On August 30th 1971 at 12 noon, WFDU-FM began broadcasting to the New York metro area and has maintained its eclectic, non-commercial approach to music programming not heard up the radio dial. Today, WFDU offers varied music shows on the air at 89.1Mhz Tuesday-Friday from 1:15am until 3:45pm, then Saturday from 1:15am straight through until 3:45pm Monday and 24/7 on the web at wfdu.fm, iHeartRadio, itunes Radio, and on iphone and Android apps.
Compiled by Judy DeAngelis with input from Vic Wheatman, Andrea Spinelli, Frank Murphy, Malcolm Stevenson & Duff Sheffield
According to the campus newspaper “Monitor,” FDU’s interest in an educational FM radio channel goes back as far as 1964, when the University contracted for an engineering survey. The report concluded there were no educational FM channels available in the area that would meet FCC qualifications. It discussed an unused channel (206), 89.1 on the FM, dial the frequency reserved for use by the United Nations. A preliminary application was made after discussion with UN representatives. However, New York University had a previous agreement with the U.N. for use of the channel. The FCC ruled that the U.N. could not “surrender it’s license to the channel without accepted, competitive applications.”
In an email (dated 12/9/14) from Vic Wheatman, a student who helped spearhead the process, he stated that Fairleigh Dickinson University likely became aware of the existence of the frequency through someone at Columbia University which had it’s own FM station, and which apparently had competitive interests in the results.
In June 1966 FDU filed an application for channel 206 in competition with the application from NYU. FDU maintained its proposed operation (to be centered in Teaneck, NJ) would provide “the only wide coverage FM sound serving Bergen County and surrounding areas exclusively.” It noted that it would focus upon the underserved needs of Northeastern New Jersey, rather than “on the needs and interests of listeners who have a multitude of other available signals from area stations.”
FDU faced two obstacles in the initial stages. The original application was prepared hastily to meet the Commission’s deadline for submission and lacked an appropriate signature by an officer. While this oversight was corrected, it continued to bring into question the legality of the proposal until the Commission formally accepted the application in May 1967. In addition, the engineering portion (also prepared under deadline pressure) failed to take into account an existing 10-watt station in western Bergen County. As a result, a study of area programming was deferred on advice of counsel until Commission designation. These hurdles forced FDU into an uphill battle to secure the advantage it assumed it had when it initially filed, including a lengthy petition for enlargement of issues (a request for exploration of area programming, inclusion of “fair, efficient and equitable” type language, and recognition of the relevance of all NYC educational FM service). It also significantly increased the cost of the proceedings. An estimate of $5000.00 made in May doubled by October. In addition, NYU gained the support of the Broadcast Bureau (the FCC’s counsel in the case) in opposing FDU’s petition. An initial “comparative” hearing was set before the Commission in May 1967 as a standard 307 issue. Section 307(b) directs the FCC to provide a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of radio services across the nation.
As of mid 1967, exhibits had been exchanged and a hearing was scheduled for October 17th. The NYU proposal stated that “NYU’s case is strong,” citing a “history of campus radio stations going back to the 1930’s and 1940’s” as well as a “communications curricula going back to the 1920’s.” It also noted that NYU is already geared up for FM operations.
One of the most telling indicators that NYU was ready to play legal hard ball was NYU’s intention to call every single FDU witness (26 in all) for cross examination, at FDU’s time and expense, at a hearing scheduled for December 1967. The list included 20 witnesses from outside the University and 3 legislators in Washington, D.C.
The FDU proposal stated that NYU and the Broadcast Bureau would oppose any FDU witnesses, which attempted to argue 307(b) advantages, or the particular needs of Bergen County, on the theory that the Review Board decision ruled them inadmissible. The proposal also recommended that share-channel operations be discussed, noting that the Broadcast Bureau wondered why it hasn’t already been discussed and added that the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) dislikes fights between Universities. The time-sharing suggested each University broadcast three days a week, with each getting a full weekend on alternating weekends. It was a Mon-Wed-Fri, Tues-Thurs-Sat schedule.
NYU stuck to its contention that it deserved the channel exclusively, by virtue of its past history. But, in a letter from Vic Wheatman to FDU President Dr. Osborn Fuller, on October 17, 1967, he stated that NYU, in an earlier proposal to WNYC, licensed to the City of New York, mentioned the possibility of share-time arrangements.
In an article in the “Hudson Dispatch” (dated 9/29/67) Dean Marinus Galanti likened the battle of FDU versus NYU to that of David and Goliath.
On November 17, 1967, representative from FDU and NYU met to discuss the possibility of sharing the UN channel. This meeting was subsequent to one held between FDU’s President Fuller and NYU’s President Hester. They concluded that any decision would come from the students in charge of the project. At the November meeting, project manager Vic Wheatman and FDU alumnus Allen Rinde outlined a plan that called for a station with a common transmitter site, two studios and a neutral set of call letters. NYU opted to wait for a legal decision..
A second hearing of the Commission was slated for December 12th. Records and correspondence indicate it did take place, but on December 18th.
