Sunday, October 09, 2005

WXCI-FM - a history of sorts (1968-1973)

by Brian J. "BJ" Burgess

Introduction/ Warning

This story is my own personal recollection of events that led up to the advent of WXCI-FM. As such, it is subject to my own memory, which admittedly has a few holes in it after all these years. It should not be considered as definitive, although I have tried to be as factual as possible. I was aided in my research by some old Echo articles, some notes I made over the years when I was associated with the station, as well as some fellow alumni I still maintain contact with. If I messed up a sequence of events, or omitted a pivotal name somewhere I beg forgiveness.
I originally wrote this in 1998 in preparation for WXCI’s 25th anniversary celebration, based on a rough draft I had written in 1993. Hopefully, this third draft will be the last time I have to do this much typing. I always think I could do a better job of presenting the story, but at some point you just have to let it go as it is.
Names and language were not changed to protect the innocent. Things happened and stuff was said. If anyone finds any of this material offensive, please stop reading and return to the Disney Channel. This ain’t no party; this ain’t no disco…I refer to Western Connecticut State as Wesconn. It wasn’t part of the Connecticut University system back then and that’s what we called it. I understand its "Westconn" now.
Tough. I deliberately omitted how cliques and power trips affected the internal politics of the membership at various points. Like any family, we all didn’t get along all the time, but to get involved in these issues would be too much of a digression. This is supposed to be a celebration of the founders of WXCI.
Lastly, I would ask that anyone feel free to add their version of events, as well as provide a list of member names if they can remember them. I’ve included a partial list at the end of this story, but feel it is inadequate. There were a lot of people who came through our doors, and many of them either did not graduate or have been lost over the fog of time. All of them however were part of a vast conspiracy to bring a unique form of quality radio to the campus of Wesconn, and the world beyond. They deserve to be remembered, and thanked.

Brian J. "BJ" Burgess
October 2005
Life Member, 1973

In the beginning…
It was 1968. The Republicans were about to take over in the form of Richard Nixon. The planet was in turmoil, and on the campus of Western Connecticut State College things were no different. Students had pretty much adjusted to the fact that they no longer attended Danbury State College, but they felt the need for change extended beyond just replacing their bumper stickers. It was the sixties, man, and the times they were a-changing, whether you liked it or not.
It was in this heady, electric atmosphere that a small group of interested students came together to form a radio club on campus, with the ultimate goal being an actual radio station at Wesconn. Led by Bob Wilson, they soon enlisted the support of Dr Harvey Henderson as faculty advisor, and The Campus Broadcast Association was born.
They managed to acquire the princely sum of $150.00 to get things started.
Bob Wilson, a sophomore Education major and part-time DJ at local radio station WLAD, may have been the only student to take this concept seriously, because by the end of the school year in 1969, he was the only member left. Undeterred, he set about borrowing equipment from the Wesconn A/V Department. He formulated a three-phase plan for the future. First he would scrabble to get the station, which he dubbed WSCT, operational, by which he meant airing over the PA system in Memorial Hall. Phase two would expand operations to a carrier current AM system that would serve the dormitories on and off campus (Beaver Brook dormitory was about a mile down the road). The third and final phase would be to go FM.
A hundred fifty bucks, even back then, wasn’t much to start with. Bob began a tradition that would serve the station well over the next few years; he would scrounge what he could wherever he could. The A/V Department took the brunt of his foraging, securing us a 4-channel Bogen PA amplifier, a microphone, and a Wollensak 7" reel-to-reel tape deck. At least one of the turntables (both of them Garrard T-50 semiautomatic models) came from a box in a friend’s basement. The monitor speaker was the same 6" intercom speaker found in every school classroom this side of the Berlin Wall. This was not pro audio equipment. The turntables had to be retrofitted with matchbook covers to keep them from automatically rejecting themselves from an album if the "start" switch was pushed just a hair too far.
The executive office and studio of WSCT was on the second floor of the Student Union, in a 7’ x 15 broom closet right next to what was then the formal faculty reception lounge. The extensive remodeling of Memorial Hall in the 1990’s has made the station’s original location (as well as subsequent relocations) impossible to pinpoint. The room had a desk, a large sink, and two non-functioning ventilator switches.
The entire system was hooked up to the master PA console on the first floor of the building. From there, it could be switched on or off to any of the rooms in Memorial Hall.

