WVBR-FM (93.5 FM) is a commercial, student-owned and volunteer-run college radio station that broadcasts to Ithaca, New York, United States, and surrounding areas. It operates at 3 kilowatts from a transmitter on Hungerford Hill, in Ithaca. Prior to 2016, WVBR had a translator on 105.5 FM. The website WVBR.com provides an additional web-based stream.

Broadcast areaFinger Lakes Region, New York
Frequency93.5 MHz
OwnerCornell Media Guild, Inc.
First air date
June 1958 (1958-06)
Call sign meaning
"Voice of the Big Red" (Cornell)[1]
Technical information
Facility ID13909
ERP3,000 watts
HAAT76 meters (249 ft)
Transmitter coordinates
42°25′45″N 76°27′03″W / 42.42922°N 76.45081°W / 42.42922; -76.45081
WebcastListen live (via TuneIn)

WVBR purchased, remodeled and relocated to a new studio in Collegetown, located at 604 E. Buffalo Street. A ribbon-cutting event was held on March 15, 2014, where the new building was named the Olbermann-Corneliess Studios, after Keith Olbermann's father, Ted, and his close friend and alumnus, Glenn Corneliess.

Organization edit

WVBR is a commercial radio station that it is owned, operated and managed by Cornell University students who comprise the non-profit Cornell Media Guild, Inc. (CMG). The station is ad-supported and independent of the university. WVBR and the Guild are a training ground for students interested in media and broadcasting, as well as a serious commercial competitor in the Ithaca radio market.

There are also community members, of all ages, who are involved with the station. Student and volunteer staff members are, for the most part, unpaid. Some staff earn commissions on time sales or are paid a stipend to help operate the station during the summer and other times when Cornell classes are not in session.

WVBR is very involved in the Ithaca and Tompkins County community. The station features a "Community Calendar" segment twice daily, where non-profit organizations can send bulletins of their events to be read over the air during the morning and afternoon. WVBR also does remote broadcasts from a variety of locations in Ithaca, including the Ithaca Farmer's Market, Ithaca-area concerts, and local businesses around town. WVBR also sponsors local charitable and cultural events.[2]

History edit

Early years edit

WVBR's history goes back to 1935 when the Cornell Radio Guild was formed (incorporated in 1941) as a Cornell student organization that produced radio programs that aired on WESG, the forerunner of WHCU, in Ithaca. In the early 1940s, the Guild started a network of its own low power AM "carrier-current" transmitters in the dormitories. For a time, the signal of those transmitters was powerful enough, and connected to enough of the regional power grid, that the signal was widely heard beyond campus. A hoax broadcast in the early 1950s resulted in the FCC ordering the Guild to take steps to restrict the reach of the signal to the immediate campus area. At this point, CMG began a search for a suitable frequency on either AM or the newly emerging FM to conduct a genuine regional broadcast service. That search was successful in 1957, when a construction permit was issued by the FCC to allow CMG to build and operate an FM station, first at 101.7 MHz. Before broadcasts began, the specified operating frequency was changed to 93.5 MHz, and WVBR-FM has broadcast on that frequency ever since.

The FCC-licensed FM station first went on the air in June 1958, though the WVBR call letters had already been in use for years on the Guild's AM "carrier-current" broadcasts, which could be received only on campus.[3] The call letters originally stood for "Voice of the Big Red", referring to the Cornell Big Red athletic teams. However, the station de-emphasized that connection over the years as it carved out an identity independent of the university, and as the university's sports broadcasts were generally carried by WHCU, a commercial station that Cornell owned for many years. (This has changed to a degree in recent years as WVBR has become the originating station for sponsored broadcasts of some major Cornell sports, including football, basketball and hockey.)

