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News WVUD celebrates 50 years as UD's enduring voice

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A WVUD event on the patio outside the station's home in Perkins Student Center.

​Students gather for a WVUD event on the patio outside the station's home in Perkins Student Center. Photo by Eric Crossan.

This spring at WVUD

March 2:  WVUD Battle of the Bands, designed for student performers. It's part of Trabant Now, a late-night event series on Saturdays. 

March 21:  Open mic night in Perkins, for student performers. 

March 22-31:  Radiothon fund drive. 

April 18:  Open mic night in Perkins, for student performers. 

May 16: Open mic night in Perkins, for student performers.

Student-run station's first words still true: 'When is now. And you ain’t heard nothing yet.'

By Eric Ruth
UD Magazine

Flick on your car radio and flip down through the dial, past the corporately homogenized pop music, the dependably puerile “morning zoo” hijinks, the endlessly shrill squabbles and squawks of political pontification. Stop when you hit 91.3, and turn it up a tad.

You just might like what you hear. Or, you might puzzle at these strange new sounds. But you have to admit: Your radio never sounded so simultaneously worldly and wacky.

Welcome to WVUD - the Voice of the University of Delaware - which for 50 years now has entertained, enlightened and occasionally befuddled the thousands of listeners who fall within its ever-widening but perpetually challenged “Radio-Free Newark” broadcast zone. Depending on the time of day and inclination of the DJ, fans know to expected the unexpected, whether it’s a classical music interlude, a vintage Bollywood soundtrack or the fuzz of a fading signal far from the Christiana Towers antennas.

Born in a basement and bred to be fiercely independent, UD’s student-run radio station has at times faced down its own demise and prevailed over discouraging political realities, all while steadily expanding its impact, its art and its relevance to students seeking broadcast careers. The station that once was heard only in residence halls has now embraced the internet age and become an enduring presence in the lives of alumni across the country, and a cherished aspect of UD’s unique and diverse identity.

Yet even as it leans forward toward the next 50 years, there’s a sense that WVUD will always cherish its traditions and home-town allegiances: the volunteer DJs who have spun records there for decades, the we’re-all-family feeling that forms such tight bonds between WVUD veterans of all ages and their fans.

Join us now on a journey into a past where the Beatles haven’t yet broken up, the Bee Gees were still “Jive Talkin’,” and WVUD was hoping beyond hope to somehow become an elemental piece of the UD story. Mission accomplished.

The beginnings
Bill Firestone, a 1969 graduate, on the air.

Bill Firestone, one of the station's founders: “None of us had any experience. None of us knew what we were doing. Every day was an adventure. It was a blast.” Photo courtesy of Bill Firestone.

It could be said that WVUD was born under a good sign— the Age of Aquarius, that is. The year was 1968, and as UD restlessly surfed the counterculture wave, a progressive-leaning administrator encouraged several students to start a student radio station.

At first, it would go by the call letters WHEN, and while its reach was initially limited to students’ dorm rooms via thin phone lines and a puny AM signal, its ambitions seemed robust as the first words soared through the air: “When is now. And you ain’t heard nothing yet.”

The first song? “Revolution,” naturally. The plan? Spin records, chill out and see where it all goes.

“None of us had any experience. None of us knew what we were doing. Every day was an adventure. It was a blast,” says Greer Firestone, AS69, one of the station’s founding members. Tumultuous times and cultural touchpoints guided its evolution: Many students would first hear then-marginalized rock gods on 10-watt WHEN - Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. Administrators probably didn’t listen much but were sure to watch with a wary eye.

“The student government then was very confrontational, very radical,” remembers early member Pete Simon, AS77. “The university president didn’t want to have anything to do with a station run by radicals against the Vietnam War.”

Other struggles would challenge the station. The fight to move up to an FM signal at 91.3 was fought by the state of New Jersey, who wanted it as their own. The resignation of both faculty advisers in protest of paltry funding also would be overcome. Each year seemed to bring new promise, and new hurdles: issues with decaying equipment, or students’ relations with the volunteers.

Through it all, and with the help of many committed members, the station prevailed and solidified in spirit. And through to today, it all remains focused primarily on the people who really “own” this piece of UD identity: the students.

“It is their station. But they understand the responsibility and the history,” says Steve Kramarck, who helps manage the station as associate director of University Student Centers. “It’s like a community down here, really.”

Tales from the past
An early WVUD staff member with technology of the time.

When WVUD began, its call letters were WHEN, and music made its way into the world via vinyl. The station could be heard only in residence halls. Photo from UD Archives.

Inevitably, legends have accumulated over the years at WVUD, a place where close friendships and snug spaces have been known to encourage conviviality, devotion and the occasional bout of frivolity.

Like the time WVUD Hall-of-Famer David Alperson walked across campus during the blizzard of 1996 to ensure the station stayed on the air.

Or the time in 1992 when students decided to broadcast live from a 32-foot Winnebago rumbling through Newark, with a staffer constantly twisting the transmitting antenna toward Christiana Towers to avoid signal breaks. “We just thought it would be kind of cool to go out and meet people,” Kramarck says.

In 50 years, there have been amazingly few dustups with the FCC over inappropriate content, though explicit hip-hop lyrics have been known to stretch the boundaries. Allowing an FCC-banned lyric to slip in earns a DJ a warning the first time, suspension the third time. “Somebody got to the third time once. They’re no longer here,” Kramarck said.

Two current DJs are known for their long-distance devotion to WVUD - one, volunteer Larry Brown, drives up every Thursday from Rehoboth Beach to do his folk show. Another, Bill Humphrey, continues to do his political show, “Arsenal for Democracy,” remotely from his home in Massachusetts.

- Eric Ruth,  a 1993 UD graduate, wrote this story for UD Magazine, Volume 26, No. 2.

Story published on 1/30/2019 ; last modified on
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Student-run WVUD heads into its next 50 years sharing  the  "voices of the University of Delaware." The station began with "Revolution" and took off running.

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WVUD celebrates 50 years as UD's enduring voice
  • The Journalism Program
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  • University of Delaware
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