Remembering when WKSU put its stamp on "Fresh Air"
WKSU listeners can tune into "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross every weekday at 2 and 8 p.m. But -- for an earlier generation of Northeast Ohio music lovers, “Fresh Air” meant something completely different. WKSU’s own “Fresh Air” came to an end exactly 40 years ago tonight.
Jeff Wootton was one of dozens of student DJs who brought listeners the "progressive alternative" every night on WKSU. Starting April 11, 1971, the show was an aural kaleidoscope of sounds which weren't heard anywhere else on the radio -- and usually wouldn't be for months or years, until the rest of the industry caught up to them. Electric Miles Davis might segue into early Genesis, which would be followed by a whole side from an imported German album whose name was hard to pronounce.
A one-hour re-creation of what "Fresh Air" sounded like is available here:
There were even interviews with artists such as Philip Glass and Ultravox in the spin-off show, “The Industrial Wasteland.”
Wootton maintains the archive of "Fresh Air" material, and provided much of the audio for this story. In 2017, he reflected on the show's history:
In 2020, former General Manager John Perry reflected on the end of the show, saying, "we really had no audience [on WKSU], except for a program called 'Fresh Air,' which students did from about 11 o'clock until 1 o'clock in the morning. It was progressive rock -- not the 'Fresh Air' that people are used to nowadays. And it had a little bit of an audience, just not a supportive one." However, in this 1978 documentary about the show, it was noted that the program brought in about a quarter of the $30,000 raised during WKSU's then-most-recent fund drive. DJ Mark Bloch was an undergraduate Broadcasting major at the time, and recalls creating the piece for his Broadcast Documentary class.
Many acts came to the attention of Northeast Ohio listeners thanks to Kent State — whether through "Fresh Air," or the school's convocation center, which was the area's largest indoor arena for rock concerts for many years. The 2019 book "Small Town, Big Music," chronicled that influence.
And DJ Paul Ciminero has posted this complete broadcast from January 8, 1981, online.
WKSU’s "Fresh Air" ended its decade-long run on December 30, 1981.
Wootton has also produced an oral history of "Fresh Air," and included this list of known former hosts and programmers from the show.
Leslie Ballard (Kepple)
Lois Crane (Wootton)
Joseph Dick “JD”
Ed Jonke “EJ”
Bob Liske “Tuna"
Amy Smith McGuire
Evelyn St. Claire
Denise Stevenson (Higgins)
John Teeple “Honest John”