“This is WCLH FM in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania,” said student disc jockey Dave Bickel as Wilkes University’s radio station began its first broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6, 1972. Standing near Bickel, a history major from Plymouth, Pa., were Francis J. Michelini, University president, faculty advisors Harold Cox and James Berg, and station manager John Margo.
The listening audience, according to university archives, included 200 people, although the station had the capacity to reach nearly 700,000 people through a transmitting antenna located four miles south on Penobscot Knob in Hanover Township. The antenna transmitted from WCLH’s control room at 175 watts.
“The Beacon served as the eyes of the campus,” says Brad Kinney, Wilkes professor emeritus of communications and director of broadcast services from 1979 until 1990. “WCLH served as its voice.”
The station’s debut followed a lengthy approval process. Two years earlier, on May 29, 1970, Wilkes filed a statement of purpose with the Federal Communications Commission outlining the goals for WCLH (Wilkes College Listening Habit). Initial funding was $22,000 for equipment and the combined annual operational and programming budget was $1,100. It took almost one year after the plan was presented to receive the license and begin broadcasting on FM 90.7.
Five hours of continuous programming was aired seven days a week, featuring ethnic music, reviews of bands and recording artists, and assorted contemporary music. The station was as an extra-curricular activity since there was no academic component associated with broadcasting. Kinney says 80 to 90 students served as disc jockeys until compact discs replaced vinyl recordings and automated playlists became the industry standard.
Renee Loftus, current general manager of WCLH, believes that the college radio station has stayed true to form, continuing to feature artists, bands, and music that the listeners would not hear on commercial radio. Loftus says alumnus Michael Robert Onley II ’04, known as DJ Mo, played an enormous role in recent years. “He was instrumental in moving us into the hip-hop genre,” says Loftus. “WCLH is the only radio station in the area that includes hip-hop music in its playlist.” Onley died in a tragic shooting on Oct. 13, 2013.
Kyle Wolfe ’13 recalls his experience at WCLH. “We had so much creativity with our different shows and events, which is something that only happens at college radio stations.”
Justin Franiak ’13, now working in the promotions department at 94 WIP Sports Radio in Philadelphia, agrees. “We could have an idea for a show on a Monday night and by Friday morning we had posters and promotions and could launch our ideas immediately,” Franiak says. “It gave you a sense of accomplishment.”
Mark Stine, associate professor and chair of communication studies, says the station philosophy remains unchanged: provide a radio station educational experience while delivering musical programming not typically heard on commercial radio. “WLCH allows students to hone broadcast skills and become educated and trained utilizing the industry standard equipment,” Stine says.
By Bill Schneider M. A. ’13