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Twenty-five years ago when iHeartMedia was called Chancellor and CBS Radio was known as Infinity, a gallon of gas cost $1.13 and the first George Bush was president, two radio guys created a weekly public affairs show covering health, medicine, and technology. Radio Health Journal, the award-winning weekly public affairs program, celebrates its 25th anniversary in January. Co-founders and long-time radio veterans Shel Lustig and Reed Pence of MediaTracks Communications recall humble beginnings, producing the program in Pence’s basement studio (see photo circa 1993), relying on their contacts in the local Chicago radio scene to build an affiliate list and attract clients.
Lustig says, “The story of Radio Health Journal really chronicles how the audio industry has evolved in the past 25 years. We used to edit shows with a razor blade and distribute them to stations on reel-to-reel tape, if you can believe that. We would mail tapes out to stations, and then they’d mail them back to us so we could re-use them, because tape was so expensive.”
Pence adds “Then for years we sent CDs with paper logs– we’d actually gather as a staff on Fridays and fold up the logs, stick them in the CD jewel cases to mail to hundreds of affiliates. And of course, now it’s all digitally downloaded. ”
Radio Health Journal is co-hosted by the program’s original trio from 1992: Pence, Lustig, and Nancy Benson. Each week the program interviews the most respected experts in the fields of health, medicine and science. Fifty-three affiliates were on board in 1992 for the first airing. Now syndicated to more than 450 stations nationally, the program is more popular than ever, according to Pence, who has been lead producer since its inception.
Pence says, “Considering all the medical advances of the last quarter century, it’s a completely different world from when we first went on air. But what hasn’t changed is the public’s need for reliable reporting on the health issues facing us as individuals, communities and as a nation. I mean, our very first segment was on the crisis in health insurance, and 1,250 episodes later … we’re still talking about it.”
MediaTracks Communications, now 8-person strong, has long since moved out of Pence’s basement studio to a state-of-the-art facility in Des Plaines, IL, near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The firm produces public affairs programming heard by close to 87% of the nation, through terrestrial broadcast stations and digital platforms like iTunes, Stitcher and iHeartRadio. They look forward to what the next 25 years bring, and to their first (extra) terrestrial affiliate on Mars!