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Radio days

WCAL Marks 50 Years On The Air

In 1969, from the basement of student Dave Dragosin’s off-campus apartment across from the World Cultures Building, an unlicensed signal went out.

As Dragosin tells the story, WBDJ (Be a DJ), all one-tenth of a watt of it, didn’t last long.

“For a period of a month or so, we were on the air, having a good time,” he recalls. “I was at a Jaggerz concert in Hamer Hall when we got word that the landlord was going to kick us out.”

The landlord did give the station the boot – “for fear of all the wires,” as the California Times reported in May 1973. Happy 50th birthday, WCAL. You’ve come a long way.

IN THE BEGINNING

The Vulcan Radio Club was formed in the mid-1960s, but it split within a couple of years between those interested in AM/FM broadcasting and amateur, or “ham,” radio operators.

In spring 1969, students attempted to set up an unlicensed station in Vulcan Lounge, according to the Cal Times.

Quicker than you can flip through the presets on your car radio, the station – now called WMCL – moved first to McCloskey Hall, then to Dragosin’s basement, then to a house on Beazel Street where train whistles interrupted the programs.

Finally, in fall 1971, the radio station moved to the basement of the student center, and the Student Activities Association requested a 10-watt FM license from the Federal Communications Commission.

Permission was granted in 1972. An official station – the 10-watt WVCS (Voice of Cal State) – was finally on the air, operated by the Student Broadcast Club.

In 1992, the student center was expanded to twice its size and named for respected administrator Elmo Natali. The campus radio station, TV station and student newspaper moved to a new media center there.

In March 2005, J.R. Wheeler ’82, ’84, then the associate dean of media services, negotiated a deal with Minnesota Public Radio to acquire the WCAL call letters.

“Obviously, there’s an attachment to WVCS for alumni who worked at the radio station, considering those letters have been around for 30 years,” station alumnus Tom Leturgey ’90 said at the time.

“But if this helps the University better market the radio station, then I would think we are all for it.”

Today, WCAL broadcasts at 3.3 kilowatts from a media suite in the Natali Student Center, and it has a brand-new tower at Roadman Park.

The station is owned and operated by SAI, the nonprofit Student Association Inc.

This spring 61 students were involved, producing 21 original shows and airing 56 hours of student programming each week. The station also broadcasts Vulcans football and men’s and women’s basketball games.

WCAL’s signal has a 30- to 40-mile radius, reaching Pennsylvania listeners in Washington, Greene, Fayette, Westmoreland and Allegheny counties. It also streams online.

“It is still one of the most powerful college stations in Pennsylvania,” says Gary Smith ’98, club adviser and director of operations for CUTV, the campus television station, and adviser for WCAL.

STEVE MAGGIO '16
Board Operator/Producer, United Stations Radio Network
Overnight DJ/Board Operator, ALT 92.3, New York City
“I was at WCAL from 2012-2016. One of myfavorite memories was our annual lock-in,a fundraiser for local charities where we’dtake five or six of our DJs and lock themin the station for 48 hours. Listenerscould call in and make donations to releaseour ‘inmates’ on ‘bail’ although 90 percentof the time, the DJs wouldn’t want toleave. In fact, there would be a bunch ofother staff hanging out at the stationthroughout the event, just enjoying eachother and having fun.”
KAITLYN O’TOOLE ’15
Digital Marketing Specialist
Overnight Host, WYEP-FM, Pittsburgh, Pa.
“I decided not to take a career in radio/TV, but I interned at WYEP back in 2014 and have hosted an overnight/after-hours show there since 2016.I would have loved to do radio as a career, but I also knew that college and nonprofit radio is a completely different world than commercial radio… so that’s why I kept in touch with the WYEP staff and went through the process to get a volunteer show there.”
PAUL PARR ’90
Teacher, High School Football Coach,
Heavy Metal Musician, South Florida
Parr and Natalie Cardinale ’91 hosted the “Friday Night Metal Mixer” from 1986-1989. “I hated being pre-empted by high school football in the fall. Nothing made me angrier than having to wait to do the ‘Friday Night Metal Mixer.’ And because God has a twisted sense of humor, I am now a high school football coach. I enjoy that more than actually doing the Mixer.”
PETE POVICH '03
Program Director, Morning Show Host
WJPA, 95.3 FM and 1450 AM, Washington, Pa.
“My biggest accomplishment at WVCS in the early 1980s was getting us to be on the air 24/7. I thought, if we were going to be a real radio station, and with all the talent that we had, then let’s do real radio. I was the program manager and station manager, and we had people go out and do campus news. We had regular shows. Not that it was easy, but that was the thing I was most proud of. It stayed on 24/7 for two years straight.”
DR. MARCELLA ‘MARCY’ BLOUT ’65
Emerita Professor
She wasn’t on the air at WVCS or WCAL, but Blout influenced countless students who took her communication classes, including Voice and Articulation. “I taught them the International Phonetic Alphabet, and by the end of the course, they knew it and could reproduce Standard American Speech. They were serious about their radio careers. They were intense, and I loved that.”
BRIAN CLEARY '83
Morning show host, program director, Y102.5, Charleston, S.C.
Program director, 103.5 WEZL, Charleston, S.C.
“We did remote broadcasts from the Hills store in Belle Vernon to raise money for Children’s Hospital. We raised over $10,000 the first time, which was a pretty big amount. … I also remember getting locked out of the studio. I was playing ‘Hold On’ by Ian Gomm, which is a pretty short song, and I’m not sure why I thought I could make it back from the bathroom in time, but it went to dead air till someone could open the door.”
CRIS WINTER ’84
“Cris Winter in the Morning”
WISH 99.7-FM, Pittsburgh, Pa.
“I am blessed to have a career in radio right here in my hometown. Everything I learned at WVCS I was able to apply to my radio career. What I got out of being a part of the station was teamwork - and friendships. Here it is 35 years later, and I am still friends with many of the people I met at the station. Even though there were lots of funny stories - people would work at the station overnight and fall asleep behind the controls - we ran it like a real, legitimate radio station.”