In its early years, WVBR-FM's musical programming was mainly classical, while its AM carrier-current side carried popular music. WVBR-FM switched to rock and popular music in 1968 in a format change billed and promoted as "the FM Revolution". The station greatly expanded its audience, especially off campus, initially with a sound that blended hit music, progressive album cuts, and a sound that anticipated in many respects both album rock and adult contemporary radio formats of subsequent years. By the early to mid-1970s its format had evolved to progressive rock radio, similar to pioneering rock stations like WNEW-FM in New York, WMMS in Cleveland, KSAN-FM in San Francisco, and nearby WCMF in Rochester. In later years the station's format evolved toward more tightly controlled, hit-oriented playlists, mirroring the larger trend in FM radio programming influenced by national programmers like Lee Abrams and Kent Burkhart. It also became heavily involved in live music, promoting its own series of concerts at local venues like the Strand Theater, many of which were broadcast live.

In the Willard Straight Hall takeover of 1969, during which the building was occupied to advocate for the rights of Black students and against institutional racism, Cornell students briefly took over WVBR's airwaves.[4] After 5 minutes, the transmission was then cut off by a WVBR engineer.

The station's commercial success peaked in the late 1970s and mid-1980s. It was adversely affected in the later 1980s and 1990s by several factors, including changes in the local economy: New York State raising its drinking age to 21, a blow to the radio station's nightclub and bar advertisers; several new stations brought into the Ithaca market via translators and cable; and deregulation of the radio industry, which resulted in most local competitors being taken over by a single chain owner.

1980s-2000s edit

A format change to contemporary hit radio took place in the early 1980s, led by then-Program Director Kathy Jassy. The station was branded "FM93" and enjoyed commercial success. This continued under then-Program Director and on-air personality (and current iHeartMedia National Programming Platforms President) Tom Poleman, as well his successor, Program Director and on-air personality (and current Sirius XM Radio host and programmer) Jessica Ettinger, the latter two under the leadership of station general manager (and now Coleman Insights President) Warren Kurtzman. After key personnel graduated from Cornell in the late 1980s, the new format eventually faded in audience appeal, especially with WVBR's traditional 18-34 core.

By 1989, under Music Director (and now Sr. VP/GM of Music Programming for Sirius XM radio) Steve Blatter, the station moved back to album-oriented rock, and the format struggled. Structural problems with the station's long-time studio building in the Collegetown neighborhood of Ithaca, which forced WVBR to relocate its studios and offices in 2000, also proved to be both a financial and administrative burden for a time. The station's prospects improved over the following decade with a series of innovations, including the introduction of popular new youth-oriented VBR After Dark programming on weekday evenings and a special focus on music by local artists.

Among other ventures, CMG opened WVBR's sister station, CornellRadio.com, with free-form eclectic programming aimed specifically at student listeners and launched its own recording label, Electric Buffalo Records.

2010-present edit

In 2013, the corporation changed its name from the Cornell Radio Guild, Inc. to the Cornell Media Guild, Inc., reflecting the widening scope of its activities and ambitions.

The station interviewed and photographed artists including John Legend,[5] Saint Motel,[6] Aly & AJ,[7] and Gus Dapperton.[8]

The departments of WVBR News and WVBR Sports were reborn and launched segments both on-air and in podcast form. Notable guests include Congressman James Clyburn and Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick.[9]

In March 2019, WVBR launched its first bilingual radio show.[10] In 2020, WVBR launched its online store, the WVBR Shop.[11]

Locations edit

History edit

In 1940, the station began broadcasting from studios at Willard Straight Hall, the university's main student union. It later moved to a station-owned building at 227 Linden Avenue (commonly referred to as the Cow Palace)[12] and then to a rented space at 957-B Mitchell Street near East Hill Plaza.

Current location edit

In 2014, the station purchased a new home closer to its student staff base in Collegetown at 604 E. Buffalo Street. The building, formerly the home of the Crossroads Community Center and now known as the Olbermann-Corneliess Studios, is named after Ted Olbermann, the father of the station's biggest donor, Keith Olbermann, and Keith's close friend and fellow station alumnus, Glenn Corneliess.[13] The main production studio, known as the George E. Beine '61 Studio A, houses the station's vinyl record library and honors alumni from the 1958-68 classical/jazz era of the station.[14]

Programming edit

Weekday program edit

Weekday airplay consists of alternative music played by student DJs.[15] Since the COVID-19 pandemic, weekday shows also hosted by WVBR alumni who DJ remotely via voicetracking.

