"It was the spring of 1962 and the college Radio Station Club had been meeting for about 15 years without ever getting on the air. A friend of mine and I were two freshmen determined to get on the actual air anyway we could. We found a local guy (Steve Seiden of Seiden Sound) who would install a complete closed circuit radio station for $500. We battled the administration and the Student Senate until they gave us the $500. The rest is broom closet history."Bill Alexander, Station Manager, 1962
The first traces of campus radio activity at the UAlbany campus appeared in the 1940s when the University Radio Council was formed. This organization made initial plans for the creation of a campus station tentatively called WCFA (College For Teachers, UAlbany's first incarnation) or WSCA. In 1962, the college became a University in the State University of New York system.
WSUA debuted on February 22, 1963 as a "carrier current" AM radio station, where the broadcast transmissions are propagated via and confined to the electrical wiring of the college campus. The frequency was 640 kHz. At the time, a school newspaper account specified the station's power at eight watts. The first program was hosted by David Hughes.
Bill Alexander (quoted above) and Don Allen are considered the founders of WSUA owing to their work in the Radio Council. Bill was the station's first General Manager, with Don to follow. WSUA was located in a janitor's closet in Brubacher Hall in what is today called the "Downtown campus." At the time, the format consisted of news, sports and music in the jazz, classical and Broadway vein. It was somewhat later that WSUA realized it could attract a bigger audience among the student population by playing "rock and roll" music, so a Top 40 and rock format soon ensued. The song "I Want To Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles is said to be the first song played in the new format.
In the mid 1960s, WSUA upgraded their studio space to the basement of Brubacher Hall, where space for more studios and record storage was available. The station's management offices were on the first floor. Around this time, the station's carrier current signal was rolled out to the new "Uptown" campus. The electrical wires used to carry the signal often imparted a buzzing sound on the transmission. In 1975, the station began to use the slogan "Buzz Along With Us," coined by Program Director Joel Feld, on some promotional items to acknowledge this fact.
A more progressive type of rock music format would be introduced beginning in 1968 and would later become the dominant format, displacing the Top 40 music. At the same time, WSUA began sports coverage of the Great Danes basketball and football teams. One of the more popular programs in 1970 was the Saturday Night of Gold, hosted initially by Eric Lonschein, and later, by Andy Baum and Glen Trotiner. The station also featured a daily news digest called Earwitness News beginning in 1973. The news program featured, among others, Anita Bonita, who would continue her on air career in the New York City area. By mandate of the Student Association, the station would be required to use this specific ID for it's top of the hour announcement: "WSUA Albany, subsidized completely by student tax paid to the Student Association of the State University of New York at Albany."
For more on WSUA's history, click here.
The migration from WSUA on the AM dial to WCDB on the FM dial began around 1968, when plans for acquiring an FM frequency and license were first started. These plans grew in detail and, unfortunately, red tape, as complexities related to University backing, financial scandal at the station and technical issues were raised. During this time, the station's budget was frozen, and it was necessary to ask the station staff for $50 collectively (in 1970 dollars) in order to continue operating. To unfreeze the budget, the station was forced to move closer to the Student Association on the newer Uptown campus. Following the song "Get Together" by The Youngbloods, WSUA's downtown campus studio signed off and was closed. In 1971, WSUA began operating from new studios in the Campus Center, where WCDB exists today.
Between 1974 and 1977, station GM David Galletly, along with Eric Goldstein, Jeff Ronner and Paul Rosenthal were mired in paperwork and license applications in order to make the station's transition to FM possible. The FCC approved the call sign WCDB for use by the University. A student lounge adjacent to the WSUA studios was annexed by the station to provide room for the new FM studios, which are still in use today. Jerry Jones of UAlbany's Educational Communications Center was the station's first FM broadcast engineer, and would consult WCDB on technical matters for the next 18 years.
WCDB signed on to the FM dial on March 1, 1978 with the song "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen, spun on vinyl by DJ Jim Saturno. The station operated with 10 watts of power in FM stereo. The transmitting antenna was situated atop Mohawk Tower on Indian Quad. However due to complaints by Atmospheric Sciences faculty regarding alleged interference to a co-located weather station, the transmitter and antenna were moved to Eastman Tower a year later, where they still exist today.
WCDB's FM format was news, sports and a variety of music including rock, jazz and what would later be called World music. The station would excel at Election night coverage for several years.