In a letter to President Fuller, Vic Wheatman gave a synopsis of what occurred. In the hearing, which lasted about an hour, Wheatman noted that NYU asked for a waiver of cross examination. He said they would also have liked to waive rebuttal, but FDU counsel advised against it, saying it would allow NYU to make statements for which FDU would have no defense. Wheatman noted the Broadcast Bureau retained the right to cross examination, which meant the FDU witnesses didn’t have to appear, although the Bureau still had the right to call them. He said an agreement with the Broadcast Bureau would allow exchange of testimony on January 19, 1968, with Oral Direct on January 23rd. Wheatman closes by saying he’s pleased with renewed efforts to establish a curriculum in the broadcast area and hopes that “something will come out of all of these prospective projects.”
There is a legal document, dated January 22 1968, from FDU counsel Robert A. Woods, which laid out the legal issue and FDU’s position.
On April 29, 1968 FDU President Dr. Osborn Fuller responded to a letter from NYU’s Assistant Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Harold Whiteman. It stated he is “dubious about finding any solid ground on which an acceptable compromise can be based.” He suggested a “more realistic course of action is simply to follow the contested application route until the FCC renders a decision.” President Fuller agreed.
According to an article in the July 1968 “Monitor” the Oral Direct did not go well. FDU counsel Robert Woods said Examiner Charles Frederick made “numerous disparaging remarks” about the exhibits FDU offered at the hearing, including doubting the reliability provided by witness, former Freeholder D. Bennett Mazur. The Examiner also raised a question as to whether there had been any premature construction of antenna and tower by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Wheatman noted that FDU wasn’t too concerned because they expected an uphill battle and also suspected that the Examiner was unhappy about the difficult case, the first of its kind in the history of the FCC.
Indeed, in his Initial Decision, issued September 10, 1968 and released September 16, 1968, Examiner Charles J. Frederick described NYU as “remarkable” while offering no such positive adjectives for FDU. Never-the-less, the idea that Frederick was uncomfortable making a decision that favored one school over the other was borne out in his ruling that concluded the two universities should “share the frequency on an equal time basis.” NYU, FDU, or the Commission would have the right to appeal.
In a telephone conversation with NYU’s Dean Whiteman, FDU President Fuller noted that while the students’ reaction remained inflexible, a meeting should be set up involving a committee of 3 to 5 persons. Dean Whiteman noted that it was time for an end to the legal wrangling and no appeal should be mounted.
On October 7, 1968, FDU President Fuller sent a letter to the Board of Trustees summarizing the FM Proceedings. He noted that the share-time arrangement with NYU must be finalized by October 15th or the “operate every other day” plan becomes the decision. President Fuller admitted that some students and alumni were taking “a hard line” and insisting that the case be appealed. He suggested that both FDU and NYU send a letter to the Commission indicating they agree not to appeal the case and will work toward a shared time agreement, but noted that was unacceptable to NYU. The Commissioner suggested, instead, that an extension beyond October 15th to January 30, 1969 be sought. President Fuller agreed, saying the course of action would put FDU on an even stronger moral ground, should NYU appeal.
In the November 1968 “Monitor,” Vic Wheatman reported the first meeting concerning the shared-time decision was held October 25th. Counterparts from the two universities discussed a Monday-Wednesday- Friday and a month of Sundays schedule at each station. The plan would switch the days after one year. The basis for this arrangement was that both FDU and NYU would operate from the transmitter and tower to be erected on NYU’s University Heights campus. Ironically, FDU agrees to this plan, as opposed to using the Alpine Tower, citing three reason: interference with other stations, signals from the two transmitters causing varying strengths causing audience confusion and the availability of the Alpine Tower.
On November 7, 1968, the transmitter plan falls apart when NYU proposes building a tower at an estimated cost of $75,000.00 and suggests FDU pay a yearly rental fee of $30,000.00, meaning that in two and a half years, NYU would recoup its investment. FDU had gotten an estimate of $600.00 a year to use the Alpine Tower. Another meeting was slated for Monday, November 18th.
It was recommended that FDU decline the NYU transmitter offer and instead investigate two other possibilities, Alpine Tower or WJRZ’s antenna in Hackensack. However, by declining it was believed NYU would feel forced to appeal the share-time decision.
On December 19th, FDU President, Dr. Osborn Fuller received a letter from NYU’s Dean Whiteman confirming that NYU had formally resolved to initiate an appeal of the decision of the Hearing Examiner.
1968 ends with a new battle just beginning.
On January 13, 1969 FDU legal counsel Robert Woods sent a letter to NYU Dean Whiteman, stating that FDU remained willing to continue negotiations, but also made it clear that they intended to file an appeal which would “vigorously” define FDU’s position as to why they should be awarded the channel exclusively. Woods said the next step would be the oral argument on the pleadings before the Review Board, which would not happen for several months. He suggested that FDU should not avoid opportunities for negotiations, saying it would, at the least, cause NYU to respond to the invitation. A decline would put them in an awkward position “in view of the Bureau’s attitude in favor of an informal resolution.” Woods also recommended that FDU consider the proposal from Mr. Sackerman concerning the lease of space on the Alpine Tower, but suggested securing clarifications concerning extent of services.
