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2003 marks two noteworthy milestones in UAlbany’s long and illustrious history
of student-run radio broadcasting. It has been a quarter-century since WCDB
91FM first took to the Capital District airwaves, and 40 years since its
predecessor, WSUA 640AM, began informing and entertaining students.
Both stations’ roots extend back to even earlier days. Three dates stand out in
the annals of radio broadcasting at the State University of New York at Albany:
- Thursday, March 2, 1939
- Friday, February 22, 1963
- Wednesday, March 1, 1978
The genesis of campus radio at UAlbany occurred on Thursday, March 2, 1939, at
4pm, with a remote broadcast – over WOKO (1460AM) – that originated from Room
207 of Draper Hall on the original academic campus. It began with a speech by
Dr. Abram Brubacher, President of State College for Teachers, and was followed
by a five-scene dramatization of the college’s early days. Playing of the
school’s alma mater closed the half-hour program.
The broadcast on March 2 came to fruition soon after President Brubacher and
some of the faculty realized that equipment from the speech department, used to
correct prospective teachers’ speech difficulties – recording machines,
microphones and a soundproof room giving the best acoustic effects possible –
could also be put to use to broadcast over the air. Though President Brubacher
died shortly afterwards in 1939, remote broadcasts via WOKO continued until the
early 1940s when World War II led to its suspension.
Talk about a campus radio station resumed in the late 1940s with the formation
of the University Radio Council, created to make this dream a reality. It gave
rise to plans for what would become WSUA, the anticipation of which received
prominent mention during the 1950s in many of the school’s yearbooks. WCFA and
WSCA were other early possibilities considered for station call letters.
During WSUA’s long gestation another much larger transition took place. In
1962, the school was designated one of four University Centers and its name was
changed from the State College for Teachers to the State University of New York
at Albany. Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller put his imprimatur on the name change in
his budget message of 1963.
During the long reign of SUNY Chancellor Dr. Samuel Gould, WSUA began to
crystallize. Legend has it that Gould was infuriated that the Albany campus
lacked a radio station when other college’s promoted their own.
WSUA began at the State University of New York at Albany (known as “Albany
State”) on Friday, February 22, 1963, making 2003 the 40-year reunion for WSUA
personalities and station executives. WSUA’s constitution declared its original
purpose “to contribute more effective communication to the student body by
broadcasting musical entertainment and useful information of, for and by State
WSUA was a carrier-current radio station. Its signal was “piped” into campus
dormitory electrical systems. Programs could only be heard mainly within the
confines of university residence buildings. At its inception the school
newspaper described the radio station as broadcasting on “the FCC assigned
frequency of 640 kilocycles on a closed circuit carrier current of eight
Bill Alexander and Don Allen are given much of the credit for bringing WSUA
into existence from the Radio Council, with Dr. Anthony Salatino as the faculty
advisor during the early 1960s. Bill was the acting General Manager during the
transition year and Don was appointed General Manager in February 1963.
Elections were held on Thursday, May 2, 1963. Nicholas Argyros and Ron Campisi
were the station’s first elected General Manager and Assistant General Manager,
The station had a humble beginning. It was located in a hallway broom closet in
Brubacher Hall on what is today “the downtown campus” or Alumni Quad.
(Brubacher Hall is now under the auspices of the College of Saint Rose.) It is
only fitting that since President Brubacher conceived the idea of radio on
campus that the radio station would be housed in a building named in his
Argyros and Campisi fielded an executive team with titles we might find
surprising according to today’s conventions. The first executive team included
Ian Leet, program director; Gerry Terdiman, financial director; Duane White,
technical director; Tom Rywick, publicity director; George Ashley, librarian;
Ron Walter, news director; and Linda Delfs, secretary. There were multiple
music directors during the early years, namely Tom Alexander, classical music;
Skip Schreiber, popular music; Dave Hughes, show music; and Art Loder II, movie
scores. David Hughes was the host of WSUA’s maiden broadcast. Dave remembers
when the station was dubbed “The Fry Pan Network” with 640 being the
temperature for cooking ham.
The original equipment for WSUA came from surplus material at General Electric,
which then owned Schenectady-based WGY radio and television. Assisting WSUA
with obtaining and maintaining the original equipment was WGY’s chief engineer,
Herb Cole. Another supporter of the carrier-current effort was Steve Seiden of
Seiden Sound, an electronics store in Albany. Steve’s firm installed the
complete closed-circuit radio station for $500, which was eventually funded by
the University Administration and the Student Senate.
