WFDU Thrives in Tough Medium
Sunday October 30, 2011, 8:32 PM
BY PATRICIA ALEX
WFDU has built up a loyal following as it celebrates its 40th anniversary of broadcasting from the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.
KEVIN R. WEXLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
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 country music shows on Tuesday & 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 and worldwide on iHeartRadio.com, has an audience of between 30,000 and 50,000 listeners, said Duff Sheffield, general manager & program director at the radio station he helped start as an FDU student in the early 1970s.
Its 24/7 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, 62, 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 24 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 also is an adjunct communications professor at FDU.
The station installed a new transmitter at its tower in Alpine recently. Its broadcast radius is about 50 miles, and now, with Internet audio streaming on iHeartRadio 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, former 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.
There are four paid staff and about 70 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 Sheffield. 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 of Z100’s Morning Zoo, and TJ of Boston's 103.3 AMP Radio's "The TJ Show".
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 five years’ experience in one of the top markets in the country, New York,” said O’Boyle. “It’s a great opportunity.”