CHATHAM — James Hardwick said he couldn't believe his ears during a recent drive home from work. The former Eastern Illinois University student had tuned his dial to WVON-AM, and was surprised to hear the broadcast of his Panthers playing Chicago State University.
"It wasn't the fact that EIU was on the air playing ball, but that it was being carried on a talk radio station," recalled Hardwick, 46, who lives in Roseland. "It kind of caught me off guard because WVON is a talk radio station and not known for airing sports."
WVON, which is on AM 1690, has been airing CSU games since Feb. 15, and plans to broadcast two more games this season, on March 15 and 16. But those broadcasts hinge on CSU advancing in the Great West Conference tournament, which the school is hosting. If CSU loses, WVON won't air any more games.
"Call it a pilot if you will, but we agreed to a four-game broadcast deal with WVON to see how things go. And so far, things have [gone] well," said Dan Schumacher, athletic director at CSU.
Schumacher added that the university had considered other stations better known for sports, such as WGN, but in the end it decided WVON would be a better fit.
"A lot of our alumni live in the western and southern suburbs and on the South Side, which is where the station has a strong audience base," Schumacher said.
The university already runs a lot of advertisements on WVON, said Schumacher, who said the station was the only one interested in interviewing him on air eight months ago when he was hired.
CSU competes in the NCAA's Division I, and will host the conference tournament March 13-16.
WVON also broadcasts Illinois State University's men's basketball games.
"Broadcasting things in the community is what we do here. But our listeners should not be worried because we are not shying away from our talk format roots," said Todd Ronczkowski, WVON program director.