WSUA’s chief engineer, Duane White, says most of the equipment was considered
outdated and useless junk. The actual provider of the handmade transmitter and
splitters installed on the main power box in each of the dorms around Alumni
Quad was the Lafayette Radio store, located on Central Avenue in Albany. Staff
members built a wooden U-shaped console with left and right arms belt-driven
turntables. In the center of the console sat a genuine public address system
like others the store sold to educational institutions. According to White,
“anyone who had ever seen a professional setup would just grin and smile at our
definitely amateur equipment.” Amateur or not, the console had the necessary
multiple inputs for microphone, turntables and tape deck, and produced an audio
out that was fed into a broadcast transmitter.
Programming in the early years featured news, sports and, of course, music with
heavy emphasis on folk, jazz, bluegrass, pops, classical and swing, as well as
on movie and Broadway show tunes. A memorable story from WSUA’s early history
concerns a student disc jockey who returned from a vacation with a “bootleg”
recording of music he had heard in a West German pub, performed by a band from
Liverpool, England. WSUA did not play rock and roll in 1963. Still, the student
D.J. played the song for the student listeners and was promptly bounced from
the station for breaking format. Management could not have known at the time
that the violation of station policy bestowed on WSUA the distinction of being
the first radio station in the United States to have played a Beatles song to a
While WSUA initially shunned rock and roll, most station members eventually
realized that attracting student listeners would necessitate adopting a Top 40
format. Soon after Duane White was elected the station’s second General
Manager, he instituted a Top 40 music schedule for prime times. “Real” music
was relegated to non-prime times. Duane remembers being in the Brubacher Hall
closet when the golden voice of Ron Campisi inaugurated the new format starting
out with the Beatles song "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Another notable WSUA
accomplishment was its news department’s extensive coverage of the 1964
presidential election, which received national attention.
In the mid-60s, WSUA moved from a cramped Brubacher broom closet to
comparatively more spacious and professional studios off the Brubacher Hall
basement-lounge, near the Student Union. The new facilities included a room for
news and production, a separate D.J. booth, a master control room, and a lobby
that contained space for the station’s sizable record album library. WSUA’s
executive offices occupied three rooms on Brubacher Hall’s first floor.
Between 1965 and 1971, WSUA rolled out its carrier-current signal to the uptown
quads, beginning with Dutch Quad. A buzz had always afflicted WSUA’s on-air
sound (due to the carrier-current transmission of the station’s signal over
electrical wires). In addition, the carrier-current signal leaked, and
occasionally, particularly when it rained, you actually could hear the station
outside, over the air, on and near most of the uptown and downtown campuses. In
1975, WSUA began using “Buzz Along With Us” as the radio station’s slogan,
popularized and created, in part, by Joel Feld.
WSUA PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHTS
For much of the mid- to late-60s – through the end of Station Manager Wayne
Fuller’s term in 1969 – WSUA’s sound was heavily defined by a popular Top 40
format, characterized by heavy use of pre-recorded jingles and weekly
countdowns. Progressive rock music was first introduced to station listeners in
earnest in 1968. Within two years, the more sophisticated progressive rock
format – then sometimes called “FM music” –pushed aside Top 40 as WSUA’s
By the close of the 1960s, thanks mainly to assiduous efforts of Music Director
Lewis “Skip” Fischer (bolstered by another Music Director, Keith Mann), WSUA
had amassed an unrivaled record library, partially from records obtained from
SUNY Binghamton. At the time, it was considered the largest collection of 45s
and albums in the nation. Skip Fischer’s example and leadership was also
instrumental in establishing high standards for the quality and professionalism
of music, news and public affairs programming at WSUA.
WSUA offered sport fans its first live coverage of Great Danes basketball games
in 1968, and of Great Danes football games in 1970. In 1969, WSUA mounted live
reporting of anti-war demonstrations in Albany and Washington, D.C. In 1970,
24-hour programming was introduced, albeit only while school was in session and
some of the programming was prerecorded.
