|City of license||Ithaca, New York|
|Broadcast area||Finger Lakes Region, New York|
|Slogan||"Real Rock Radio"|
|First air date||1958|
|HAAT||76.0 meters (249 feet)|
|Callsign meaning||Voice of the Big Red (Cornell)|
|Owner||Cornell Radio Guild, Inc.|
WVBR-FM (93.5 FM) is a college radio station that broadcasts to Ithaca, New York, and surrounding areas. It operates at 3 kilowatts from a transmitter on Hungerford Hill, in Ithaca. A translator on 105.5 FM provides a cleaner signal to certain areas of Ithaca. WVBR's current studios are located on Ithaca's East Hill.
In addition to the main station, WVBR-FM is relayed by an additional translator to widen its broadcast area.
|City of license||ERP
|W288AS||105.5||Ithaca, New York||7||D||FCC|
WVBR is a commercial radio station, but is unusual because it is 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 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 Radio 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.
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.
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. 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 early 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 format was initially successful and was continued by then-program director and on-air personality (and current Z-100 New York programmer and Clear Channel Radio Prorgramming Platform President) Tom Poleman, as well his successor, program director Jessica Ettinger. 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 Steve Blatter, now Sr. VP/GM of Music Programming for Sirius XM radio, the station moved back to album-oriented rock, regaining much of its old core audience in the process. 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.
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
The station's playlist during the week consists of a variety of rock music. During the day, the format is a mix of classic 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 Jeff Mix 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 Features
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. Other regularly occurring daily weekday segments include Today in Rock History and The WVBR Concert Log. The 93-Second Sports Shot, an opinion piece covering sports, airs weekdays during the 6 p.m. newscast.
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. Broadcast every Sunday night for more than 40 years, the program is the longest-running live folk music broadcast in North America; 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 in 1967.
Other long-running specialty programs on the station include "Nonesuch: Music in the Folk Tradition" (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.
Many WVBR student staff members have gone on to significant careers in broadcasting, journalism, and related fields, including:
- Steve Blatter - senior vice president and general manager of Music Programming at SiriusXM
- William B. Briggs - sports and entertainment law expert; vice president for arbitration and litigation for the National Football League (NFL)
- Joyce Brothers - psychologist, television personality, and columnist; "the mother of television psychology"
- Joel Chaseman - senior executive at Westinghouse Broadcasting Company (now part of CBS) who pioneered the all-news radio format and implemented it successfully in 1965 at WINS (AM)
- Pam Coulter - CBS News Washington, D.C. correspondent
- Jessica Ettinger - Anchor, 1010 WINS New York, voice of the New York City Subway on the 4, 5, and 6 trains
- John Ettinger - CEO, The Talent Associates, instrumental in the careers of Shania Twain, Sugarland, Billy Currington, Emerson Drive, Blackjack Billy
- Will Gluck - film director, screenwriter, and producer, such as Easy A and Friends with Benefits
- Warren Kurtzman - President, Chief Operating Officer, media research firm Coleman Insights
- Keith Olbermann - sports and political commentator at ESPN, MSNBC, and Current TV; former host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann
- Bill Pidto - sports journalist; MSG Network anchor
- Tom Poleman - president of National Programming Platforms at Clear Channel Radio
- Brigitte Quinn - anchor, WCBS radio New York
- Jon Rubinstein - senior vice president at Apple, Inc. and chairman of Palm, Inc.; instrumental in development of the iPod
- Kathy Savitt - chief marketing officer at Yahoo!; founder and former CEO of Lockerz
- Todd Schnitt - nationally syndicated conservative talk radio host; host of The MJ Morning Show
- Kate Snow - television correspondent for Dateline and Rock Center with Brian Williams; Good Morning America co-anchor
- Whit Watson - former SportsCenter anchor
- "Dear Uncle Ezra". WVBR.
- "Call Letter Origins". Radio History on the Web.
- "Guitar Heroes Fundraise For Annual Relay For Life, Cornell Daily Sun".
- "Radio Tries to Appeal To Students, Residents, Cornell Daily Sun".
- "The Best of Ithaca". Ithaca Times.
- "Radio Features". 14850.com.
- "40 Years Later, Folk Music Keeps Its Nook on Campus," The New York Times, Sept. 12, 2006
- "WVBR's Bound For Glory, 42nd Year," DirtyLinen Newsfeed, Jan. 9, 2009
- "Visiting WVBR Alums". WVBR Blog.
- "Dear Uncle Ezra". WVBR.
- "Counting Down with Keith Olbermann '79," Cornell Daily Sun, Nov. 28, 2004
- "Bill Pidto". Eye on Sports Media.
- "Job advice from NYC alumni". Cornell Chronicle.
- Query the FCC's FM station database for WVBR
- Radio-Locator information on WVBR
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WVBR
- WVBR Alumni Pre-1967 - History and Memorabilia