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Celebrating 100 Years of Radio at Union College WRUC

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SCHENECTADY – The station may be silent, but Union Colleges WRUC has a lot to celebrate today, including 100 years of radio.

The pioneering student radio station is known as the country’s premier station, but its real claim to fame needs to be well defined. It is the first university station, and the first licensed station of any kind, to broadcast regular programming, according to Wayne Somers, editor of the Encyclopedia of Union College.

WRUC, or 2ADD as it was then called, debuted on October 14, 1920, with a phonographic recording of Tell Me, Little Gypsy by Irving Berlin, which could be heard as far away as Hartford, Connecticut.

Although songs, programs, and technology have changed, the station has remained a mainstay of the campus.

Growing up, I was part of groups. . . . I’ve always loved making playlists, said Sata Diakite, station general manager and senior at Union. Shes has been running a show called Recharge, which has featured everything from hip-hop to alternative music, at the station since its first year. It was partly the history of the resorts that attracted her.

. . . When I heard about WRUC and it was the first station in the country, I was like, it sounds really impressive, said Diakite.

While its nickname doesn’t quite tell the whole story, over the years the resort has hosted a number of firsts. By 1920, the station featured music for off-campus dances, commercials for the union engineering program, and game shows of sporting events.

The students, possibly led by station secretary / treasurer Leo Freedman, claimed to have created the first portable broadcast receiver, calling it the wireless stroller. The students took a wicker stroller and filled it with a receiver, antenna, and batteries, and pushed the craft around Schenectady, playing music from the campus. The stunt was replayed a few weeks later for news broadcast in the United States and Europe.

The station does not, however, have a continuing history and ceased airing in the years that followed, but under the leadership of Jeffrey Hedquist and Richard Ferguson it was revived and taken to a new level in the mid-1960s. .

It was a typical college radio station, and then when we got it [we] said: Let’s make this a profitable rocker, with this idea and the feeling that it could be more fun than anything else, Hedquist said.

When the 1967 graduates entered the studio, they found dilapidated equipment and not much else.

It was there in 1963, barely on air, a badly used facility, and we turned it for a while into a rock powerhouse 18 hours a day, seven days a week. . . . We recruited everyone on campus and ended up being the biggest activity on campus, Hedquist said.

It has become a popular Top 40 commercial station, with contests, jingles and giveaways. The students broadcast programs that included five news reports per day, an hourly weather report, concert and conference coverage, a daily sports program and more.

They also sold advertising to modernize equipment, build new studios and support programming. In 1965-66, the station had a budget of $ 8,000 and billed $ 6,000 in advertising, according to the college.

We then decided that we would do the same at Skidmore because Skidmore was our sister school. Where Union was all male, Skidmore was all female, Hedquist said. For a while, they broadcast on both campuses.

The students handled everything from contests and advertising to newsletters, promotion and concert coverage. Hedquist joked that some students actually majored in WRUC.

It has become our fraternity. It became the place where we ate, slept and lived. . . . We knew we were creating something magical, but we had no idea how much influence it would have on our lives and the lives of others, Hedquist said.

Many of the people involved with WRUC at the time had careers in broadcasting or the entertainment industry. This includes Phil Robinson, a 1971 graduate who was the screenwriter and director of Field of Dreams and Sneakers; as well as Richard Roth, a 1970 graduate who became a correspondent for CBS News and NBC News; and Julie Greifer Swidler, 1979 graduate, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel at Sony Music Entertainment.

For a school that had no broadcasting degree, it certainly produced a lot of people who ended up gaining professional broadcasting skills, Hedquist said. He runs Hedquist Productions, among other companies.

It was a magical time that in some ways cannot be repeated, Hedquist said.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the station, Diakite and the rest of the students involved in WRUC today found themselves in a difficult situation. They were unable to broadcast this semester because their studio is not well ventilated and, with the coronavirus pandemic, it has been deemed unsafe for students.

This does not mean that the work is stopped.

What they needed to do was have USB microphones and find a way to stream popular shows to their dorms. This is what planned to do, said Diakite.

Starting Sunday, they will also use social media and Zoom to commemorate the station’s anniversary. Throughout the week, they will have Instagram Live sessions with current and former DJs. They will also be posting alumni playlists to their Instagram account (wruc89.7fm).

For Union students and graduates, WRUC also brings together a panel of former DJs who worked at the station from the 1980s to 2000s. They will discuss via Zoom what each era was like and their experiences at the station. station.

Even though we can’t have a physical celebration, we want to keep the momentum going, Diakite said.

More: New in The Daily Gazette Wednesday October 14

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