In 1970, Saturday Night of Gold debuted. It quickly became one of the more
popular programs of its day and over the years acquired legendary status on
campus. Eric Lonschein first hosted the show and was succeeded by Andy Baum and
A popular program during much of the 1970s was a daily half-hour news report
entitled Ear-witness News, which began its broadcasts on Groundhog Day,
February 2, 1973, with Dave Keller, Doug Lewanda and Harvey Kojan. During the
later 70s, Mark Plevin and Anita Unterweiser added their special technique to
WSUA also became one of the first college radio outlets to provide live, remote
coverage of professional sporting events. On Saturday, February 21, 1976, Nate
Salant and Michael “Sky” Curwin, co-starring Anita Unterweiser, as the board
operator, inaugurated broadcasts of New York Islanders NHL hockey games from
Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum. Chief Engineer Ira Goldstein made sure the games
were carried over the Uniondale-to-Albany linkup. The crew broadcast eight
games over a six-week period the first season. On more than one occasion, a
fellow radio station member would use the tie-line, 457-6447, in the middle of
the Islander game, knocking the game off the air.
Rich Stevens and Chris Walters recorded a famous long-running station ID: WSUA
Albany, Subsidized Completely By Student Tax, Paid to the Student Association
of the State University of New York at Albany. It was played at the top of
every hour for many years by order of Student Association.
GETTING THE STATION FROM AM TO FM
Serious discussions began in 1968 (and possibly earlier) to develop a strategy
for securing authorization and funding for an FM license that would permit
reaching a much larger audience – in stereo and with less static – through
over-the-air broadcasting. In 1970, soon to retire SUNY Chancellor Samuel Gould
floated the idea of a University-wide radio network, which never materialized.
Anticipating eventual success, Program Manager Joel Lustig and Chief Engineer
Larry Serafini, in the 1970-1971 school year, oversaw the design of detailed
University-drawn blueprints and specifications for new WSUA studios and a
future FM operation that would someday be housed in a West Podium Extension,
which was never built. The plans contemplated retaining the AM carrier-current
operation, partly for training and development of new on-air talent. A myriad
of difficulties ensued during that time with much student unrest amid the war
in Vietnam and a financial scandal at WSUA among them, which blocked success in
obtaining an FM license for another decade.
The financial scandal rocked WSUA soon after the start of the fall 1970
semester. In the wake of alleged mismanagement of funds, the station was placed
under strict financial supervision for six months by student government, which
launched an investigation. Some student government representatives called for
shutting down the station. WSUA’s budget was frozen during the probe. To
continue operating, WSUA management requested $50 from each member. The station
was eventually censured for mischaracterizing in its budget a signal generator
that, in fact, was a remote-controlled airplane. It had been purchased in the
summer of 1970 to promote the station on campus. The dustup was fueled partly
by long-running opposition to the station by a few elected student government
representatives. To unfreeze the station’s budget, Student Association required
that WSUA be physically closer to the student government, which by then had
operated for several years from the new uptown campus. Though some old-timers
had hoped to remain downtown – farther from Student Association scrutiny and
the less bucolic campus podium – station management consented. Space for WSUA
was secured in the Campus Center and a supplemental budget of $22,000 for the
move and new equipment was approved.
The summer of 1971 marked the bittersweet end of one era and the start of
another. Aided by an earlier Chief Engineer Robert Heaney, General Manager Joel
Lustig, Chief Engineer Steve “Arbuckle” Eckert and News Director Littleton
Harmon “Andy” Smith II shuttered WSUA’s downtown studios and offices. At the
same time, they designed and constructed new facilities in Rooms 316 and 320 on
the third floor of the uptown Campus Center. The final song played from WSUA’s
downtown studios was Get Together by The Youngbloods.
Station members returned for the fall semester in 1971 to a new more modern and
relatively palatial facilities in the heart of the uptown campus. That same
year, for the first time, WSUA filled its schedule with live broadcasts 24
hours a day.
Following completion of the move uptown in 1971, intense efforts were renewed
to obtain authorization for an FM license by General Manager Joel Lustig.
Subsequently, during their respective tenures as General Manager, Littleton
Harmon Smith II and Eric Lonschein picked up the challenge and pushed the FM
project along to bring the radio station into the 20th century. But opposition
from the University administration proved decisive.
