A Mess of Records and Reels: A Brief History of the WYUR

By: Yitzhak Graff  |  September 19, 2022
SHARE

By Yitzhak Graff

Most students of YU rarely enter the Schottenstein Center on 560 W 185th. Some may daven in the Shenk Shul at 9:15AM when they wake up late and still want to go to minyan. Others may have sat in the small theater in the basement for a Dramatic Society production. Almost none will ever ascend to the upper stories of the building. The rare few who have the stamina to climb the stairs or the resolve to ride the aging elevator to the third floor may have noticed a room in the back left corner of the forgotten student lounge. Next to a lock box whose combination has been forgotten to time lies a small plaque bearing the inscription “WYUR 64AM.” 

The history of this WYUR can be divided into three main eras. The first era, going from 1961 to 1968, is the period of its early development. The second era, ranging from 1968 until 1997, bookends WYUR’s experience as a semi-professional college radio station with a consistent style of broadcast. The third era, from 1999 to the present, contains WYUR’s struggle to remain relevant in a world of increasingly-accessible media on the internet. 

In May of 1961, Teddy Berman, the incoming President of the Yeshiva College Student Council (YCSC) proposed the idea of a student radio station to help revitalize student life on campus. Berman sought to address a common concern among candidates for student council at that time. There was a general feeling that members of student government were apathetic to actively improving student life. Berman imagined a radio station that broadcasted music and programs of interest to the student body could serve as a mouthpiece of YCSC to directly communicate with the student body. Although Berman’s theoretical station, dubbed ‘WYU,’ never materialized during his term in office, he certainly thrust the idea of a student radio station into the collective consciousness of the student body. 

There were two attempts at starting a radio station during 1962, neither of which were managed by YCSC as Berman envisioned. The first attempt was made in March of 1962, in which two members of YCDS, Richard Weisman and Lenny Brandwein, started WGDR (Golden Dome Radio) as a division of YCDS. Weisman and Brandwein intended to broadcast music and news reports nightly for the residents of Rubin Hall. The extent to which WGDR succeeded in making regular broadcasts is unknown. However, it is certain that the project didn’t last beyond the end of the spring semester when Weisman graduated.

In the following Fall, two tech-savvy freshmen, Sandford Moos and David Salanche, started a radio station in their shared room in Rubin Hall. Moos and Salache’s WYUR was completely independent of any student organization. Their station saw enough success for an upperclassman resident of Rubin Hall to intrude upon their room and broadcast obscenities with their private equipment. When news of this incident reached the administration, they immediately forced Moos and Salanche to shut down their operation. 

While all this was going on, YCSC was still dreaming about their theoretical radio station, WYU, without taking any serious steps to realize the goal. During this period of inaction, Irwin Geller, a writer of satirical pieces for the Commentator, penned a piece in December of 1963 reflecting on the potential of the theoretical radio station, WYU. 

YCSC’s first real step in realizing its goal of having a radio station was the creation of a Radio Club during the 1965 Spring semester. The Radio Club spent its first year bringing in experts to educate its members in the technical and rhetorical aspects of radio broadcasting, as well as securing industry connections to help prepare for its launch into a full-scale radio station. By December of 1965, the radio club had secured a grant from the American Broadcasting Corporation for broadcasting equipment, including turntables and transmitters. The administration refused to allow the Radio Club to begin broadcasting in January of 1966, citing concerns from the debacle of Moos and Salache’s independent radio station in 1962. YCSC pushed back against the administration, insisting that the radio station would be an overall benefit to student life. The administration eventually softened up to the idea and released their approval of the charter for a student radio station in May of 1967. 

In September of 1967, YCSC allocated $2500 for the recently approved radio station, now called WYUR (Yeshiva University Radio). WYUR would use that money to arrange their setup and install all the necessary equipment to be ready for the launch of the station in January of 1968.   

