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WVBR-FM (93.5 FM) is a college radio student-owned and volunteer-run station that broadcasts to Ithaca, New York, and surrounding areas. It operates at 3 kilowatts from a transmitter on Hungerford Hill, in Ithaca. It used to have a translator on 105.5 FM prior to 2016. The website provides an additional web-based stream. WVBR recently 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. The new building is named the Olbermann-Corneliess Studios, after Keith Olbermann's father, Ted, and his close friend and alumnus, Glenn Corneliess.

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Broadcast areaFinger Lakes Region, New York
Slogan"Ithaca's Alternative"
FormatAlternative (weekdays)
Talk/Variety (weekends)
ERP3,000 watts
HAAT76.0 meters (249 feet)
Facility ID13909
Callsign meaningVoice of the Big Red (Cornell)[1]
OwnerCornell Media Guild, Inc.
WebcastListen Live (via TuneIn)



WVBR is a commercial radio station, and is unusual because it is owned, operated and managed by Cornell University students. WVBR is completely independent of the university: it supports itself by selling advertising, and receives no funding from the university. Student and volunteer staff members are, for the most part, unpaid (some 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). The station is owned by the Cornell Media Guild, a nonprofit organization composed entirely of students who work at the station. It acts as a training ground for students interested in broadcasting, as well as a serious commercial competitor in the Ithaca radio market. There are many other community members, of all ages, who work at the station.

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 from the Ithaca Farmer's Market and from local businesses around town, and it sponsors or helps to sponsor local charitable and cultural events.[2]


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...until a hoax broadcast in the early 1950s caused the FCC to order the Guild to take steps to restrict the reach of the signal to the immediate campus area. It was at this point, that the Guild 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 the Guild to build and operate an FM station, first at 101.7 mHz. But before broadcasts were begun, the specified operating frequency was changed to 93.5 mHz, the only frequency where WVBR-FM has ever broadcast.

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. But 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 major Cornell sports including football, basketball and hockey.)

In its early years, WVBR-FM's musical programming was mainly classical whereas the AM 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.

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 to the 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 after deregulation of the radio industry resulted in most of its local competitors being taken over by a single chain owner.

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 Prorramming 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. But 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 Collegetown district studio building, which forced it to relocate its studios and offices in 2000, also proved to be both a financial and administrative burden for a time. The station's business picture has improved more recently, thanks to a strong showing in both 12+ and 18-49 audience measurements over the last few years in Arbitron's regular rating surveys of the competitive (13 station) Ithaca radio market, and to the introduction of popular new youth-oriented VBR After Dark programming on weekday evenings.

In 2013, the corporation changed its name form The Cornell Radio Guild, Inc. to The Cornell Media Guild, Inc.



The station has broadcast from studios at four locations: Willard Straight Hall, the university's main student union; a station-owned building at 227 Linden Avenue; rented space at 957-B Mitchell Street near East Hill Plaza.

Current locationEdit

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.[4] 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.[5]

Weekday programmingEdit

The station's playlist during the week consists of a variety of alternative rock. During the day, the format is a mix of alternative rock, modern rock, mainstream rock, and active rock. At night, WVBR features VBR After Dark, which features programming geared more towards college students. There is more of a focus on alternative rock and modern rock, but classic rock songs are played as well. VBR After Dark also features college-related giveaways and promotions.

Currently, WVBR features student DJ's on mornings every weekday. The station's afternoons and evenings feature a different DJ every day and night. All or most are students at Cornell University, although a few hail from other colleges around the area. The station also provides news and sports reports in the morning at every half-hour from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m., and also hourly in the afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Regular weekday featuresEdit

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.[6] Other regularly occurring daily weekday segments include Today in Rock History and The WVBR Concert Log.[7] The 93-Second Sports Shot, an opinion piece covering sports, airs weekdays during the 6 p.m. newscast.

Weekend programmingEdit

The station features a number of specialty programs on weekends, some focused on specific genres of rock music or its roots, and others on public affairs or sports.

The best known of the station's weekend programs is Bound For Glory, a long-running folk music showcase with a national reputation.[8] Broadcast every Sunday night since 1967, the program is the longest-running live folk music broadcast in North America;[9] it features a mix of recordings and (most weeks) live performances from a coffeehouse on the Cornell campus. Phil Shapiro has been the program's host since its inception.

Other long-running specialty programs on the station include "Nonesuch" (eclectic), which began in 1968, "The Salt Creek Show" (country music) and "Rockin' Remnants" (oldies); both have been running since the mid-1960s, though with a succession of hosts and with occasional changes in time slot.

Prominent alumniEdit

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


  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. ^ "Keith Olbermann '79 helps WVBR move to new digs | Cornell Chronicle". Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  5. ^ "The George E. Beine '61 Studio | WVBR 93.5 FM - Ithaca's Real Rock Radio Station". WVBR 93.5 FM. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  6. ^ "The Best of Ithaca". Ithaca Times.
  7. ^ "Radio Features".
  8. ^ "40 Years Later, Folk Music Keeps Its Nook on Campus," The New York Times, Sept. 12, 2006
  9. ^ "WVBR's Bound For Glory, 42nd Year," DirtyLinen Newsfeed, Jan. 9, 2009
  10. ^ "Dear Uncle Ezra". WVBR.
  11. ^ "New style, same dial: WVBR enters alternative era". Ithaca news.
  12. ^ "Counting Down with Keith Olbermann '79," Cornell Daily Sun, Nov. 28, 2004
  13. ^ "Bill Pidto". Eye on Sports Media.
  14. ^ "Job advice from NYC alumni". Cornell Chronicle.

External linksEdit