As 1974 was a great year for sports on WSUA, the station was marred by constant
equipment failures ultimately leading to a brief period of student apathy at
the campus station. The failure of proper equipment made it difficult to
recruit sufficient on-air personnel and WSUA came dangerously close to going
dark. For a few months until the turmoil could be straightened out, Patrick
McGlynn became one of the few, if not the only, on-air personality at the
station and de facto general manager. Pat did marathon air shifts, often 18 to
24 hours long, to keep the station going until someone emerged to resuscitate
In the fall of 1974, during General Manager Mary Lindsay‘s administration, the
first applications for an FM license, drafted by General Manager David
Galletly, were filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with
assistance and expertise from Educational FM Associates. The ball was handed
off to Eric “Osborne” Goldstein with Chief Engineer Jeff Ronner and News
Director Paul Rosenthal helping to realize the dream of bringing the radio
station to the airwaves.
During 1975, SUNY Central officials saw the light once financial support from
Student Association was forthcoming. An engineering consulting firm was
retained to complete the licensing requirements. The final FM application was
formally filed with the FCC in 1976.
In 1977, the FCC designated 90.9FM to be home for call letters WCDB (Capital
District Broadcasting) and an FCC construction permit was approved. Harris A
Sanders Architects was chosen to design the new FM facilities. While much
progress had been made, station executives still faced several additional
hurdles. One was getting Student Association approval for additional space for
the new facilities. WCDB asked to expand into a third-floor lounge adjacent to
the WSUA-AM studios. At first Student Association balked, but eventually
Another challenge WSUA/WCDB executives faced was getting the University
Administration – which allocated space in the Campus Center, – to sign-off on
non-parallel walls for the studios. Construction began once this was approved.
The J.J. Keenan Construction Co. and Kasselman Electric of Albany helped
transform the AM radio station into its current FM operation. Student
Association provided more than $70,000 with another $12,000 contributed by the
university for start-up costs.
Jerry Jones, a staff engineer at UAlbany’s Educational Communications Center
until his retirement in 1996 and the station’s FCC First-Class license
holder-of-record, was crucial in achieving full legal compliance for the
station. SUNY Central Administration currently holds the radio license for
A point of trivia that some would find interesting: WCDB’s antenna is situated
atop Eastman Tower on State Quad because a SUNY Albany professor, Dr. Bernard
Vonnegut, had complained about other possible locations.
SIGNING ON THE AIR FOR THE FIRST TIME
In 1978, WCDB received final FCC authorization to begin broadcasting. On
Wednesday, March 1, 1978, WCDB began its dynasty by broadcasting at 10 watts
over a five-mile radius from the uptown university campus. Paul Rosenthal was
elected the first General Manager of WCDB.
Paul kicked off the station’s inaugural broadcast with a 10-minute
introduction, which included comments by Neil C. Brown, Dean of Student Affairs
and the first high-ranking administration official to speak on WCDB. Paul
congratulated the final WSUA General Manager and first WCDB Chief Engineer Eric
(Osborne) Goldstein for “performing feats of miraculous proportions to get the
station on the air.” Paul signed the station on the air with the words: This is
WCDB broadcasting for the very first time on program test authorization granted
by the Federal Communications Commission to the State University of New York.
WCDB’s first D.J., Jim Saturno, played Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” over
the airwaves as the university Carillon played the same song – ringing in a new
era in UAlbany radio broadcasting.
Mike Fischer, with Paul Rosenthal reading the news, hosted WCDB’s first morning
show. Unfortunately, transmission and signal problems plagued the station in
its early hours, which required that it be taken off the air for several hours.
Upon graduating in 1979, Paul, a news junkie, became a research producer with
NBC Radio Network News and then began to develop his skills in the network’s
marketing department. He also married his college sweetheart Cheryl Rademaker
and moved to Long Island. On a sad and poignant note, on March 1, 1982, WCDB’s
fourth anniversary, Paul went to Boston alone and took his own life two days
later. He was 25 years old. Even though many of us did not know Paul, we were
all touched by the legacy he left during his brief life. He is looking down at
us from heaven; proud to see we are all here remembering the history of radio
at the University.
The focus of programming for the new FM radio station was news, sports, and all
types of music, ranging from jazz to hard rock. Election coverage, regularly
scheduled newscasts, remotes of sporting events and the 24-hour coverage of
“Telethon,” were the hallmarks of the first several years of WCDB. During the
1980s, WCDB’s annual banquets were held at the Rafters, near Saratoga Springs.
