The Media School

Jim Manion, WFHB, and their impact on local music

April 2nd, 2019 by
Photograph by Coady Raab

Jim Manion, music director of WFHB Community Radio, has been involved with WFHB since before its first broadcast in 1993. One of his initial inspiration's for creating the station was to give an outlet to local music.

As a 16-year-old, Jim Manion wanted to work at the University of Evansville’s radio station. He had an interest in music, and his father was a broadcaster, so he naturally drifted toward radio. He was turned away because he wasn’t enrolled at the university.

“I came home very disappointed because you had to be a student,” he says. “So I just went home, got out a cassette recorder, and pretended [to be a DJ] for a while.”

Manion, 64, turned his childhood dreams into reality when he helped create the community radio station, WFHB 91.3FM in 1993. Since its inception, he’s serves as the station’s music director and has been responsible for its programming.

“I was just into buying records and going to see as much music as I could,” he says.

Manion’s interest in music started at an early age, brought on by his mother playing Jazz records at home.

Photograph by Coady Raab

Manion hosts several shows, including the Monday Afternoon Mix every week from 3-5 p.m. He is responsible for the majority of the station's music programming.

“I grew up with a huge appreciation of Jazz,” he says. “And since there’s kind of a wide range of sounds in jazz, that just opened my senses a little bit more to appreciate more kinds of music.”

He received his first AM radio in 1964, just in time for the British Invasion. According to Manion, his teenage years were shaped by the music playing on the radio, and those who came to perform in town. He saw Led Zeppelin play at Roberts Stadium in Evansville in 1970.

Manion has been involved with Bloomington’s music scene since his freshman year at IU in 1972. He recalls arriving and seeing hardly any venues for performers. He began to book his own shows at the Men’s Residence Center, now called Collins Living-Learning Center.

“There were very few places to play,” he says. “There was the basement of the Union Building, … and there was a pizza place, and that was kind of it.”

According to Manion, bands often played in dorms, basements or at street dances to make up for a lack of venue space. Despite the lack of infrastructure, the creativity continues to thrive.

“Bloomington, to me, has always been more of a place about making music for the sake of making the music,” he says.

Manion recalls playing in about 15 bands throughout his life, most often as a drummer. His band Riff-o-Matics contributed to the punk culture of Bloomington music in the late 70s.

Mike Leonard has spent the last 40 years in Bloomington as a listener of WFHB, and he’s an acquaintance of Manion’s.

“Bloomington, to me, has always been more of a place about making music for the sake of making the music.” – Jim Manion, music director of WFHB Community Radio

“Manion is, in many ways, the heartbeat of WFHB,” he says. “He’s laid-back in his manner, but he knows what he wants the station to be, and he does his homework on FCC rules and regulations. Everyone respects Jim.”

Manion has been involved in radio for the majority of his life. As an undergrad he wrote reviews for WIUS, and later moved onto the cable FM station WQAX. Post-graduation, he also served as an engineer at WFIU.

“A number of our earlier DJ’s, including myself, had a lot of experience at WQAX, and a number of them are still on the air here at WFHB,” he says.

WFHB is a genre-mixing, locally focused station. Manion sees the station as a platform to promote local music and help new bands reach a wider audience.

“One of our initial inspirations to start the station was to have an outlet for local music,” he says.

On Saturday evenings, WFHB has a program for high school students called Youth Radio. The program is aimed giving younger generations an outlet on the air, just like Manion wanted as teenager.

“I feel really strongly about engaging the younger end of the community with WFHB,” he says.