On the station's first anniversary, March 1, 1979 at 4:30 PM, the song Born To Run was played on the campus carillon outside the campus center.
Although WCDB was operating on the FM dial, WSUA continued operating on the AM dial as a training studio for new staff members wanting to work on the FM station. This continued until 1980, when it was decided that the AM signal was no longer necessary. WSUA shut down without fanfare. The training studio remained intact well into the 1990s however.
In 1981, the station applied to increase its transmitter power to 100 watts, and was approved to do so on March 1, 1982. An upgrade to the transmitter was completed in September 1982, and the actual power increase took place on September 23rd at 12:45pm. The first song played at the new higher power was "Rock and Roll" by The Velvet Underground.
In January 1984, dance music was added to the format of the station in the form of a long running weekly show called Club 91 on Friday nights. In 1986 a Saturday morning jazz format shift hosted by Bill McCann began. This program, later known as The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz, is still heard on WCDB on Saturday mornings.
Advances in audio technology gradually found their way into the station. In 1987, local club QE2 donated a CD player to the station and CDs were broadcast for the first time. Both the Production and On Air studios were rebuilt in 1992 and 1993 under the guidance of broadcast engineer Joe Schepis, who would later found the WCDB Historical Society web site in 1996. Aging analog reel to reel tape machines were replaced by digital tape decks (DAT) starting in 1994, and in 1997, the analog broadcast cartridges used for IDs, promos and some songs were replaced by MiniDisc technology.
The format of the mid 1990's was music intensive, with some public affairs and news programs. DJs Brian Perlis and Ron Balle worked hard to lobby the station administration for a prime time program with a talk/interview format. In 1993 their lobbying succeeded, and the Ron and Brian Show revived the talk format on WCDB and would lay the foundation for later programs in a similar vein, such as Talk Show 91. To support the talk format, where telephone interviews would sometimes be necessary, a new seven second delay unit was put into service in the main studio in 1994.
WCDB published their first web site (archived here) on September 20, 1997. It was designed by Jerem Curry. This was the station's first official presence on the World Wide Web, aside from tribute pages created by station members. On January 17, 1999, WCDB made one of its first Internet audio broadcasts, carrying the Talk Show 91 program for several weeks.
In 1998, GM Glenda Bautista created a team morale-building exercise called Biodome, whereby station members and alumni were invited to camp out in the station's studio overnight. This coincided with the station's 20th Anniversary celebration.
On January 28, 2002, WCDB upgraded its aging transmitter and antenna. A 300 watt Energy-Onix transmitter was installed.
In 2003, the station invited all WCDB and WSUA alumni to its 25th/40th Anniversary celebration. Over 1000 alumni were contacted and about 200 attended, a testament to how well many station members value their years at the station. A series of on-air panel discussions were broadcast featuring stories and historical facts as told by the alumni. A remote broadcast from Brubacher Hall, now leased to the College of Saint Rose, featured additional stories of the early WSUA days.
Between April and November 2007, the entire WCDB studio facility in the Campus Center was gutted for asbestos abatement. There were no means to produce any programming at WCDB during this time. However, in order to avoid losing their FCC license, WCDB continued to transmit several repeating programs from a CD player located in the transmitter closet at Eastman. One of these repeated programs was H.G. Wells' "War of The Worlds" broadcast of 1938. At the Campus Center, new walls, studio doors and windows were installed, and the Student Association provided several important studio equipment upgrades. The station returned on the air from the renovated studios late in 2007, at first only sporadically due to the loss of student interest from the previous period of inactivity.
The newly-rebuilt station facilities were shown off at the WCDB 30th/WSUA 45th Anniversary Alumni Reunion in October of 2008. The Brubacher Hall remote broadcast took place a second time. The Alumni dinner at Dutch Quad was also broadcast live. By this time, interest in various online "social networks" provided new ways for the station's alumni to keep in touch with one another.
In February 2009, WCDB added a specialty show featuring stand-up comedy, song parodies and interviews with comedians hosted by Ethan Ullman. Called Alternative To Sleeping, it featured some noteworthy guests including Weird Al Yankovic and Jimmy Fallon.
In March 2009, WCDB experimented with filling extra air time with a computer automation playback system called TJSP. The ability of the station to automate fully was hamstrung for several months by the lack of a suitable data circuit at the transmitter site.
In the fall of 2009, WCDB's programming became available to users of the cable TV system in the dormitories. In early 2010, the web stream was added to Apple's elite directory of College/University web stations inside the iTunes application.
