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.
Overnight DJ/Board Operator, ALT 92.3, New York City
Overnight Host, WYEP-FM, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Heavy Metal Musician, South Florida
WJPA, 95.3 FM and 1450 AM, Washington, Pa.
Program director, 103.5 WEZL, Charleston, S.C.
WISH 99.7-FM, Pittsburgh, Pa.
OUTFRONT Media Inc., Western Pennsylvania
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.
“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