January 19, 2013
My trip to Cabrini University's college radio station WYBF was a long-time coming. Located on Philadelphia's main line in Radnor, Pennsylvania, WYBF has shared an FM channel with WXVU at nearby Villanova University since 1991. I'd known of this time-share arrangement for many years and my own alma mater station WHRC had even made attempts to acquire the same frequency on the dial several decades ago. After my 2014 visit to WXVU, I became even more curious about seeing WXVU's sister station, so I was glad to finally get the opportunity to visit on the night of Tuesday, October 18, 2016.
WYBF's General Manager Jillian Smith met up with me to give me a tour and the full scoop on the station. A Cabrini alumna herself, Smith told me that she signed up to do radio at WYBF as soon as she could and ended up getting a show during her first semester at school in 2005. By her sophomore year she was Assistant Operations Manager of the station and in her junior year she moved up to Operations Manager. When she was a senior, she served at WYBF's webmaster. Five years after graduation, in the summer of 2014, she was asked back to become WYBF's General Manager.
Today, Smith leads a team of about 30 radio station participants, including eight student station staff members. She told me that the station has doubled the number of participants since 2014 and she said that one of her goals was to get more recognition for WYBF. To that end, the station does many events on campus, including "Dinners with WYBF" in the cafeteria, during which the station plays music and hands out promotional items. The school has also invited WYBF to provide music for various festivities, including Cabrini's Christmas Yule Log tradition, which features Christmas carols by a bonfire.
The station streams online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is broadcast over 89.1 FM every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and a portion of Sunday. Villanova's WXVU takes over FM on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays until noon. Both stations do their own streams and when there isn't a live DJ, WYBF runs automated programming. In honor of the 25th anniversary of this FM partnership, WYBF had a big birthday bash during homecoming weekend in 2016 and around 70 station alumni came back to campus to attend. Smith told me that the radio party was the largest event on campus that weekend, with alumni from as far back as the 1980s and 1990s in attendance.
Rather than having a formal, banquet-type event, Smith said that they opted for a "corny birthday party," complete with pin-the-tail on the donkey, a pinata and cupcakes. Although FM radio debuted at Cabrini in 1991, a previous radio station, WCAB, launched over AM carrier current in 1982, so participants from those pre-FM days joined in the anniversary party. Today, WYBF uses the branding "Cavalier Radio" in a nod to the school's mascot. Smith told me that it was initially dubbed "The Edge" and then when she was a student, the station was known as "The Burn," adding, "...in my heart, it's always the Burn."
WYBF has both student and community-member DJs, including some Cabrini alumni as well as students from radio-less Eastern University (just across the street from Cabrini). One of the longest running programs is a rock show hosted by Nick Ritrovato on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings; he's had the show since he was a student in the 1990s. I asked Smith if DJs specifically want to have shows during the times when the station broadcasts over FM and she told me that some do, but that others don't care. She did note that most students want morning or mid-day shows, which is in contrast to the past, when more students were interested in doing night-time shows. Smith explained that when she was a student, WYBF aired modern rock during the day and a variety of music at night, which meant that night-time DJs had more freedom.
Student DJs at WYBF tend to play digital music from their own flash drives and SD cards. They can also access WYBF's music library on AudioVault (which kicks into automation mode when there's no live DJ in the studio) or play CDs from the station's library. Smith told me that students don't really play physical music on WYBF, adding that some community-member DJs play CDs. The station has a small library of CDs, but doesn't really have any vinyl records or the ability to play them right now. There is a record player, but it wasn't hooked up to the board at the time of my visit. Smith said that several students have asked her about playing vinyl, so she hoped to get it set up soon. Other priorities took precedence, including setting up a new remote broadcast system, since WYBF tries to do sports play-by-play at least once a week.
The night of my visit, DJ Jordan was doing her first radio show at WYBF. As I wandered about the studio snapping photos, I didn't want to distract her too much, as I figured she'd be nervous about her inaugural show. There was a lot to look at in the spacious studio, including numerous awards, a Leo Blais WYBF sign on the wall, framed photo collages of former radio station staffs, and other ephemera.
A small closet connects to the studio space and it's where the station's CD library is housed, along with audio equipment, posters from past events, and other station artifacts. A separate production studio is adjacent to the on-air studio and down the hall from that another small office is full of promotional items. During a brief chat with Jordan, I learned that she was already a radio veteran, with three years of high school radio experience, including "pretty much running the station" her senior year. Now a college sophomore, she told me that she is really enjoying the Communications program at Cabrini and likes that is is "hands-on."
Part of a larger communications department, WYBF requires all student DJs to be enrolled in a radio class in order to participate in the station. They also must do other station work beyond their shows, such as joining a department, working at events, or doing hands-on projects like sports play-by-play. Non-students still need to go through radio training, but they don't have to do other volunteer work at the station. As I looked past the station's doors, I couldn't help but notice the beautiful television studio and some of the impressive trophies on display near the station, including prestigious Pacemaker awards for student journalism. Back at WYBF, many awards were also on display, including a Communicator Award for an audio documentary on HIV/AIDS that Smith and some other station colleagues did when she was a student.
As I wrapped up my visit, other WYBF staffers were preparing for a pre-Halloween "Spooky Scavenger Hunt" that the station was hosting that night, so I gave some quick farewells as they headed off to lead those festivities. My next station tour was imminent, so Neumann Media's Sean McDonald popped his head into the station and took a quick look around before escorting me to see the new LPFM college radio station that he manages at nearby Neumann University.
Thanks to Jillian Smith and the rest of the crew at WYBF for the fun visit last October. This is my 122nd radio station field trip report, with more to come from my Philadelphia-area travels. My most recent field trips can be found on Radio Survivor and a full list of all my station tour reports is compiled on Spinning Indie.
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