September 1969

On my second day of freshman orientation I was wandering around the Student Union and saw some mimeographed fliers inviting people to join WSCT, Wesconn’s new radio club. I’d done some theater in high school, and was fascinated by the medium, so I went to check it out. I was signed up before I knew what hit me. My "training" consisted of standing behind Bob while he did the first two "broadcasts" of WSCT on September 10th 1969. On September 11th, I became the first non-Bob broadcaster when he let me do the lunchtime airshift, the third in station history.
WSCT had limited hours of operation. To maximize our audience, we were switched on in Memorial Hall twice a day, during lunch and dinner, from 11:15am to 12:30 pm, and from 5:15 to 6:15 in the evening. Our captive audience consisted of the halls, the cafeteria, and the game room. Sometimes we were on in some of the lounges.
We had program logs, but no record library to speak of. Bob was able to "liberate" some records from WLAD, but for the most part announcers had to bring their own records from home. As our staff grew, anything that got left behind was considered a "donation". With more people joining up every day, Bob had to schedule announcers to half-hour shifts. It was getting crowded in there! A lot of us hung around after our shifts anyway. It was a lot more fun than eating, sleeping, or even going to classes.
Despite this enthusiasm there were subtle hints that the collegiate community did not share our newfound comraderie. One day a bunch of us showed up at the station to find the hallway door open and a reception going on in the faculty lounge next door. Our sink was piled with dirty dishes and the turntables were being used as lazy susans for leftover dip. This indignity led to on-air culinary reviews of the food service’s menus, which generated the inevitable response from the food service people. It appeared that a major confrontation was imminent, but Bob, ever the diplomat, got the critiques stopped after the food service people agreed to stop using our studios as a pantry.
It was also not uncommon to find the station broadcasting only to itself. If someone didn’t like the music, or if a ball game was on, it was relatively easy to slip in and shut us off. We obviously needed more control over the situation, and as membership continued to grow, we needed more space. People clacking away at the typewriter didn’t always stop when the microphone went live. After only a couple of months we had already outgrown our space.
Bob was able to get us a new room, a slightly larger storeroom on the first floor next to the room that housed the master PA console. By November we were in our new digs, but things remained far from tranquil.
The air staff operated with liberal, if not unspoken guidelines about the kind of music they played. The amount of available music was already limited, but we all operated on an honor system not to play anything truly tasteless or obscene. One day a student complained to Bob about a record that had been played during a lunch show. The record was Eric Burden’s Sky Pilot, an anti-war song that featured a middle break consisting of bagpipes and the sounds of carnage. The student said the food in the cafeteria was hard enough to stomach without having to hear this song. Bob politely asked us to refrain from playing the record. Demonstrating our maturity and discretion, most of us played it as a "special request" every chance we got, at least until Bob put the record in his briefcase and took it home.

December 1969

Winter Weekend was rapidly approaching. Freshman Alphonse Ranaudo, a gifted artist musician, and WSCT dj had designed a beautiful poster advertising the upcoming campus activities. The posters were disappearing off the walls almost as fast as they could be put up, showing up in dorm rooms and apartments all over town. The Winter Weekend committee was not pleased and neither was Alphonse.
During the supper show on December 19th, a dj named "Icy" was on the air pleading vehemently to the student body to leave the posters up at least until the weekend was over. In the station with him were Alphonse and another member, Jim "Hatch" Hathaway. As Icy’s rant drew to a close, the three chose to punctuate it with a three-part harmonized "You Motherfuckers!"
I was in the cafeteria at the time and the place fell so quiet you could hear the gravy congeal. We hadn’t thought folks paid that much attention to our broadcasts, but it seemed like everyone heard that. Within moments, Student Union night manager Guido Tino raced downstairs and shut WSCT off. And off we would stay.

