30 or 40 feet away from the building and you can't hear it. So it's kind of closed broadcasting and ... that's how we started out."

To get that system running, Terry Herndon went underground to physically string the wires that would carry the signals.

"I spent a number of hot Saturday afternoons crawling through pipe tunnels under the campus. This was from the steam plant that was down across the railroad tracks on the main front campus, and it brought the steam lines to the all of the dormitories, which were heated by steam. So, we strung the wires around through these ... and we took the wires underground through those and to each of the two big dormitories. That's what happened," he said.

"It was full of spiders. It was full of hot steam. And it wasn't much fun, but it wasn't that bad either. So, once we got that done, we had built a transmitter and we had a microphone and we got a turntable, and the (Antioch) president let us use the little tower office above his office as a place to set up. And so, we set that up and just had basically a turntable, a microphone, volume control, and that was the beginning of Antioch Broadcasting System, WABS."

"We went on from there to make it more professional," Herndon said. "And another chap and I built a console for the volume controls and the VU meter and the switches and such, and got a couple of REK-O-KUT turntables, one on the left, one on the right, and people became more and more interested in it. And so off it went."

"So, it was the people that were working there and interested in WABS then that grew into the desire for an FM fully licensed station?" asked Ellis.

"Yes, exactly," Herndon said. "Once we had the couple of turntables and good control over everything, those three of us who were the gearheads weren't much interested in being DJs. So other people took that on and it became very popular. And they actually started having, I think, in 1953, they started having scheduled evening programs with different people playing classical music or jazz or this kind of thing. And you would get it on the radio in your room, which was an AM radio."

"Since you know a lot about radio broadcasting, how crazy was it to want to have an FM station back then?" Ellis said.

"Oh, it was it was really fairly crazy because FM was just coming in across the country," Herndon said. "It was a different way of doing it. And the thing that FM had as a talking point is you didn't have static electricity on it. AM radio's broadcasting through the air, the transmitters, you'd have a lightning storm, and you'd have nothing but static. With FM that went away, and that made FM become more popular in the entire country."

But to get a fully licensed FM radio station on the air, they needed a new transmitter, a tower to transmit the signal and new studio space. And they got it all, raised the money, trained the staff, got the community involved and were given space in the then new Antioch Student Union Building. Terry Herndon stayed involved through all of it and graduated from Antioch College in the spring of 1957. Less than a year later, WYSO FM went on the air.

Original broadcast audio: Good evening. At this time, Antioch College begins its first official transmission on FM. This is station WYSO, owned and operated by Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, with studios and transmitter on the campus of Antioch College. Operating on a frequency of 91.5 mega cycles by authority of the Federal Communications Commission. For its first program, the Antioch Broadcasting System will bring you the official opening and formal dedication of its facilities and the Antioch Union.

Over the years, hundreds of people dreamed of having a radio station at a college. This is Ed Richard, now the last living founder of WYSO.

"But the three key people from the student side — Terry Herndon, who was our technical guy and just an amazing guy, his wife, Eva, they were married at college, she fed us constantly; and Hal Roeth, who was a colleague and friend and student who went on to a great career in radio; and myself,” Richard said. “We were the people who sort of put the station together and shepherded it through. Nothing was impossible. We overcame every obstacle and there were so many obstacles in the way. But we were going to do it and we did it."

That was Ed Richard talking about his colleague, Terry Herndon. They were among the first three student founders of WYSO.

In addition to everything he did for WYSO, Herndon and his wife spearheaded the renovation of South Hall on the Antioch campus. The Herndon Art Gallery in that building was named in their honor.

*Audio featuring Ed Richard provided by Hideo Tokui.

Neenah Ellis has been a radio producer most of her life. She began her career at a small commercial station in northern Indiana and later worked as a producer for National Public Radio in Washington, DC. She came to WYSO in 2009 and served as General Manager until she became the Executive Director of The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices where she works with her colleagues to train and support local producers and has a chance to be a radio producer again. She is also the author of a New York Times best-seller called “If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians.”