WFDU Thrives in Tough Medium

Sunday October 30, 2011, 8:32 PM

The Record
WFDU has built up a loyal following as it celebrates its 40th anniversary of broadcasting from the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.
Barry Sheffield, in his office, is the program director
and operations manager at WFDU
“At most college radio stations, the joke is nobody is listening to you. But not here,” said Kenny O’Boyle of Wayne, a student who hosts a country music show on Thursday afternoons. “The phones are ringing off the hook the entire show. Listeners treat it like a jukebox.”

During peak hours, listener-supported WFDU, at 89.1 on the FM dial, has an audience of between 30,000 and 50,000 listeners, said Duff Sheffield, program director and operations manager at the radio station he helped start as an FDU student in the early 1970s.

Its programming consists of discreet shows featuring different genres that aren’t generally available on free commercial radio. There’s polka and salsa and blues and folk and gospel.

“From show to show it could be something completely different,” said Sheffield. “I don’t think you can find as much variety on any other station.”
Sheffield, 60, helped “throw the switch” in August 1971 when the station broadcast its first song, “Friends” by Elton John. After graduation, he worked in commercial radio in New York before returning to FDU to teach and manage the radio station 22 years ago.

Student broadcasters are nurtured in a state-of-the-art broadcast studio Sheffield has built on the second floor of old dormitories off River Road.

The equipment at WFDU rivals that at commercial radio stations in New York, said Sheffield and O’Boyle, who has done radio internships in the city.

The station installed a new transmitter at its tower in Alpine during the spring. Its broadcast radius is about 50 miles, and now, with Internet video streaming and a smart phone app, listeners can access WFDU worldwide.
Additionally, the station’s archives had 100,000 listeners last year, Sheffield said.

“Radio as a medium is going through rough times; if you don’t adapt you’ll die,” said Sheffield, who lives in Mahwah with his wife, 1010 WINS morning anchor Judy DeAngelis.

He notes that many of his students no longer listen to radio; instead they stream music through the computer. But he says there remains a niche for the specialty and live programming provided by WFDU. The station even has a live performance space in a 1960s-era nuclear reactor decommissioned by the physics department on campus.

“We have stuff that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Carl J. Kraus, the general manager, who has been at the station for 31 years. There are four paid staff and about 40 volunteers who work at WFDU, which gets the bulk of its budget from listener donations.

“It is a surprise to me that we have not had any difficulty in fund raising … in this rough and rugged economy,” said Kraus. The station also receives a subsidy from the university.

The station spawned such radio notables as Al Bernstein, Dene Hallam and Mark Marker. FDU alums Greg T and TJ the DJ are part of Z100’s Morning Zoo.

O’Boyle, who transferred to FDU from Rutgers for the radio station, said the professional quality of WFDU should give him a leg up in making his radio DJ dreams come true. “I have three years’ experience in one of the top markets in the country, New York,” said O’Boyle. “It’s a great opportunity.”



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