Sitting In Limbo

The administration at Wesconn in those days was a pretty conservative lot. It became pretty clear in the next few days that the administration was more than willing to pull the plug permanently on this upstart bunch of radio hoodlums. Once again it fell to Bob to play the diplomat. Along with Dr. Henderson he begged and pleaded to give us another chance. The negotiations took over a month, during which WSCT remained off the air. The powers at Old Main finally relented, but only after laying out some rather severe conditions that Bob had no choice but to accept.
First, the three students involved were booted from the club. Secondly, every remaining member had to sign an agreement that if anything like this were to happen again, they could be thrown out of Wesconn entirely. The third condition was that the station was to remain off the air until prospective announcers obtained a third-class radiotelephone license from the FCC, making them subject to 5 years in jail and a $2000 fine if they tried anything funny ever again. The fourth condition was that the station was to be exiled from Memorial Hall and moved to Berkshire Hall, where the Speech & Theater Department could provide oversight.
The silver lining in all this was that our new facilities now consisted of two rooms. We now had an office AND a studio. By late January 1970, we were all moved in, but since Bob was the only one with a license, WSCT remained silent. People trickled down to New York City to take the test, and Bob was not about to let the downtime go to waste. Since the administration could change it’s mind and disband the CBA altogether, he decided to spend the rest of our second year’s budget (a whopping $1750.00) on new equipment. Still a resourceful scrounger, he convinced WNHC in New Haven to sell us an old Gates professional broadcast console to replace the Bogen PA amp. The chief engineer of WLAD got it working, and Bob went out and got a Spotmaster tape cartridge machine and a new Sparta professional turntable to add to our list of goodies.
My dedication to the cause (or was it that I just was hanging around a lot?) finally paid off as I was chosen the first Music Director of WSCT. This involved sitting down with Bob and starting a letter writing campaign to various record companies in order to get promotional copies of albums.
The music business was very different back in those days from what it is now. Some labels provided free copies of records to college stations, and others charged fees. Since we had no operating budget for music, Bob and I concentrated on the freebies.
Columbia Records was the first company to come through for us, along with their subsidiary Epic. They were followed a short time later by the Atlantic Records group, which included the Atco and Asylum labels. Now we could play Dylan AND Aretha! Although our record library started to grow, most air jocks still had to bring in records from home to broaden their play lists.
In March, with very little fanfare, WSCT came back on the air. We were still on only during lunch and supper, and we were very much on probation. Everyone knew that one screw-up and the game was over, so we all minded our manners. One major difference was that our sound was a lot more polished. We’d been practicing with the new equipment.
There was another major difference. For the first time, WXCI ran commercials! We’d managed to score an account with MacDonalds, as well as The Fore’N" Aft, a popular Brewster NY bar. All the money we got went into getting more equipment, and we soon added another new professional turntable.
Broadcasting from Berkshire Hall wasn’t easy. We initially had no monitor line running from Memorial Hall, so we’d have to physically run over there to see if we were on or not. We had no access to the master PA console anymore, but fortunately, most of the managers in the student union were supportive.
The fifteen or so members of WXCI became cautiously optimistic about the future. We’d survived a near-fatal blow and were becoming a pretty tight bunch. Rather than become complacent, we charged on to phase 2 of Bob’s master plan: expanding to carrier current.

Welcome to the Machine

I never was much good at technical things, but as I understood it, the carrier current system involved taking the station’s output, running it through phone lines to the dormitories, and running it into a gizmo that converts the signal and runs it into the electrical wiring of the building at a specific frequency (in our case 540mhz). Plug an AM radio in and tune it to 540 and there we were.
As the spring semester of 1970 drew to a close, it became apparent that we’d have to move again in order to grow. Berkshire Hall was spacious, and even though we were just across the street, we felt too isolated from where the action was; Memorial Hall. As luck would have it, The Echo was also looking for new digs, and we were able to score their old offices, right next door to our original broom closet.
It was budget time at the Student Government Association, and Bob submitted a request for $10,000, which would cover the cost of building new studios, buying the carrier current equipment, and even having a few bucks left over for records. The SGA had other plans however, and we received only $5300.00 for 1970-71. At the station a lot of us felt that the student government had given us the collective finger. Instead of having pros come in and design & build our new home, we’d have to do it ourselves.

