By DUSTIN NILES
Layout & Design Editor
Walking through the front door of WFDU is stepping into a time machine. There might be someone outside the door smoking a cigarette, a sign of the pre- millennial times ahead. On a cold November day, the inside of University Court 10 is warm, and so are the people. Vintage posters hang on the walls, and oldies music sizzles clearly through speakers placed everywhere in the building. Walking from room to room, the music and it’s volume never changes, like an omnipotent voice that might just happen to be that of Buddy Holly or The Supremes.
“This is HD1/FM,” says Ian Ranzer, the professor of the new Radio Broadcast Workshop class. “HD radio is short for hybrid definition, not high definition. Which means that if you have an HD radio, and you go to 89.1, you can listen to any of our three stations. All of our stations, however, are also available online.”
HD1 is the station you’d hear if you tuned your car radio to 89.1 while you were driving around Teaneck. It’s the default.
“The format for this station, FM, is called Retro Radio,” Ranzer said. “Basically, the easiest way to explain it is radio hits of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.”
It’s Monday morning just after 10. Professor Ranzer is actually in the middle of a radio show.
“FDU!… Ah, I’m so sorry I was talking to somebody else, I totally forgot about you, sorry man… How are you, how was your holiday?… Great, what can I do for you?”
There’s a slightly longer pause.
“You know, I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this, but I think we have zero Hendrix in this library, but I’ll see what I can do for you… I know, it’s embarrassing, I’m almost positive, let me just double check. You know, he was surprisingly not a —ah, here I can play you “Purple Haze,” how about that?” After some more banter, Ranzer hangs up the phone. As he queues up Hendrix, he says, “I guess apparently today is Jimi Hendrix’s birthday.”
WFDU’s Retro Radio format might seem strange for a college radio station, but it’s a format that gets to the core of what radio is, taking calls and requests instead of using focus groups and computer-algorithm playlists. And WFDU is one of the last to do it.
“CBS-FM, the oldies station in New York, had dropped all the oldies, prior to 1980,” station General Manager Du She eld said. “All those songs, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes… all this music was not being played. So we said, ‘Gee whiz, why don’t we try this new thing…’ Our ratings have gone up considerably because of it.”
“We have a 3,000 watt transmitter, there’s upwards of 50,000 people listening,” Ranzer said. “What we do though is really hearkening back to a different style of radio.”
For Ranzer, it is all about the listeners.
“As you’ll see, even in just the couple minutes that you’re with me, radio still means a lot to a lot of people,” Ranzer said. “We’re really now the only station in the whole New York area playing… I mean, I don’t like to call them oldies because I feel like that pigeonholes what we’re doing, but oldies, classic rock, like that mix. You’re really not going to find that anywhere else.”
But it’s not all of what you’re going to find at WFDU. Michael Cabrer is a communication major who, at the same time as Professor Ranzer, was running his own chill hop show on the HD3 channel.
Going from oldies to Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” was a huge change, but Cabrer’s show felt like a typical college radio show. A laptop, some headphones, and music that almost no one knows about. He had heard about the radio station from Dr. Karen Buzzard, the head of the School of Arts and Media Studies.
“My show is ‘Chill Times and Chill Vibes,’ but I usually refer to it as ‘Michael in the Mornings,’ that’s like my call name,” Cabrer said, “and I mostly play chill hop and electronic music. The best I can describe it is internet music, like music that isn’t normally heard on the radio. Underground artists and stuff. I try to give them exposure, to like the three people that listen,” Cabrer said with a laugh.
Cabrer is one of the first to start a show from the Radio Broadcast Workshop. He broadcasts on the HD3 stream, but the students aren’t con ned to it. Ashley Lopez, a current FDU student, was going to be broadcasting on the HD1/FM stream later in the day. She’s the first FDU student to broadcast on the FM channel since Kenny O’Boyle was a student.
Kenny O’Boyle is “the everything,” as he called it, technically the Operations Manager. He’s one of two paid employees of WFDU, the other being Du She eld, the general manager. Both are FDU alumni. Everyone else at the station is a volunteer.
“I think maybe it was about three or four years ago when we started the HD channels, we quite literally didn’t have a place to teach the class anymore,” O’Boyle said. “So the class got put on hold for a little while. There was at least a year, maybe two years, where the class wasn’t being offered at all.”
With recent student interest, and renewed station interest in having students, HD3 has been set aside as the channel for students, with classical music currently being put in “as a placeholder,” according to Sheffield.
“It’s cool because it’s like when I was a student here, because we actually did have a student station at the time,” O’Boyle said. He was referring to WFDQ, the room next door to the office of The equinox in the bottom level of the Student Union Building.
WFDQ was where O’Boyle and others cut their teeth broadcasting, demonstrating that they could hold down a show and earn a spot on WFDU. According to O’Boyle, WFDQ was broadcast through the dorm television sets, although he admits he never saw it in action because he was a commuter.
Student interest fizzled, and WFDQ went dormant. The reason why students are now broadcasting on HD3, instead of reviving WFDQ, is that WFDQ existed before WFDU had multiple streams. Now that there’s a spot for students to broadcast at WFDU, there’s no need to go through the work of reviving WFDQ.
Kenny talked about another WFDU relic, Studio C, The Atomic Underground. Many FDU students likely walk by the sign without knowing what exactly it is. The Atomic Underground was a performance space, allowing for live performances that would be wired back to WFDU and broadcast over the air. According to O’Boyle, there were cameras and other equipment there to facilitate performances. The name came from the fact that before a performance space, the place was the site of “FDU’s nuclear physics program” before that. According to O’Boyle, there are still some pieces of it left, like the thick lead walls. He left open the option to revive that space, but again it depends on student interest and being able to book acts to perform in the space.
If something has happened at WFDU over the years, Du Sheffield was probably there for it. She eld was a student here at FDU, and a popular (and true) campus legend is that his current office is in what was his freshman dorm room.
“The apartments down at the end [of campus] used to be part of the school,” She eld said. “Those were the senior dorms…They sold them in the ‘90s, and we had to move. The radio station was located down there…So they moved us in here and because of my varied skills, the things that I’d learned over the years in New York and whatnot, and my innate curiosity I suppose, I learned a lot of things and was able to build this radio station from scratch. I mean all the wiring, the design, everything was by my hand.”
Since then, WFDU has increased its wattage to 3,000, covering “about 50 miles around New York,” according to Sheffield. “We are really now a player in the New York market.”
Sheffield said that exciting things are happening at WFDU, and now from the Radio Broadcast Workshop, more students are involved than there have been for a long time.
“Ian teaches the lecture part of the class in a classroom, and then they come over and do shows, which is really much better because you don’t have to crowd 18 people into a little room,” She eld said. “Plus, other people, who are the student body can come and just — you want a show? Learn how to do it, it’s not hard… keep it clean! So, we’ve been making progress since September in this direction. Ian’s teaching classes, students are doing shows, I’m hoping for the best.”
For Kenny O’Boyle, it’s all good.
“So again we’re now opening up HD3, the radio class is now being taught again, and all seems to be right with the world.”