In 1965, WEMU-FM came on the air as a small student-run public broadcasting program. Eastern Michigan University (EMU) students who were members of the WEMU Broadcasting Guild were responsible for broadcasting scheduled programs with oversight from faculty in the Speech and Dramatic Arts department. In 1977, it became a National Public Radio affiliate with a focus on local news, live EMU sports coverage, and jazz music. Though small in size and signal strength, WEMU-FM has established themselves as a midwest hub for jazz characterized by intelligent and inclusive programming and an educational approach to radio broadcasting.
WEMU-FM has a role beyond radio broadcasting as media partners in numerous jazz festivals, most notably as a founding media partner of the Montreux-Detroit International Jazz Festival (MDIJF) that was initiated in September, 1980, in part to show the world there was more to Detroit than automobiles. The largest free-of-charge jazz festival in the United States, MDIJF drew audiences of all cultural, economic, and gender backgrounds. Urban dwellers and suburbanites flocked to Hart Plaza on the banks of the Detroit River to sing, dance, and support local favorites and internationally-known jazz giants. Legends like Marcus Belgrave, Wayne Shorter, Dave Brubek, and Sun-Ra shared the stage with local artists like Paul Keller, Geri Allen, and Pepper Adams. As a founding media sponsor of MDIJF, WEMU-FM station managers and music directors were influential early on, encouraging the Renaissance group to use the MDIJF to elevate the local jazz scene and not just a parade of big names, and were directly responsible for booking, promoting, emceeing and recording the performances of the Detroit festival.(Jim Dulzo, interview by Matt Jones, Beulah, MI, May 7, 2020.) WEMU built the foundation for what has always been central to the The festival’s ability to draw on a local lineage of jazz greats like Joe Henderson, Geri Allen, and the Jones Brothers, and balance that with national and international jazz greats, and also younger, up and coming talent.
Noting the community-unifying effect of MDIJF on the city of Detroit, WEMU brought that concept back to Ypsilanti in the form of three local jazz festivals - The Heritage Festival Jazz Competition, the Frog Island Jazz Festival, and the Depot Town Jazz Series. These Ypsilanti festivals came to serve as warm-up and wind-down gigs for musicians who were en route to or returning from MDIJF. Sun Ra performed on the Frog Island Jazz Festival stage in Ypsilanti. Linda Yohn, Music Director of WEMU for almost three decades and was also present at almost every jazz festival in Southeast Michigan in the late 1980s through to the early 2000s noted that what is documented throughout all of the WEMU recordings from this time period, and not just those from MDIJF, is a unique display of community sharing that will never happen again. Yohn noted the Detroit talent that would perform at the Freight House to audiences from University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, and the number of ‘firsts’ for performers that happened at Frog Island and Heritage Fest show the importance of those festivals as a launch to the wider jazz community and for many who eventually played at the MDIJF.
In the winter of 2019, the recordings from WEMU-FM were transferred to Eastern Michigan University Archives and added to their existing collection of materials. See: https://aspace.emich.edu/repositories/2/resources/824