In the summer of 1998 WWUH celebrated it’s 30th Anniversary! While I usually write about the station in this column I was encouraged to get a little more personal in this anniversary issue by my staff, so here goes:
I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with the station since its early days, and I can still remember visiting the station for the first time: It was late `68 or early '69, only months after the station first signed on. I saw an article about the University of Hartford’s new FM station in the local newspaper and having been fascinated with radio for quite some time, asked my father (who was always interested in finding positive things for his fourteen year old son to do) to take me over to the campus for a visit. WWUH was the first radio station I had ever seen, and I was simply amazed by what I saw. At that time, WWUH was shoe horned into the corner of the top floor of the Gengras Student Union, in a space that had been earmarked for the campus valet and barber shop! Everything about the station seemed incredibly interesting to me: The station's large transmitter humming away in the corner of the room, the "huge" record collection of close to 700 albums, the complex studio equipment (including an electronic gadget that turned mono records into stereo for air play). And then there was the music. From what I recall, the station's programming was as alternative then as it is now- an eclectic mix of progressive rock, folk, Jazz, soul, ethnic, and classical music. It was on 91.3 that I first heard Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ray Stevens, and Fairport Convention. In fact, "Turn Your Radio On" by Ray Stevens seemed to be one of the most popular songs played on the station around that time.
I can’t imagine what the college student who gave me the tour thought of this inquisitive (and probably quite obnoxious) teenager asking all sorts of questions about broadcasting, but I know that I was thoroughly impressed by the volunteer nature of the station's staff; and the uniqueness of its programming.
During the next few years my radio dial rarely left the 91.3 position (although I must admit that I would occasionally tune to 89.3 to hear the "Spitz and Peebles Show" on WRTC). The more I listened to WWUH, the more I was hooked on "Public Alternative Radio". One of my friends and neighbors, Barbara Spear, started attending UH and joined the WWUH staff, and she encouraged me to volunteer at the station. I honestly didn't think the station's staff, who were busy trying to run the station while carrying a full course load as full time students, didn't quite know what to do with this quiet fifteen year old. Since I had an interest in electronics, I was assigned to cleaning up the station's engineering shop, which was a small room in the basement piled to the ceiling with all sorts of wonderful (to me) parts and equipment.
By this time the station had expanded in Gengras: in addition to the two studios the had an office on the third floor, which contained all of the normal office furnishings, plus one very unusual item: a gigantic safe, painted bright orange! To this day I don't know where the safe came from, or what it was for. I do know that the station was struggling to stay on the air during those early years, with many of the problems facing them that face any new organization, with financial woes probably heading the list.
One December afternoon in 1970, someone in the programming department found out that I had my FCC Third Class License, and asked me to do a four hour program on Christmas Day. I was extremely flattered at the time, and accepted immediately. I now realize the truth behind the offer. I would probably be the only "warm body" with a license stupid enough to volunteer to do a show on Christmas Day. Just to be sure, they preprogrammed the show with me by picking out the albums for me to play in advance.
Yes, I have that first show on tape somewhere. No, you won't be hearing it on the air during our anniversary celebration programming this summer. No way.
They must have liked how I sounded during that show, or they must have been pretty desperate for announcers. In any case, I wound up doing fill-ins for the next year or so about once a week. I worked with some great programmers, and learned a lot about how the station operated.
I drifted away from the station for a few years while I was on the road doing sound for various bands, but returned to the station in the Summer of '73 just after the station moved its transmitter from the campus to the top of Avon Mountain. This move caused the station to be off the air for a few weeks, and when 91.3 again came alive with a much stronger signal, I called in to congratulate them. Roger Stauss, who was Program Director at the time, took my call and invited me to come by for a tour. I arrived around four in the afternoon and after talking with Roger for about ten minutes, he asked me to fill in on the air for him as he had to go to work! Needless to say, I said yes, and it wasn't long before I was able to land two weekly shifts. The Sunday night and the Tuesday night Gothic Blimp Works.
The Gothics at that time ran from midnight to at least two am, when the announcer could either sign off the station or stay on the air for as long as they wanted. Most of us would stay on until at least 3 am or so, and a few brave souls would stay on until the morning show started at 6 am. One cold Tuesday night I was about to sign the station off at 3 am when a wonderful young woman by the name of Clem walked into the studio and announced that she was here to do the All Night Show. It was dedicated to individuals such as Clem Infante who allowed WWUH to adopt a 24 hour a day schedule, something that was unheard of in college radio at the time. It is that same level of dedication that still keeps the station on 24/7.
I left the station for the second time in late 1974 when my sound career was forcing me to miss too many of my scheduled shifts. I wouldn't return until 1977, but I kept in contact with the station both by listening and by talking with Mark Smith, a close friend who had joined the station at my suggestion and quickly snagged a coveted Morning Jazz slot in addition to becoming the station's Business Manager. Mark kept me abreast of what was happening behind the scenes, and convinced me to rejoin the staff in the summer of 1977, which was a time of extreme turmoil at WWUH. Simply put, a number of staff members felt that the station had started to drift away from its alternative roots, and that the station was beginning to sound too commercial, but that's the topic of another letter.
In 1978, I was voted in as the station's Chief Engineer, filling the void left by Jim McGivern's departure for a full time gig with WTIC radio's engineering department. I also did some afternoon rock programming, hosting an "Afternoon Roll" program through the name change to "Midday Fuse" and finally ended up doing the Tuesday "Synthesis" for a number of years.
In 1986 I was hired as the station's first paid General Manager, a position I have held ever since. I'm not kidding when I say that it is the best job in the world.