On The Road Again

Construction began over the summer break. WSCT staffers from the area and their friends began cutting lumber, running wires, and stuffing insulation in a building that was basically shut down. It was a typical Danbury summer, and I still itch when I think of those days. The only work done by pros was the windows between studios, tilted slightly to eliminate glare. By the end of the summer, the Campus Broadcast Association had an air studio, a news booth, a production room, and an office big enough for two desks. We also had enough money to get the carrier current equipment. With a little help from the engineers at both WLAD and WINE, the new system was up and running just in time for the fall term.

Hi Bob, Part II

The fall semester began on a high note. With the new carrier current system operational, we had a larger audience, and consequently were able to attract more new members. Membership grew to almost thirty people. Among the new recruits was a transfer student named Bob Mallery. Bob was a Navy vet with an extensive background in electronics. He would become our first in-house engineer, and would prove to be invaluable in the years to come. Although he initially did a few shows, his main interests seemed to be outside the realm of on-air talent. He seemed happiest with a cup of coffee and a schematic of a piece of equipment; always able to coax just a little more out of a machine that should have stopped working years ago.
With more people eager to do air slots, the station expanded its hours of operation. We were now on from 10:00am to 10:00pm. The record library had grown to a point where people could specialize in the types of music they liked. Folks still brought in their own records, but WSCT now had shows specifically devoted to rock, jazz, classical, show tunes, top 40, R&B (back then it was called "soul music") and just about everything in between. Those people who had little desire to be music jocks became the News department, and they started producing their own programs and public affairs broadcasts.
The station added an AP teletype machine (one of those big, clacky monsters). The production capabilities mushroomed with the addition of a Studer-Revox tape deck. WSCT looked and sounded like a real radio station in every sense of the word, with the exception that nobody outside the college walls could hear us.
WSCT had grown exponentially in every year of it’s existence. The staff felt there was nowhere to go but up. Phase two of Bob’s master plan was complete. With another budget increase, the dream of FM couldn’t be that far away, could it?

Money (That’s what I want)

As it turned out, yes, it would be a while. 1971 saw the State of Connecticut enter a recession, and with it, Governor Thomas Meskill put a freeze on all funding to Connecticut State colleges. This hit Wesconn especially hard, and for a while the proposed Westside campus plans were in jeopardy. Dr Ruth Haas saved that project, but there still wasn’t enough money to go around. When the time came to secure funding for the next year, all the campus organizations had to bite their share of the bullet. WSCT found their budget slashed to $3700.00 for the 1971-72 school year.
Another major development took place at semester’s end when elections were held for next year’s officers. When the votes were tallied, Bob Wilson was no longer General Manager of the Campus Broadcast Association. In his place were Les Andrews and Ed Westby. Why Bob stepped aside is open for discussion. Maybe he wanted to concentrate on finishing his degree. Perhaps he felt he had guided WSCT as far as he could, and it was time for new blood. Whatever the reasoning, he left behind a solid organization, and in appreciation of his efforts and commitment, Bob Wilson was elected the first Life Member of WSCT.

