There are three community radio stations in Ithaca, if you define “community” as those stations largely run by volunteers and independent of corporate affiliation. In two cases, WVBR-FM (95.3) and WICB-FM (91.7), these are student-run stations at Cornell and Ithaca College, respectively. The third station, WRFI-FM (88.1), explicitly bills itself as community radio and is run by all manner of human beings plus a few students.
“Everything heard over the airwaves comes from a student’s hard work and dedication to creating and maintaining our great reputation in the college radio community,” said Sean Carney, the station manager at WICB. “All year round you can find a student in the studio. During the school year, there is a DJ in the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is different from most stations in the area [that] choose to automate during the very early hours of the day to save money. Since our DJs are all students and volunteers who choose to be a part of WICB, we have the opportunity to have a DJ in the studio all day.”
WICB programming is largely focused on music, about evenly split between “modern rock” and “specialty shows.” The former includes mostly the poppy end of the alternative music spectrum. Specialty shows include all genres of music from punk through jazz, funk, hiphop, even folk.
WVBR is not actually part of the university, but is owned by the Cornell Radio Guild. It is, however, entirely managed by students with many shows hosted by Cornell undergraduates. In contrast with WICB, Ithaca community members produce much of the weekend schedule. Whereas the weekday music is an eclectic hybrid of classic and alternative rock, the weekend is a mix of blues, folk, and rock music of all stripes, some of them distinctly esoteric.
WVBR also produces talk shows, often focused on the Cornell community, but occasionally turning some attention toward city affairs.
In addition, WVBR also manages cornellradio.com, an online-only station entirely staffed by students when it is not automated.
WRFI is a different animal. It has been around in largely automated form for several years, but two years ago an infusion of new blood led to a vast increase in live bodies behind the microphone producing shows with local content. The schedule is generally but not strictly divided between daytime talk shows and evening music programs.
“Like public radio, WRFI is non-commercial,” said station manager Felix Teitelbaum. “However, unlike many public and community radio stations, we accept no underwriting, which further ensures our independence. WRFI is licensed as a community station and, as such, it is our mission to serve our communities: Watkins Glen and Ithaca. We strive to create local content that is of particular interest to people in our region and gives voice to under-represented perspectives.”
Why gravitate toward radio, a medium that was invented over a century ago? “Many are curious about the future of radio,” said Carney, who is a junior at Ithaca College. “What’s interesting is that listenership has actually increased. What’s different is the way people listen. In 2015, smartphones run the game. Rather than hurt radio, it’s created a fantastic opportunity to reach a larger, more specific audience. Over the past several years, it has been the radio industry’s job to adapt to the way we reach our listeners.”
WICB and WVBR have their own smartphone apps. WICB is available through iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, iTunes Radio, and, of course, is streaming on WICB.org. WVBR is available through TuneIn Radio and streams through its website (wvbr.com). WRFI streams through its website (wrfi.org)
“The technology available to the radio industry in 2015,” continued Carney, “has allowed us to reach an unspeakable amount of listeners around the globe, while at the same time remaining local to the Ithaca community. We call this “glocal”. There’s no better way to reach your local community than a radio station. For example, you’ll never hear a satellite radio station promoting [Downtown Ithaca] Apple Fest, which helps small businesses and local vendors.”
No prior radio experience is needed to join the station staffs. All three provide training for both on-air hosting and production. WRFI has hosted three groups of interns from IC’s Park School and they are currently looking for more to join the news and marketing teams. §