There are several staples of WVBR's normal programming. Tompkins County Trivia airs every weekday after the 8:00 a.m. newscast. In this segment, the DJ asks a trivia question on a topic local interest, with the first caller to correctly identify the answer winning a prize.[16] Other regularly occurring daily weekday segments include Today in Rock History and The WVBR Concert Log.[17] The 93-Second Sports Shot, an opinion piece covering sports, airs weekdays during the 6 p.m. newscast.

Weekend program edit

On weekends, WVBR features "Specialty Shows," which are non-alternative music shows played by non-student local DJs.[18] The best known of the station's weekend programs is Bound For Glory, a long-running folk music showcase with a national reputation.[19] Broadcast every Sunday night since 1967, the program is the longest-running live folk music broadcast in North America;[20] it features a mix of recordings and (most weeks) live performances from Annabel Taylor Hall on Cornell's campus. Phil Shapiro has been the program's host since its inception.

Other long-running specialty programs on the station, begun in the 1960s, include Nonesuch (eclectic), The Salt Creek Show (country music), and Rockin' Remnants (oldies).[15] Each has seen a succession of hosts and occasional changes in time slot.

Prominent alumni edit

Many WVBR student staff members have gone on to significant careers in broadcasting, journalism, and related fields, including:

References edit

  1. ^ "Call Letter Origins". Radio History on the Web.
  2. ^ "Guitar Heroes Fundraise For Annual Relay For Life, Cornell Daily Sun".
  3. ^ "Radio Tries to Appeal To Students, Residents, Cornell Daily Sun".
  4. ^ https://teachingsocialstudies.org/2019/08/03/student-takeover-at-cornell-university-1969/
  5. ^ "John Legend Talks Activism and Love in an Exclusive WVBR Interview". WVBR 93.5 FM. August 8, 2020. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  6. ^ FM, WVBR 93 5 (October 19, 2019). "In Conversation with Saint Motel". WVBR 93.5 FM. Retrieved November 3, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Aly & AJ Talk TikTok Fame and Their Spring Album with WVBR". WVBR 93.5 FM. February 10, 2021. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  8. ^ Alvarado-Gómez, Danny (August 11, 2020). "Gus Dapperton Tells WVBR About His Second Album, "ORCA"". WVBR 93.5 FM. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  9. ^ https://www.14850.com/041619506-wvbr-james-clyburn/
  10. ^ https://instagram.com/stories/highlights/17876342188322122/
  11. ^ https://www.instagram.com/p/CEmalXej4uX/?img_index=1
  12. ^ https://alumni.cornell.edu/cornellians/wvbr-facts/
  13. ^ http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2013/02/keith-olbermann-79-helps-wvbr-move-new-digs
  14. ^ http://wvbr.com/beine
  15. ^ a b https://www.wvbr.com/shows
  16. ^ "The Best of Ithaca". Ithaca Times.
  17. ^ "Radio Features". 14850.com.
  18. ^ https://www.wvbr.com/post/halloween-memories-from-two-of-wvbr-s-speciality-djs
  19. ^ "40 Years Later, Folk Music Keeps Its Nook on Campus," The New York Times, September 12, 2006
  20. ^ "WVBR's Bound For Glory, 42nd Year," DirtyLinen Newsfeed, January 9, 2009
  21. ^ "Dear Uncle Ezra". WVBR.
  22. ^ "New style, same dial: WVBR enters alternative era". Ithaca news.
  23. ^ "Counting Down with Keith Olbermann '79," Cornell Daily Sun, November 28, 2004
  24. ^ "Bill Pidto". Eye on Sports Media.
  25. ^ "Job advice from NYC alumni". Cornell Chronicle.

External links edit