Back in the 1970s, when WDCB public radio in Glen Ellyn didn't know if anyone was listening, Scott Wager was manning the airwaves. One night, he got a phone call he will never forget.
It was the legendary Paul Harvey, an American radio news broadcaster who wanted to talk about music.
"Here I am in this fledgling station scratching and clawing to do the best we can, and it's like Paul Harvey," recalled Wager.
At the time, WDCB-FM 90.9, which was on the air only part time, was averaging about 7,000 listeners.
"I couldn't have found an Aladdin's lamp and made that wish come true," said Wager, adding that he and Harvey, who has since died, chatted regularly.
There's also the story about a guy who discovered the jazz station after getting into a cab at O'Hare International Airport and lamented that he wouldn't be able to listen after he left Chicago. When the station became available online, emails came from people all over the world, including one from an American serving in the Army overseas that Wager says hit home.
"All of those things where you see the impact and realization of what you're doing … it's holy wow!" he said.
After 33 years at the station that is owned and operated by the College of DuPage and is known as Chicago's top jazz station, Wager has left the building. Last month, Wager, 64, retired as station manager after helping grow the station's listenership by offering an eclectic range of music as well as dedicating more hours to jazz music than any other station in the area.
With online streaming of its broadcasts available through its website, the station now has listeners from as far away as Japan and Germany and attracts a weekly audience of more than 175,000.
Compare that to back in 2000, when the station was reaching only 70,000. It was a long climb before the station could carve out a solid share in the ratings race. Wager gave up his on-air duties in the 1980s so he could work fully on the station's business operations. It took years of negotiations before WDCB became a full-time public corporation in 1986. Two years later, the station moved away from its classical music format and began its focus on jazz. And, with Wager's ear to the ground, the station also made room for alternative programming.
"We wanted to be a beacon of diversity," said Wager, who took over as station manager in 2001.
The variety of music that stretches from folk to blues to reggae can be found hitting the airwaves in the evenings. Shows like "Blarney on the Air" and "The Sounds of Brazil" ended up on the station thanks to Wager, who decided to take a listen.
"If it hadn't been for Scott, I wouldn't have had my dream," said Scott Adams, host of "The Sounds of Brazil." He met Wager in 1992 in hopes of finding a place to showcase his love for Brazilian music. The program took off and eventually moved to WNUA-FM but recently made a comeback to WDCB.
"It was all due to Scott Wager, who really took a leap of faith on a music in a different language," Adams said.
Wayne Messmer, known best for his singing of the national anthem at sporting events in Chicago, met Wager two years ago when they were talking about having Messmer do a show at the station. Messmer, who had been doing a talk show at WIND-AM 560, wanted to get back to playing tunes. Wager loved the idea, and the "The Wayne Messmer Radio Show" hit the airwaves on Sunday evenings.
"I think he was just in the old sense a cool guy that you kind of want to hang out with," said Messmer. "He always gave you the feeling that he was your biggest fan."