It’s A Brand New Day

The fall semester commenced with another upsurge in membership. Along with being one of the campus’ most active organizations, WSCT was now one of the largest. The station expanded their hours of operation yet again. We now broadcast from 7:00am to 11:00pm weekdays, and from 8:00am-11:00pm on weekends. 11:00pm was when the Student Union closed for the night.
On the air, specialty shops were organized so you could know when to hear a particular kind of music. Top 40 was popular during "dinner drive time" and classical music went over well on Sunday mornings. Les and Ed did try at one point to institute a format, so that the sound of the station could be a little more homogenized during the rest of the time, but given the free-spirit nature of most of the air staff, it was doomed to failure. WSCT had access to Wesconn’s own weather station (run by Dr Mel Goldstein), so our forecasts were better than those coming over the AP wire. Despite our high morale, and our faith in ourselves, we still had to prove our worth to the student body in general. To quote Rodney Dangerfield, we still "didn’t get no respect", but that was about to change.
In February of 1972, Ralph Nader was scheduled to speak at Ives auditorium. The event sold out quickly (this was back when folks were actually interested in what Ralph had to say), and a large group of people had to be turned away. Bob Mallery had run a phone line over to Ives Hall earlier (to broadcast a music concert), and the station was able to invite the overflow crowd to come listen to Ralph’s speech from the lounges of Memorial Hall. It was a huge success, and WSCT won over a lot of people who finally saw a useful purpose for the station.
Later that semester, during Spring Weekend, WSCT sponsored a 1950’s-style "sock hop" in the snack bar. Tom "Z" Zarecki spun 45’s and emceed, while a ragtag bunch of WSCT-ers played a live set of songs. "Danny & the Distributor Caps consisted of Bruce Anderson, Pete Ochs, Dave Szemczek, Bob Faubel & yours truly. After our four song set, Danny & the DC’s rocketed to obscurity.
Another side project of the station was the formation of a softball team. The WSCT Mudsharks (named in honor of a Frank Zappa song) took any and all comers for a game of charity softball. We probably raised more welts than money, and after a few good thrashings, we decided our place was behind the microphone, not home plate.
While all these fun and games were going on, Ed & Les were back at the ranch quietly navigating the bureaucratic maze of running the station and trying to secure funding for the push to FM. It was obvious that SGA funding alone wouldn’t get the job done, and those damn Mudsharks weren’t going to be much help. They came up with an idea that was both daring and brilliant. They proposed a campus referendum whereby a $3.00 per student/per semester surcharge would fund the push for FM. To our amazement, the administration agreed to it, and on April 7th, the referendum was held. Had the station generated enough good will, and proved their worth to make it work?
When the votes were tallied, the answer was a resounding "Yes". Coupled with an SGA allocation of $4160.00, it was on to Phase Three.
At the end of the school year, both Ed Westby and Bob Wilson graduated. Ed was elected the second Life member, and Les took over the entire GM duties. The station shut down operations over the summer, but there was a lot of work that needed to be done.

So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star

On June 12th, 1972, WSCT filed its application with the FCC for a construction permit to build a 10-watt FM station on the Wesconn campus. Les and Bob Mallery had gone over the reams of paperwork involved, making sure all the I’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. Anyone who has ever dealt with a federal bureaucracy knows the headaches involved with such processes.
The station continued to upgrade itself. Before classes commenced, some walls were shifted around to make better use of space, the AP teletype was enclosed to cut down on it’s noise, and a new control board was installed in the main studio. We added another new turntable and another cart machine. The old air board was exiled to the production room, but not before Bob Mallery completely gutted it and rebuilt it by hand.
As the fall term started, membership grew to almost 50 people. The station started to broadcast home football and basketball games. We may still have been a dinky carrier current radio club, but we had the look, feel, and sound that we felt could match up with anyone, including our "competition", UB station WPKN. Everyone felt that FM was close, and our esprit could not have been higher.
On November 17th, we got the word that our construction permit was approved, so Bob and Les started to order equipment. As each piece came in, Bob spent many hours in the attic of Old Main getting it hooked up and calibrated, sometimes in the wee hours (much to the chagrin of campus security).
In December WSCT was chosen by the Associated Press to provide audio feeds of the Apollo 17 moon mission to other stations in Connecticut. It was a great honor, and only a few minor glitches occurred , due mostly with scheduling people and the fact that anything that happened after 11:00 pm had to wait until Memorial Hall opened in the morning.

