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WRLR to Get Its Kicks

Joins forces with U.K.’s Forest FM to travel part of Route 66

The 1950s were an iconic era, a representative slice of Americana when poodle skirts, cross-country road trips and the beginnings of rock’n’roll coexisted.

LPFM station WRLR of Round Lake Heights, Ill., celebrates this decade weekly with the “The Fabulous 50s” show, which is broadcast by Forest FM, a volunteer-run radio station in the United Kingdom.

WRLR President Bish Krywko said that when Forest FM’s “The Fabulous 50s” hosts Paul Peters and Geoff Kemp announced their retirement, the two stations decided it would be appropriate to sponsor a road trip on Route 66, a venture they dubbed the Mother Road Tour.

“Since I was a small kid back in the ’50s and ’60s, I have been mad about radio, and I’ve always wanted to get over to the States to see, with my own eyes, a real American radio station,” Peters explained.

Krywko said Peters was keen on seeing both the famous cross-country route and “the radio stations and people who had a role in what listeners in automobiles heard while traveling.”

They hope to have Peters, Kemp, WRLR morning drive host Paul Lepek and technical staff, including Steve Sandman, travel from Illinois to Santa Monica, Calif. To start, they’ve opted to keep the trip within Illinois.

It will begin June 6, at Lou Mitchell’s restaurant in downtown Chicago, near where Route 66 starts, with the last major stop in Atlanta, Ill., at the Palms Grill Café on June 11. Along the way, they will stop and speak with Route 66 historians and enthusiasts. A highlight will also be a broadcast from Pontiac Route 66 Museum’s recreated studio exhibit, which features working ’60s radio equipment.

Paul Peters and Geoff Kemp

From a business perspective, the tour is both an opportunity and a challenge. According to Krywko, WRLR would hope to have sponsors pick up the tab (i.e. underwrite) and enable the station to break even — which may or may not happen. The opportunity, he says, is promotional: to bring attention to stations like WRLR and Forest FM, which, he says, have an old-fashioned but successful take on radio.

The WRLR team is accustomed to doing remotes, but “on this tour we decided to approach Comrex and asked them to loan us equipment too expensive for us to own,” Krywko said. “We felt such a unique tour filled with many once-in-a-lifetime remotes required the quality and reliability found in professional gear that is easy to use.” In response to the request, Comrex will provide a portable Access Stereo BRIC IP audio codec for remote use, in addition to a rackmount unit for the studio.

“Ideally, we’ll be able to work with our partners along the route to access a broadband connection (i.e. cable or DSL) without outgoing ports or protocols blocked, quite common for remotes at high schools,” Chris Zeman, WRLR’s Web and automation manager, said about the remote broadcasts. “It’s preferable to have mobile broadband available as a backup plan, not your only plan.”