WRUC celebrates seventy-five years
As students walk by the Reamer Campus Center on a warm afternoon, they often stop and tilt their heads, listening to the music that drifts from the open windows of the fourth floor. The sounds they hear are the sounds of WRUC 89.7 FM, the College's student-run radio station and the recipient this fall of “Happy 75th Birthday” wishes.
It was on Oct. 14, 1920, that the first scheduled radio broadcast was made with makeshift equipment from a shed behind the Electrical Engineering Lab.
That twenty-seven minute broadcast of vocal and musical selections has evolved into a twenty-four-hour-a-day,
seven-day-a-week operation. WRUC now provides “alternative” programming-music, campus news, Spanish-language broadcasting, and live sports coverage-for the campus community and a listening audience within a fifteen-mile radius.
This evolution has been slow. Union's radio history is a story of ups and downs, location and name changes, and even a little controversy. But WRUC has grown into one of the largest student activities on campus and a valuable community service.
The day after that first broadcast in 1920, the Schenectady Gazette reported, “What is believed to be the first attempt of a college radio club to give a musical concert by wireless telephone was successfully made last night at Union College. The strains of a phonograph playing into the receiver of a radio telephone …were plainly heard by amateur operators within 50 miles…”
A day later, the Concordiensis proclaimed, “Union Again Pioneer of American College World; Operators Hurl Jazz 50 Miles Through Space.”
While WRUC's claim of “The First Station in the Nation” has been the subject of dispute over the years, the radio station is
undoubtedly the holder of several “firsts.” On May 6, 1921, for example, a group of students rigged a baby carriage-baby included-with a wireless receiving set. They paraded across campus and into downtown Schenectady as a crowd gathered to listen to the faint sounds of the first mobile radio broadcast.
The station was also the first to broadcast a sporting event when, on Nov. 13, 1920, it sent the
Union Hobart football game across the airwaves. By 1922, the station was broadcasting live play-byplay accounts of football games.
Today, WRUC provides live play-by-play coverage of all Union football and hockey games, has brought musicians into the studio for live performances, and has provided on-site coverage of some special events.
The earliest record of experiments in wireless communication date to 1910, when the General Electric Co. set up a small lab in the Electrical Engineering building to conduct some experiments (it is likely, however, that experimentation went on earlier under Charles Proteus Steinmetz).
In 1915, Union went out on its own and purchased a Marconi wireless set, and on Oct 29 of that year the Union College Radio Club was formed.
Experimental work came to a halt with World War I, when the federal government suspended all amateur radio activity. After the ban was lifted, the radio club resumed its work, leading to that legendary broadcast in 1920.
The infant station did not last long. High costs ended the club's broadcasting from 1923
until the early 1940s. Experimentation continued, though, and when the station went back on the air, it began using the carrier current or “wired wireless” method of transmitting. But World War II brought another suspension of amateur radio operations.
Throughout those early years, the station had several names-2ADD, 2XQ, and others. In 1947, Russell Warren '48 won seven dollars for his entry in a name-that-station contest
WRUC, for Radio Union College.
During the 1950s and '60s, WRUC operated as a competitive AM station. But the carrier current method of broadcasting was outdated, and WRUC moved to FM in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, the station upgraded from ten watts to 100 watts.
The WRUC of today is a far cry from the makeshift shed studio of 1920. Located in a large suite on the top floor of the Reamer Campus Center, the station has top-of-the-line equipment (including a 100-disc compact disc player), an extensive CD and vinyl collection, and a dedicated staff of managers and disc jockeys.
WRUC's programming is described as alternative by general manager Dan Petruzella, a senior economics major, and program manager Matt Machuris, a senior managerial economics major.
“We play jazz, country, folk, roots, blue grass and blues, reggae to heavy metal,” they
explain. MacInnis continues, “I take alternative in the literal sense of the word. WRUC is an alternative to the mainstream radio stations. We play music that you would not otherwise hear on the radio.”
Petruzella says that one of the things he enjoys most is doing something for the community. In addition to sports and on-site coverage, WRUC provides four hours of Spanish programming-music and news-every Saturday morning. Petruzella sees these services as important links to the surrounding community. “We love bringing them in, if we can,” he says.
With the help of business manager Rob Cohen and technical manager Phil Tavernier, as well as the staff, Petruzella and MacInnis have been working at widening the audience. “We've had a problem with exposure. There are some students who don't realize we have a radio station,” MacInnis says.
The many services that WRUC continues to offer are helping. The work of promotions director Andy Fradken will also undoubtedly contribute. Fradken has been developing a WRUC home page on the World Wide Web, where information and eventually schedules will be available.