August 30, 2006

Radio Tries to Appeal To Students, Residents

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For many Cornell students, it’s the smell of fresh-brewed coffee that gets them out of bed on a lazy Saturday morning. For others, it’s the buzz of early morning cartoons. But for some, it’s the soothing sounds of modern jazz, the heart-rate rising beats of 80’s punk rock the tripped-out instrumental combinations of 60’s psychedelic tunes, or the raw and rare melodies of local folk-rock bands crowding the airways of Ithaca’s own 93.5 WVBR radio station that motivate them to get up, get out and get going.
WVBR, standing for “The Voice of the Big Red,” ranks among the top three stations in Ithaca and is completely student-run. Unlike many other Cornell student groups, however, it does not receive any funding from the University. For almost 60 years, the station has evolved from a running report of Cornell’s athletic teams to a rock station that plays a combination of live and recorded classic, alternative, modern and mainstream rock-and-roll.
So how did the unpaid members of this small-staffed station manage to create and maintain such a strong community following? Through careful balance and consideration, as many of the station’s administrative board members said.
“Our toughest job has been creating a program which appeals to both Cornell students and local residents,” said WVBR General Manager Matthew Leftwich ’07. “We have to make sure we keep enough listeners to satisfy our advertisers as well as maintain our ties with the Cornell community.”
Creating this balance has resulted from years of hard work and dedication to keep programming consistent yet novel and focused in content yet widely appealing. Program Director Jordan Gremli ’08 has worked hard to create a list of radio shows that attract a range of both student and local audiences.
“We do a lot of the student-targeted programming at night and residential-targeted programming during the day,” he said.
For example, the station’s “VBR After Dark” show, which is aimed at students, airs Monday through Thursday nights and features a variety of today’s popular music. The “Top 11 at 11” is a countdown-style show with giveaway prizes that features the top 11 songs of a given genre.
Although WVBR has historically tried to inculcate itself into the Ithaca community, it is in the process of trying to play a more active role on the Cornell campus.
“We drifted away from Cornell over the past few years while we were really trying to establish ourselves as a commercial radio station in Ithaca,” said Lauren Kehe ’07, vice president of staff and facilities. “Now we are making a strong effort to re-establish our presence on the Cornell campus.”
And its presence is being established in ways both traditional and timely. WVBR has begun to effectively make the transition from standard FM broadcasting to digital streaming. A 24-hour live broadcast of the station’s programming is available through the Internet as well as a music podcast.
“The future of traditional radio is unclear,” Leftwich said. “As more and more media outlets develop into modes of expression, it is inevitable that the number of people listening to FM radio will decline. By redesigning the website and adjusting to today’s ever-changing technology, we hope to enable people all over the world to hear and enjoy the station.”
With a slew of programs ranging from the popular “Tuesdays With The Band,” which features a weekly guest appearance and occasional live-performance given by a local band, to shows specializing in musical genres from punk and ska to acoustic and bluegrass tunes, WVBR tries to cover the tastes of all music listeners.
The station’s ability to remain independent amidst its commercial nature has enabled it to play an active role in the surrounding community.
“The fact that we are not owned by a large corporate conglomerate like Clear Channel gives us a lot of freedom in choosing our advertisers and fund-raising targets,” said Leftwich. “We are able to help a number of local organizations.”
This summer, WVBR helped raise $11,000 for the American Red Cross by organizing a benefit concert on the Commons.
“The fact that we have so many good relationships with the local artists helps us play an active role in the community,” said Kehe, who like all the staff members, regards her experiences working for WVBR as rewarding in more ways than one.
“In addition to keeping me involved in aspects of both Cornell and Ithaca, working for WVBR has given me as real a work experience as any,” Kehe added.
Samantha Scavron ’08, WVBR’s treasurer, added, “We are dealing with an actual business, with actual costs and with actual repercussions. If we fail, our actions impact other businesses and other people’s jobs, so working for the station has taught me to handle responsibility well.”
WVBR is owned and operated by the Cornell Radio Guild, a not-for-profit student organization that, when founded in 1935, produced radio shows which aired on WESG in Ithaca. Starting in the 1940s, the Guild created a network that broadcast programming in Cornell’s dormitories via A.M. transmitters. It wasn’t until 1958 that WVBR became an FCC-licensed FM station that was heard throughout Ithaca.