WYUR made its first broadcast from the fifth floor of RIETS Hall (now called Muss Hall) at 6:00PM on Thursday, February 1, 1968. Students living in RIETS, Rubin, and Morgenstern Halls could now tune their radios to 820 AM to listen to a variety of shows featuring music, news, sports, and lectures from YU faculty. About one month later, the WYUR expanded its broadcast to the Brookdale Residence Hall. WYUR was able to limit its audience to specific locations due to its unconventional method of broadcasting. WYUR’s broadcast was sent from the studio to transmitters in each dorm building using telephone lines. The transmitters, in turn, used the electrical grid of their respective dorm buildings in lieu of an antenna. This method was supposedly cheaper than using more powerful long distance radio waves, but it also granted benefits to both the station and the YU administration. WYUR benefited by being exempt from FCC regulation, since it was not a public radio station, and the administration could rest easy knowing that the broadcasts were not accessible to the general public. This method of broadcasting continued to be used until 2003, when the station began streaming on the internet.   

From its inception in 1968, WYUR was the first integrated undergraduate club at YU, serving both students of YC and SCW. The exact motivations for the inception of this novel arrangement aren’t completely clear but can be mostly reconstructed from the available record. WYUR was not receiving enough funding from YCSC to remain operational, so they likely turned to SCWSC to make up their deficit in return for expanding the broadcast to the Stern campus. The SCWSC held a vote to determine interest in a radio station among students of Stern, and the student body voted in favor of the club. This joint funding from both student councils meant that students of Stern were able to have their own shows on WYUR. 

The second era of WYUR began in March of 1968, when the station began to settle into its routine. Although the studio inhabited three different locations on the Wilf campus, the broadcast continued to be sent to the following four undergraduate dorms, RIETS (Muss), Rubin, Morg, and Brookdale Halls. The studio’s first move was in 1971, during which it was moved from the fifth floor of RIETS (Muss) Hall to the newly-renovated student union space in the second story of the garages just south of Belfer Hall. These garages were renovated in the early 60s to house physics labs for the Belfer School of Science, while the school waited for its 18-story tower to be built. Upon Belfer Hall’s completion in 1970, YU decided to designate part of the garages for student use. WYUR moved its studio into the new student union space in Fall of 1971 and stayed there for almost two decades. The studio’s second move happened in 1991. The administration wanted to use the garages to house cars, so they relocated the student union space to the third floor of the Schottenstein Center. WYUR, along with the other Wilf student organizations, moved their offices to the Schottenstein Center. 

There was no effort by WYUR to record and archive its broadcasts, however a rough sketch of their general content can be reconstructed from the surviving material culture, which includes the archived student newspapers and items in the possession of WYUR. 

From 1968 to 1997, the bulk of WYUR’s regular programming consisted of music shows managed by student disc jockeys (DJ). The DJs generally broadcasted selections from a specific genre, while providing some commentary and receiving calls from listeners. Most shows focused on traditional Jewish music, Israeli music, or rock music. 

News was usually broadcasted between shows and contained a combination of general news and YU news. The YU news was pre-recorded by the WYUR newsmen and included all manner of events relating to the student body. The general news was provided by a subscription news service that provided daily news tapes for broadcast.

WYUR also broadcasted YU sports games up until 1997. They relayed the play-by-play of all home games and away games that were close enough to transport the broadcasting equipment. WYUR did not resume sports broadcasting after its 1997-1999 hiatus, and MacsLive was created as early as 2002 to replace the defunct WYUR sports broadcasting program.

The general trajectory and goals of the station managers shifted over the course of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In the beginning of the 70s, there was a general desire to focus the station’s efforts on Jewish programming, which generally manifested in most of the music shows playing Jewish and Israeli music. In addition, there were some instances of special Jewish programming that were broadcast during this period. In April 1970, WYUR broadcasted Rav Soloveitchik’s drasha on his concerns with the legal secularization of YU. In March 1972, WYUR secured telephone interviews with two Jewish dissenters stuck in the Soviet Union, named Gavriel Schapiro and Dr. Alexander Lerner, discussing their experiences living under Soviet oppression. Schapiro was able to secure his exit visa about a year after this interview, but Lerner was forced to remain in the USSR until 1988.