Paul fielded a top-notch, streamlined executive team to help him transition the
station from the AM carrier current to FM airwaves. The first executive team at
WCDB included: Paul Heneghan, program director; Neil Siegel, music director;
Ira Goldstein, chief engineer; Mark Plevin, sports director; Debbie Kass, news
director and Rich Schenkman, promotions director.
Once WCDB established a regular programming schedule, WSUA served as a training
ground for new students who wanted to be on the air but needed to learn how to
operate the equipment and be cleared before going on the FM station. During the
mid to late 80s, WSUA ceased functioning and its last studio is now a storage
and production room.
WCDB gained national attention in 1980 and 1984 when Marc Gronich spearheaded
the Election Night College Network (ENCN) with News Director Steve Gross, Pete
Sgro, Chief Engineer Steve Otruba, News Director Glenn Mones, News Director
Phillip Chonigman and Tim Wallace among a cast of other talented individuals at
the young FM station. ENCN brought together 41 college radio stations from
across the country to share election night news reports from a student
perspective about the U.S. Senate, Congressional and Presidential races in each
state. When a station filed a news report, it was able to receive a taped news
report from a different state. Student Association supported the endeavor by
making its office space and phone lines available for the evening. Seven hours
of coverage was flawlessly produced in 1980 and in 1984.
In 1981, steps were taken to boost WCDB’s power from 10 to 100 watts. Under
General Manager James Diamond, the initial FCC application for the step up was
filed. WAMC-FM radio, a nearby station on the radio dial, quickly opposed the
wattage increase. In the summer of 1982, thanks to the perseverance of General
Manager Bill Goodfriend and Chief Engineers Steve Otruba and L. Mark Stone, the
FCC approved WCDB’s application after a successful showing that WAMC’s signal
would not be infringed nor its audience reach diminished. The first song played
with the increased wattage was “Rock and Roll” by the Velvet Underground.
WCDB began broadcasting as 91FM, but as the years passed and analog gave way to
digital technology, the radio station moved on to calling itself 90.9FM
In 1987, the concert venue QE2 donated WCDB’s first CD player. Reel-to-reel
machines were on their way out at the station and the more modern digital
equipment was being sought.
In 1992, WCDB began a full facility renovation program, beginning with
rebuilding its master control studio. The following year the station purchased
its first digital audio tape recorder and a new seven-second delay allowed
listener call-in shows to be aired live for the first time.
On December 13, 1996, Joe Schepis launched an unofficial WCDB website, entitled
the WCDB Historical Society. You can find this site by going to listen.to/wcdb
or www.joefm.com/wcdb. During Joe’s years at the radio station he was the
program director, training coordinator and an engineer.
On September 20, 1997, the official WCDB website debuted. It was created by
Jerem Curry and updated several times since its inception. You can find this
site by going to www.albany.edu/~wcdb. The website is currently being
maintained by Frank Starker.
After more than a decade of trying to become modernized, WCDB’s production
studio entered the 21st Century and went “all digital” with computer disc
recording and editing equipment. The long-standing cart machines went the way
of the 8-track cartridges of the 60s and 70s and are replaced by MiniDisc
technology. The station also primarily uses compact discs (CDs) instead of
vinyl records and has a computer to keep track of programming.
On Sunday, January 17, 1999, WCDB launched its first Internet webcast. The
first program transmitted via the Internet is Talk Show ’91 at 8pm.
On Monday, January 28, 2002, WCDB signed on with a new transmitter and a new
antenna atop Eastman Tower at State Quad.
For the future we could see more equipment upgrades, more square footage and
the hopes of another increase in wattage.
Twenty-five years of broadcasting from a fledgling student-owned and operated
radio station, first at 10 watts and now at 100 watts, with no faculty
oversight and no interference from the University administration almost seems
incomprehensible. The radio station receives some financial support and much
moral support from the Student Association but there has always primarily
remained a hands-off policy.
The attempt to write a "Brief History" has
undoubtedly caused omissions about some obvious and some obscure moments of
accomplishments at the radio stations. Any omissions are to be considered
inadvertent mistakes. There was no attempt to slight anyone or to cause anyone
distress over any omission. This continues to be a work in progress and
additions can always be made. Please send your comments regarding this document
to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "WCDB HISTORY". We regret any
omissions or possible errors in the accounts of this document. We look forward
to your comments.