Tuning in: On campus
Joey Kuhn | Wednesday, September 16, 2009
A Brief History of Notre Dame Campus Radio
The long and storied tradition of campus radio at Our Lady’s University all started in 1935. The golden age of radio was in full swing, and the Notre Dame Radio Club, a group of students interested in this new medium, began making occasional broadcasts on the South Bend station WSBT. The club continued regular broadcasts on WSBT until 1947, when a group of students started broadcasts on an early carrier current system. The signal spread only as far as the Notre Dame campus. They tried out several different locations unsuccessfully until the University gave them a spot in the old Fieldhouse, where Stonehenge presently stands. This original station was called WND.
WND became a commercial operation in 1950, supporting itself by selling on-air advertisement to local businesses. In 1952, University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh offered the station a space in the soon-to-be constructed O’Shaughnessy building, and by 1954 the station was broadcasting from the tower of O’Shag. It was renamed WNDU and was a full member of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, grossing $10,000 yearly in advertising sales and broadcasting 12 hours a day on channel 640 AM. Shortly after, the station’s call letters were changed to WSND (“We Serve Notre Dame”) because the University wanted the letters WNDU for its new television station.
In 1955, about 68.5 percent of the student body listened to WSND. The programming followed a “something for everyone” approach, with music, news, sports, occasional dramas and other specials. A second AM station that mostly played classical music was created in 1960 and converted to FM in 1962; this was the forerunner of the present-day WSND-FM.
Then the original AM station changed its approach from “something for everyone” to progressive rock in 1967, evolving closer to present-day WVFI. The station still retained some variety in its programming, such as a successful superhero spoof called “The Green Gaper” that poked fun at campus issues.
In 1968, “The Pop Stand,” a “veritable aural orgy of progressive rock,” started running on WSND-FM. It was broadcast Monday through Thursday from midnight to 1:00 a.m. and was the precursor to the present-day Nocturne program on WSND.
For a long time, the FM station had been looking for a way to increase its broadcast area beyond the campus. Finally, in 1971, a new transmitter was installed at WNDU’s facility, utilizing the television antenna to increase the broadcast radius to 25-30 miles. This made WSND-FM a Class-A station, which meant that they could not simply go off the air during school breaks and summer as they had done before. To keep the station on the air year-round, new volunteers were brought in from the surrounding community. The new transmitter made WSND really a community endeavor..
For years, the stations continued in the same way; WSND-FM broadcasted mainly classical during the day, with more varied programming at night, while WSND-AM played mainly contemporary rock with some sports and specialty shows. At some point, WSND-AM changed its named to WVFI-AM (“Voice of the Fighting Irish”). The AM station did not have a strong signal and could barely be heard even by students on campus. But a big change came in 1987 when WVFI moved into LaFortune Student Center and renovated its transmitter to greatly reduce static. Because the FM station remained in O’Shaughnessy, this was when the two stations really diverged into independent entities.
The last major transformation came in 2000, when WVFI started broadcasting online. For the first time, people could listen to the station from anywhere in the world, opening the audience up to friends and family back home. Eventually WVFI stopped broadcasting on AM altogether. And that is how the stations got to be how they are today.
The State of the Stations
WSND is an FM radio station that bills itself as a “Fine Arts” station. It plays mainly classical music with some news breaks during the day, and at night it offers a variety of programming including jazz, reggae, big band, blues and Celtic music. WSND also has an alternative or “college rock” program, called Nocturne. One of the most popular programs with students, it is broadcast from midnight until 2 a.m. every night. You can listen to WSND at 88.9 FM.
WVFI is an Internet-only station that plays mostly independent label “college rock” music, although it also offers a variety of specialty programming. Announcers broadcast live from all home football games, and the station hopes to broadcast all home basketball games this year, too. Some slots are given to specialty shows featuring a specific genre of music, be it rap, punk rock, hip-hop, metal, or anything else. Students also broadcast their own sports, comedy, or general talk shows. You can listen to WVFI and view its full schedule at www.nd.edu/~wvfi.
Both radio stations are a great opportunity for students interested in communications to gain some practical experience. WSND is unique in that its listeners are from all over the Michiana area. In the most recent information available, from 2004, about one out of every twenty radios in the area was tuned to WSND at any given time.
Station manager Patrick Brown said, “Our audience tends to be a little older because we play a lot of classical music, but we have a very dedicated, loyal group of listeners. They listen regularly and call in frequently.”
Because WSND runs year-round, the disc jockeys are both students and volunteers from the community, although students have the priority.
WVFI provides a different experience because student DJs can get their friends and family back home to listen along with their friends at Notre Dame. Many students join WVFI to meet other students who love the same type of music they do.
Michelle Nguyen, public relations and events director for WVFI, said, “It creates a space for people with a common interest to come together and exposes them to new kinds of music they might not have experienced otherwise.”
The station has a wide variety of sports, talk, and specialty music shows hosted by a diverse bunch of students. “It really is a comprehensive radio station, not just the weird indie kids hanging out as some people might think,” said Nguyen.
The only overlap between the two stations is the college rock Nocturne show on WSND, which does not significantly cut into WVFI’s audience. Because the two stations have fairly different target audiences, Brown does not see them as being in competition with one another. “We [at WSND] focus on different things from WVFI. If anything, it would be nice to have a stronger working relationship with them.”