In late 1977, WYUR experienced its first crisis. They reported that the transmitting equipment was damaged and about 600 records were stolen. Funds to bring the service back on air were hard to come by, and this event led to a year-long fight between WYUR, YCSC, and SCWSC over who had to pay for the repairs. WYUR was able to recover from this event with some additional funding from the student councils and a lot of ingenuity from WYUR’s engineers. 

Since WYUR was not certified by the FCC, it could not ensure that there were no other neighboring stations with similar frequencies interfering with its broadcasts. In Fall 1985, the frequency was changed from 820AM to 640AM to avoid interference from other neighboring radio stations.

As WYUR entered the 80s, its audience became more interested in popular music including rock, funk, and reggae. The station managers tried to stave off this desire for more alternative types of music, but they were not entirely successful in preserving the Jewish focus of the WYUR of the 70s. By the early 90s, the music shows in general were becoming less popular and were being replaced by comedy and political talk shows. 

From the late 80s until 1995, WYUR suffered numerous break-ins and damage to their equipment. They were not the only student organization to suffer from this at the time. It seems that back then the Schottenstein Center had a security problem. WYUR’s constant need to repair and replace equipment meant that its service became less reliable and started an overall decline. In addition to its spotty service, it also suffered several crises of leadership and internal feuds. There was an attempt in 1995 to completely overhaul the station broadcasting tech and replace it with a more powerful FM frequency. This upgrade was estimated at around $20,000, and the money never materialized. WYUR continued to decay until it completely went off air in 1997.

There was an attempt in 1999 headed by Eli Gurock to restart broadcasting. Opting for a cost-effective remedy for the problems experienced in 1995-97, Gurock changed the frequency to 530AM with the rationale that there would be less interference from other radio stations at such a low frequency, potentially improving the sound quality. This innovation was not as effective as Gurock hoped, and WYUR returned to its dormant state after Gurock graduated in Spring of 2000. 

In Fall of 2003, an enterprising student named David Weinberg began to work on reviving the station once again. Weinberg chose to shift the medium of broadcast from radio waves to the internet. He made use of communication infrastructure that the university had already installed in all the dorm buildings instead of investing an estimated $20,000 to modernize the radio broadcasting set-up. 

Under Weinberg’s leadership, WYUR launched their new website, wyur.org, in November 2003 and began broadcasting on the internet. This began a new era of success for the station. During the mid-2000s, WYUR hosted annual Shabbatons and ran 30+ hour marathon events. All the enthusiasm began to peter out in 2008, and by May of 2009, the website was no longer running. 

Another attempt to revive the station was made in the Fall of 2011. The new WYUR Twitter account tried to hype up its prospective audience for the October 25th launch date, but technical difficulties with the new website, wyur.net, prevented them from reaching their audience. 

The new website was only made operational in February 2013. WYUR began to broadcast regular shows again, though they were not able to regain the enthusiasm of the mid-2000s. In Fall 2019, WYUR experienced some serious difficulties resuming broadcasting due to some aging internet tech in the studio. The team was able to resume broadcasting for Spring 2020, and they continued until March of that year. Broadcasting was discontinued when almost everyone was sent home due to the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19. The wyur.net website went offline in October 2021. 

It can be easy to get lost in tracing the ups and downs and broadcasting trends of WYUR throughout all of its eras. Despite the thorough appearance of this piece, an entire book’s worth of material would be insufficient to properly chronicle the events of a single year. Thus is the problem of writing history. The events included in this article were chosen to showcase the impact that WYUR had on the hundreds of students who got to develop their own voices through their shows and the thousands of their peers who found enjoyment in listening. It is important to recognize that all the students who participated in making WYUR a reality for its entire history acted out of a desire to connect students to one another and engender a community of students who were invested in making this university a better place.      

SHARE