Hall of Fame inductee Jim Grimes reflects on time at WPGU

By Park Mitchell, Staff Writer

“In those days we were pretty much on our own,”  said Jim Grimes, a WPGU alum and 2023 Illini Media Hall of Fame inductee. 

Grimes began his time at WPGU in the early days of the student radio station. This early entry brought an enviable amount of freedom. 

When Grimes attended the University, it had a dormitory broadcasting system that amplified the voices of WPGU throughout the campus. This system allowed for hundreds of students to do shows each week.  

“It was kind of the minor leagues for the radio station,” Grimes said.

The radio also provided the opportunity to attract an audience no matter who you were, Grimes said. He enjoyed this kind of secret publicity as a DJ at WPGU.

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“You could be a star on campus without anyone knowing what you looked like,” Grimes said.

Grimes’ experience as a DJ and producing manager at WPGU meant he could come into contact with some big musical talent. But there was one musical star Grimes specifically remembers not being able to meet.

For the 25th anniversary of WPGU, the radio station had hired Bruce Springsteen to perform, but at the last minute he canceled the performance.

“We got stiffed by the boss,” Grimes said.

Luckily for the station, they got a last-minute performance from a local band called Wilderness Road. 

“It turned out okay,” Grimes said. “But I’d like to ask Bruce, ‘I think you owe us a fundraiser.’”

In events like these, Grimes said he learned about rock and roll’s promotion business, a business he has made sure to stay out of.  

By 1973, Grimes had risen to the top of WPGU becoming its general manager.

After Grimes moved on from WPGU, his passion for radio did not. While attending the University of Illinois, Grimes earned a bachelor’s and master’s in urban planning. 

In his professional career, Grimes took on many different roles in the radio world. 

“I worked in commercial radio in the Champaign area, everything from play-by-play to program director,” Grimes said.

But Grimes’ true passion lay in public radio. Grimes began his career at Sangamon State University, which people now call the University of Illinois at Springfield. He then incorporated his teaching and broadcasting skills into creating WQNA radio, a program that ran for over 40 years.

Grimes currently works as an adjunct communication instructor at Loyola University Chicago and National Louis University. He also sits on the board of directors for the Illinois Broadcasting Association. The Illinois Education Association recently named him “Higher Educator of the Year.”


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