RON RAMSEY ’83
Sales Representative
OUTFRONT Media Inc., Western Pennsylvania
“Well, obviously one of the best things to happen was meeting my wife (Cris Winter). It’s 32 years of marriage and 38 years being together. I was a business administration and management major, but we all loved music. I bet it was less than 30 percent who were radio/communication majors. It was our fraternity, and we hung out 24/7. It was people who wanted to join something or find something to occupy their time. And it let people out of their shells, made them feel like they belonged.”

STUDENT-RUN STATION

Like all of Cal U’s clubs and organizations, WCAL is open to all students, regardless of major.

Some join because they want a career in radio. Many want to play their favorite music. If you pass a 12-hour training course, you’re allowed to take a seat behind the mic.

Mostly, it’s a blast.

“The station teaches a lot of different skills,” Smith says. “You have to learn to think on your feet and follow the rules of an organization, especially for members of our executive board. You manage interpersonal relationships, run a board, run a show and run a station.”

An executive board composed of seven students – with staff oversight when needed – manages day-to-day operations.

“They’re very entrepreneurial,” says Pam DelVerne ’01, ’06, director of technology services for SAI. “They have very creative ideas for the shows they’d like to do, and they have a lot of responsibility.”

The station is completely digital, run with CD changers, computers and DAT machines. Producers use an Avid Pro Tools editing system, the industry standard.

Beth Bershok ’84 and Gary Love ’74 were familiar voices in the Pittsburgh market for 18 years, working together on “Gary and Beth in the Morning” on WLTJ-FM until a format change in 2008.

“How unusual,” Bershok says, “to have a show that ran for 18 years and then to have two Cal U grads as hosts after being at the same college station 10 years apart.”

Bershok, now regional marketing director for Herbein + Company Inc., wanted a career in radio and chose Cal U specifically because of the student-run station.

"Obviously, there's an attachment to WVCS for alumni who worked at the radio station, considering those letters have been around for 30 years." – Tom Leturgey '90

ON-AIR EXPERIENCE

“Actual on-air experience is critical,” she says. “Cal U had the only student-run, 24- hour operation going among the schools I was considering, and you could get on the air as a freshman. Some schools wouldn’t allow you on the air until you were a junior or senior.”

WCAL’s structure then, as now, mirrored a commercial station.

“It wasn’t just college kids playing their favorite albums,” Bershok says. “We had a program director, a music director, a sports director. We had a board that made financial decisions. All the students did those jobs the way you do them inside a commercial radio station.

“Except for sports, I did everything there was to do – news and live broadcasts – and that was a huge difference in the trajectory of my career.”

As the station enters its sixth decade, student Evan Peffer is proof that the “do everything” spirit lives on at WCAL. She’s a liberal studies major with minors in music, technical theater and graphic communications. She’s also WCAL’s business director, live sports engineer and radio DJ.

“Anytime we do ticket giveaways, I contact booking agencies to handle the arrangements,” she says. “We get real-world experience at the station. I know how to write a proposal, read a budget and handle money. “I’ll be prepared for a career after Cal U.”

By Wendy Mackall, communications director at Cal U

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