During the last week of 2010, WCDB switched its main on-air studio to what is called Studio B, which had up until that point always been the production and recording studio. The former Studio A, or Master Control, became a production room with Mac-based ProTools for recording live music from the center studio.
On January 11th and 12th, 2011 WCDB DJ Nathan "Invincible" Miller hosted The SuperShow, a marathon 36 hour broadcast of electronic dance music on WCDB. As far as we are aware, this set a new station record of longest continuous live DJ show by a single host on the station.
Although station reunions are normally scheduled every five years, in 2011 WCDB decided to have a reunion to celebrate its 33 and 1/3rd birthday, which occurred on July 1, 2011. On that day, WCDB DJs spun an all-vinyl show from outside in front of the Campus Center. Then in August, WCDB invited alumni to a casual "mini-reunion." Some on-air discussions were broadcast as in years past, and DJs from all eras spun many types of music on the air.
By Fall 2011, WCDB had upgraded its studio-transmitter link from the failing copper twisted pair wires installed in 1978 to a digital link using IP audio codecs. Network connectivity at the transmitter site also allowed full remote control, logging and administration of the transmitter for the first time.
In March 2012, WCDB celebrated its birthday with an alumni reunion as well as the WCDB 34th Anniversary Music Festival at Valentine's Music Hall in Albany. Featuring over 15 bands, the festival spanned two nights and two separate floors of the hall. The near-capacity crowd enjoyed many genres of great independent artists that have been the hallmark of WCDB's rock format for over 30 years.
Also in 2012, the availability of free automated broadcast software would allow WCDB to operate in an unattended fashion during school breaks or even during hard-to-staff overnight hours. A program called Airtime presently allows for the remote upload and scheduling of programs which can then be broadcast on the air at any required time.
In early January 2013, WCDB moved its main studio back to Studio A, also known as Master Control. All new wiring was installed to make station maintenance easier. For the week that the studio was being reconstructed, WCDB operated only via automation. The new studio is based upon custom-designed wood furniture that was built by artist and musician Brian Dewan.
WCDB held an Alumni Reunion for its 35th Anniversary on the FM dial and its 50th Anniversary as a campus radio station March 1st-3rd, 2013. There was a station dinner, a music festival at Valentines, an industry mixer and many alumni DJ radio shows during the well-attended reunion weekend.
On April 18, 2015 WCDB jazz DJ Bill McCann hosted his 30th Anniversary show of The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz. Special guests included jazz DJs Tim Coakley, Darrin Scott Kibbey, Teddy Moisides and Bill Goss, as well as jazz writer and guest DJ Tom Pierce.
On August 20, 2015, WCDB aired the final installment of its long running comedy standup show, Alternative To Sleeping, featuring a guest interview with Dr. Demento.
In January 2017, WCDB's long running Energy-Onix transmitter failed, leaving the station off the air for more than a week on 90.9 FM (although the station continued operating via its web stream). A new BW Broadcast transmitter was installed and put on the air on February 6th, 2017. Owning to the newer technology in the more modern transmitter, the sound of the station was noticeably improved.
In March 2018, WCDB welcomed back all WSUA and WCDB alumni to celebrate the 40th anniversary of WCDB and the 55th anniversary of WSUA during a four-day reunion. A dinner, a concert and station open house were held, and many alumni DJs took over the airwaves during the long weekend.
The effects of the Coronavirus pandemic were severely felt in March 2020, causing the elimination of all in-person classes at the University and the closure of all buildings on campus for several weeks. WCDB had planned a special jazz event in celebration of Bill McCann's 35th Anniversary for April 2020, but it had to be cancelled. Nonetheless, Bill did celebrate 35 years doing the Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz on WCDB on April 18th. WCDB stayed on the air throughout the pandemic owing to its remote-enabled automation playback system. There were very few live DJ shows during this time.
Thanks to Marc Gronich for collecting and verifying many of the facts used in the above history. Marc authored a comprehensive account of the station's history in 2003 available here, although some facts clarified above are not updated in that document. Although we would like to include all the names of those who helped contribute to the success and longevity of WCDB, we cannot hope to do so in the limited time and space we are afforded. Nonetheless, we thank all WSUA and WCDB contributors for making the station an amazing organization and a great service to the listening community over these many years. There is no reason to doubt that this tradition will continue.