The Science Behind 100 Years of Wisconsin Broadcasting

November 1, 2017 Jonna Mayberry Leave a Comment

Four days. 285+ events. Endless fun. The Wisconsin Science Festival takes place Nov. 2-5, and Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio are once again looking forward to being a part of the event!

The Wisconsin Science Festival is a statewide celebration for all ages, with engaging events such as hands-on science exhibitions, demonstrations, performances, tours, pub nights and workshops.

This year, we’re celebrating 100 Years of Wisconsin Broadcast at the Wisconsin Science Festival – and you’re invited to join us for a scientific trip down memory lane! Read on to get details on WPT and WPR’s Wisconsin Science Festival events in Madison, taking place on Friday, Nov. 3. Plus, explore this year’s festival lineup and go behind the scenes to learn how event leaders are prepping for the four-day festival.

Wisconsin Public Radio started as an experiment in Science Hall and Sterling Hall before moving to Radio Hall. UW-Madison Physics Professor Earle M. Terry borrowed Edward Bennett's license for radio experimentation, 9XM, in 1915 and became a pioneer in early wireless technology. The license was officially transferred to the university later that year. Terry was largely responsible for building the early equipment for WPR's flagship station, WHA-AM, and played a leading role until his death in 1929. UW-Madison Archives Images: S00027 Dated 1924

Wisconsin Public Radio started as an experiment – UW-Madison Physics Professor Earle M. Terry borrowed Edward Bennett’s license for radio experimentation, 9XM, in 1915 and became a pioneer in early wireless technology. UW-Madison Archives Images: S00027 (Dated 1924)

The Wisconsin Science Festival offers more than 285 events across Wisconsin – including major events in cities such as Madison and Milwaukee, as well as activities in communities such as Minocqua, Marinette, Marshfield, Wisconsin Rapids, Appleton, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Green Bay, La Crosse, Sauk City and more.

Ready to plan your Wisconsin Science Festival adventure? Explore the full schedule:

WPT and WPT  have been partners in the Wisconsin Science Festival since the beginning. On Friday, Nov. 3, join us to celebrate the way scientific research paved the way for Wisconsin’s pivotal role in broadcast history. Friday night’s events are free, family-friendly and open to the public.

Here’s a look at Friday’s lineup in Madison, courtesy of the Wisconsin Science Festival:

6-8 p.m.: Can You Hear Me Now? 100 Years of Wisconsin Broadcast

From Morse code to the search for E.T. and beyond, explore an interactive journey through the past 100 years of broadcast and beyond. The Discovery Building Atrium in Madison will be transformed by hands-on stations, including glass blowing, drawing through radio, electric circuit challenges, creating your own tiny podcast story, radio telescopes, virtual reality and more! Put yourself in the 1917 shoes of Physics Professor Earle Terry and broadcast on a replica of the original 9X-M transmitter that is being re-created for the Wisconsin Science Festival.

Behind the scenes at the Wisconsin Science Festival: Did someone say “radio telescope”?! Oh, yes. Here’s a look at what it takes to move a radio telescope into the Discovery Building. No small feat, to say the least. 

Throughout the event: Broadcast and microwaved-themed concession-style food will be available – including (homemade!) versions of Hot Pockets, bagel bites, compartmentalized TV dinners, “Easy-Bake Oven” chocolate cake, popcorn balls and more – from Steenbock’s on Orchard.

8 p.m.: Panel: Beyond Broadcast – Our Health, Broadcast to Narrowcast, and Extraterrestrial Life

Join in this interactive celebration with WPT and WPR. The Beyond Broadcast panelists will help us learn how the same waves that communicate information over the air can be used to discover potentially habitable planets in our universe, or scan inside our bodies to keep us healthy. Panelists include:

  • Steve Paulson (moderator and panel contributor), the Executive Producer of To the Best of Our Knowledge, a Peabody Award-winning radio program produced at Wisconsin Public Radio and distributed nationally by PRX.
  • Chris Schmidt, Senior Producer for NOVA at WGBH, is an award-winning director and producer for PBS, Dreamworks Animation, The Discovery Channel, History Channel, National Geographic and has executive produced the NOVA series Making Stuff.
  • Melissa Skala, Ph.D. is an Investigator at the Morgridge Institute for Research and an Associate Professor at UW-Madison who uses photonics-based and hyperspectral imaging techniques to combat cancer.
  • Maggie Turnbull, Ph.D. is an astrobiologist at the SETI Institute who has used radio waves in her search for habitable planets across the cosmos and in the development of the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems (HabCat).
Peg Bolger at the studios in Radio Hall in the 1940s. During World War II radio students and staff, including Program Director Harold McCarty, Harold Engel and other key personnel, left to serve in the Armed Forces. Although women had been on the air since the 1920s, the station trained female students to work as operators and announcers for the first time. Peg Bolger, UW Madison Class of 1942, was one of the students who learned to run the control board in Radio Hall. Bolger also performed in radio dramas as part of the WHA Players. UW-Madison Archives Images: S08156 Dated ca. 1949

During World War II, Peg Bolger was one of the students who learned to run the control board in Radio Hall. UW-Madison Archives Images: S08156 (Dated ca. 1949)


Plus, all of Friday’s Academic Sessions are open to the public! (Registration is requested.)

Sessions include:

2 -5:30 p.m.Communicating Science in the 21st Century
(Discovery Building)
2 p.m. – Introductory remarks by WID Director Jo Handelsman
2:15-3:15 p.m. – Mastering the Message

  • Knatokie Ford, Founder and CEO, Fly Sci Enterprise
  • Chris Schmidt, Senior Producer, NOVA
  • Dominique Brossard, UW-Madison Life Sciences Communications
  • John Hawks, UW-Madison Anthropology
  • Holly Walter Kerby, Wisconsin Story Works
  • Cathy Techtmann, UW-Extension
  • Khoa Tran, graduate student in molecular and cellular pharmacology

3:30-4:15 p.m. Breakout workshops on storytelling (with Holly Kerby) and blogging (with John Hawks)
4:30-5:30 p.m. Origins: The making of a UW-Madison documentary

  • Kelly Tyrrell, moderator, University Communications
  • Julie Davis, Astronomy
  • John Hawks, Anthropology
  • Clark Johnson, Geosciences
  • Jeff Miller, University Communications
  • Eric Wilcots, Astronomy

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, here’s a taste of the action behind the scenes. Creating a replica of the original 9X-M transmitter is all in a day’s work. Join us at the Wisconsin Science Festival and put yourself in the 1917 shoes of Physics Professor Earle Terry! 


One more time: check out all of the great events around the state at

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