You Know My Name (look up the number)

Part of the juggernaut in going FM was dealing with all the federal regulations. One of those regulations stipulated that we had to notify every other radio station within a 35-mile radius of our intentions, providing them with a chance to voice any objections to our application. As it turned out, Stamford CT radio station WSTC had a problem with our call letters. Even though we had nothing in common with that station, and probably wouldn’t steal any listeners, WSCT was a little too close for their comfort.
Fortunately we had already prepared a list of alternatives. Among the considerations were WXCI, WCSU, WDBY, and WDNB. I believe it was Evans Travis who came up with WXCI, it being the roman numerals for 91 (our proposed frequency being 91.7). Nobody had any objections to that, and immediately we became WXCI, making all that old WSCT letterhead a collector’s item.

Hello, It’s Me

February 28th, 1973 was a day like most others. Rob Abbett (aka Rabbett) was doing his midday show, and a few people were hanging out I the front office (the station was always a good place to hang out). The phone rang a little before noon; it was Western Union saying they had a telegram for us from Washington DC. Pete Oths and Evans Travis grabbed their coats and ran for the door. Word spread like jelly on a hot sandwich, and by the time they returned, most of the staff had assembled in the office. Bob Mallery waded through the eager mob and began warming up the equipment. Before the last switch was thrown he went over to Old Main to be at the transmitter "just in case". Tom Zarecki made the final click and at 12:30 pm, Rabbett announced," Good afternoon. This is radio station WXCI beginning its first broadcast day."
There was hugging, there was kissing, there was all kinds of behavior going on in the place. Once Rob had ushered us into FM reality, several people took off to drive around town to see how we sounded. Those of us who didn’t have cars just hung around, savoring the moment. It had taken three and a half years, countless hours, and dozens of people to make this day a reality. I hoped Bob Wilson, wherever he was, was listening.

And The Beat Goes On

There were a couple of pieces of unfinished business to account for. At the end of the 1973 school year the SGA allocated WXCI a budget of $7,130.00, partially due to the fact that several members of the station got themselves elected to the SGA. (If ya can’t beat ‘em….) The station continued to upgrade its facilities and equipment.
Dr Michael Erlich replaced Dr Henderson as faculty advisor. Dr Erlich continued the "lessez-faire" policy of Dr Henderson, for which everyone was grateful.


The following is a partial list of WSCT/WXCI members from 1969-73 in absolutely no particular order. If a name is misspelled, I’m sorry, but you know who you are. There are probably dozens of people I can’t recall, and I hope they speak up and get their due.

Bob Wilson, Gail Doyle, Sandy Brown,
Tom Taradine, Gloria Marisciullo, Steve Brooks,
Sally Hyatt, John Hudson, Peter Oths (Ochs)
Ron Guertler, Chris Sadowski, Dave Syzemczek
Sandy Fleig, Bob Mallery, Evans Travis
Stan Mingo, Mimi Mallery, Al Carty
Roberta Flagg, Sharon Balcolm, Kevin Hogan
Alphonse Ranaudo, Jim Williams, Tom Zarecki
Kevin Cleary, Rich Doepper, Kathi Van Arts Dalen
Al Leonard, Mike Levesque, MaryBeth Marcinkoski
Laurie Mc Callum, Ed Westby, Sue O’Brien
Al Bruhn, Karen Kalenauskas, Greg Loehr
Carl Weitz, Donovan Quarmby, Reif Andersen
John Roberson, Larry Tuttle, Tony Toscano
Jim Hathaway, Al Blackman, Lou Santostephano
Les Andrews, Lynn Roth, Joel Rabinowitz
Al Gervais, Darlene Lewis, Dennis Martin
Chris Langrock, Rob Abbett, Don Kappell
"Icy"?, Dennis Boskello, Pam Ballwig
Cindy Pesente, Bruce Anderson, Peter Faass
Steve Kalb, Mark Williams, Jan Jagush
Dr Harvey Henderson, Dr Michael Erlich
The Credits

My thanks to: Bruce Anderson, who jogged my memory on more than one occasion, my wife Betsy, Helen Masterson & Cindy Sturm, who inspired me to get this whole mess into a cohesive story, and the members past, present, and future of WXCI.


Blogger Randy Waters said...

So what WAS the first song aired on WXCI?

3:15 PM  

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