On January 22, 1969, a reply brief was filed with the FCC on behalf of NYU laying out its reasoning for its request of exclusive use of channel 206 and refuting matters raised by FDU in earlier proceedings.
On January 24th, FDU filed a request with the FCC for oral arguments, noting that FDU supported the recommendations that “both FDU and New York University (hereinafter NYU) should share the frequency involved herein.”
The Review Board scheduled the oral argument in the NYU-FDU case on May 8, 1969 at 10am. Each party was to be granted 20 minutes.
The previous month, legal counsel Robert Woods requested information from Robert Stotts, Director of Student Services, concerning the status of possible negotiations, saying the issue is bound to come up in the oral argument and there is always the “possibility, remote as it seems, that a settlement could be effected prior to that argument.”
Oral arguments were heard on May 8, 1969. According to a letter from legal counsel Woods, the Review Board showed “an intense interest in share-channel, and examined NYU counsel extensively on the subject, since NYU is the lone out for full grant under any circumstances.” Woods said the Board requested all parties file additional comments within two weeks on issues raised during the argument.
On August 29, 1969, the FCC’s Review Board released its decision affirming the Examiner’s decision to order FDU and NYU to share the channel. The Board found no basis to prefer one applicant over the other and rejected NYU’s bid for exclusive use of the channel, while acknowledging that its share-time resolution was a novel outcome. This case was the first of its kind and became the basis for subsequent cases involving competing noncommercial educational applicants. The Board directed the parties to submit a written share-time agreement to the Board or face additional proceedings that would become the basis of a Board imposed arrangement. On May 25, 1970, the parties executed the Share-Time Agreement that is the basis of their operations today.
The call letters “WFDU” were requested by Fairleigh Dickinson University on October 13, 1970 and were formally assigned by the FCC on November 25th. The first tests of equipment commenced on June 16, 1971 following notification to the FCC.
On July 30, 1971, FDU filed its application for a license to cover its constructed facility. The application included a request for authority to conduct program tests, that is, to begin broadcasting programs. On August 5th, the FCC’s Broadcast Bureau granted WFDU the necessary permit BPED-571, pending further action on the license application (which was formally granted on August 26th). On August 24th, FDU notified the FCC that it would begin formal broadcasting “from noon until 3:45pm weekdays on Monday, August 30th.
NYU did not go on the air on the same day. According to an article in “Tarrevir” (dated 12/6/72) NYU delayed construction on their facilities. NYU agreed to allow FDU to take over their broadcast hours until they were up and running. That agreement lasted until April 3, 1973.
There is an addendum to the story, one that explains how and why WFDU-FM ended up with the broadcasting hours they have. It was provided by Frank Murphy, a student at FDU, who also was involved in the creation of WFDU-FM.
Current General Manager Barry (Duff) Sheffield contacted Mr. Murphy and received an email that clarifies what happened. He wrote, “Vic Wheatman, David West, Bob Stotts (the FDU Student Activities Director) and I worked on convincing the university that the FM license was a good idea. After getting the initial release of the frequency from the United Nations the FCC, declared that both applications (FDU and NYU) had merit and decided to “cut the baby in half” to be fair to both.
When negotiations between student committees from both FDU and NYU were unable to reach agreement on broadcasting hours, the administration took over. Mr. Murphy recalls that NYU was adamant about having the weekday evening hours because they wanted programming that would reach “the largest possible audience of NYU students and alumni.” FDU felt that daytime hours would provide the “opportunity to do some academic programming (possibly airing courses) and the basis for courses structured around a possible communications curriculum. Add to this the willingness of NYU to give up the weekends, which opened up the possibility to broadcast FDU sports, it pretty much sealed the weekday daytime, full weekend time share deal for FDU.
Mr. Murphy also recalled discussion between FDU and NYU sharing a transmitter and said various options were explored, including the possibility of installing a transmitter antenna on the west tower of the George Washington Bridge. However, engineering challenges and a high rental fee quoted by the Port Authority, ended the idea. NYU opted to locate its transmitter at their satellite campus, called University Heights, in the Bronx. Ironically, the campus was sold a few years later to Bronx Community College, but the transmitter still operates from there.
FDU’s antenna ended up on the Armstrong Tower in Alpine, New Jersey, where it remains today. That tower is the site of the world’s first FM radio transmitter, built by “Major” Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio. And so, Bergen County’s first full power FM station took to the air in an historic manner.
We can happily report to you that the FCC has approved our application for a power increase from 650 watts to 3000 watts and a doubling of our height up the Alpine Tower.
We now have an official Construction Permit (CP) and are preparing an equipment list for this project.
We will highlight this wonderful development as we urge our listeners to give to the station during the February fundraising event. What we are doing will more than double our listening area and vastly improve our signal in most areas where we are spotty. We believe that we can all agree that this is a worthy cause for listener generosity.
Stay tuned for progress reports and thank you for your support!
If you are interested in obtaining more station information, please contact Duff Sheffield at firstname.lastname@example.org .