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Radio Days

Jim Cameron '72, ,who went on to win a George Foster Peabody Award in broadcasting, on the air at WLVR on Long Island in 1973.

Election night, 1968. Barry Lehman '70, right, with his hand in the air, tracks the results.

September 1971: In a cramped studio in the basement of the University Center, Jim Cameron ’72 finishes his on-air shift at Lehigh University’s radio station by announcing into a giant Nerf-ball microphone, “That was Led Zeppelin’s ‘Friends.’”

Fast-forward to December 2009, where DJ Joe Manganelli ’10, broadcasting from the modern studio in the heart of Ulrich Student Center, concludes his show with the same song and announces it into a microphone that has stubbornly resisted the march of time—and technology.

In some respects, little has changed at Lehigh’s student radio station, WLVR. In other ways, Cameron’s and Manganelli’s broadcasts are worlds apart.

“The ’70s and ’80s were a revolutionary time in terms of music and radio,” says Manganelli, the current general manager of WLVR. “That’s why we’re still playing great music from that time and striving—in a less radio-friendly era of iPods and downloads—to revive that same passion for the radio station here on campus.”

Since making its debut in March 1948, WLVR (which was originally AM WLRN, then both WLRN and FM WLVR, and then eventually just WLVR) has broadcast hundreds of thousands of hours of unique music and sports programming for the community, while providing countless rich, character-building, on-air experiences for student DJs.

Over the years, the station has, through periods of growth and stagnation, morphed into one of the best radio stations in the Lehigh Valley and one of the only college radio stations in the country run predominantly by students.

And what technology taketh from radio (iPods and downloads), it also giveth (streaming broadcasts on the Internet). You can listen to Lehigh’s radio station almost anywhere by visiting www.wlvr.org.

As the WLVR DJs of present and past talk about their experiences filling the airwaves, one theme prevails: a genuine love of music and a desire to make meaningful connections with listeners.

Jake Miller ’84 probably speaks for many WLVR DJs when he says, “I am a music junkie. I just loved the music and being on the air.”

For many of the DJs who hung up their Lehigh headphones years ago, these passions have molded their careers. For others, their experiences simply live on as some of their fondest college memories. For all of them, these are experiences that, like the words spoken into a live microphone, can never be taken back.

“Ten years after I graduated from Lehigh and left WLVR, I was driving through the Lehigh Valley on Route 22 from my hometown in Coudersport to Philadelphia, and I heard a WLVR promo in my voice,” Miller says. “I had recorded it while I was at the station, and it was still being played. I thought that was pretty cool.”

Cameron, who has gone on to a very successful career in broadcasting that includes being recognized with one of his profession’s highest honors, says: “Hundreds of students have passed through WLVR over the years. Some may be in careers in broadcasting and others may not, but they all have a better appreciation of the medium and have improved their communications skills.”

Freedom of expression

One thing that WLVR DJs—both past and present—rave about is the free-form arrangement of the station and the autonomy it gives students to say and play (within reason and FCC regulations, of course) whatever they want.

“When I worked at WLVR in the early ’80s, when you did a radio show, you were in there on your own, choosing records, spinning them yourself,” says Barb (Schwartz) Prisament ’85.

At the time, Prisament chose to feature punk rock and new wave music of the late ’70s and ’80s on her show. “Lots of Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, English Beat, and Gang of Four. I had a lot of autonomy and a lot of fun,” she says.

Cameron recalls “Stereo Sunday” broadcasts the station did when it was still split into two stations—WLRN and WLVR.

“You put the left channel on WLVR and the right channel on WLRN. You needed two radios and some imagination, but it worked,” he says.

Evan Marcus ’84 recalls when one of his comedy idols, Robert Klein, came to campus. “As general manager, I was able to request an on-air interview with him for the station, and he was very nice— he signed my albums and spent over an hour chatting with me,” Marcus says.

And Miller remembers being able to convert sponsorship advertising money into whichever albums the staff chose. “We started building quite a library of our favorites,” he says.

Current WLVR DJs enjoy the free-form nature of the station as well. “We can go on the air and express ourselves and what we enjoy, whether it is through the music we play or the sports we broadcast,” says Kaitlin Dean ’10, public affairs co-director at WLVR.

Sports director Matt Abramowitz ’10 and his team of two other sports DJs have full control over their shows covering Lehigh football and basketball games.

“There isn’t much supervision over us,” he says. Abramowitz admits he was particularly candid during one football game last season.

“I didn’t know what the reaction would be to my criticism of the game (which was terrible—we lost 7-0), but luckily, a professor contacted the station and said he thought the comments were very funny.”

As with most things in life, with freedom comes responsibility. And with live radio comes the occasional gaffe.

“I laugh when I think about the mistakes I made, like playing a 33-rpm record on 45, spinning the same song twice in a row, and giving out our apartment number by mistake instead of the studio request line,” Prisament recalls.

Miller remembers when he had a reel-to-reel tape and two albums playing all at the same time without realizing it.

And Marcus recalls a time during his stint as general manager when, as he was listening to the station in his room, he heard a brand new DJ reading an article from the Village Voice—“multiple obscenities and all. Unlike commercial radio stations, WLVR has never had the luxury of a dump button or a six-second delay.

“Five minutes later, he was off the air, and despite being completely out of breath from running across campus, I had taken over the show,” Marcus says.

That sense of professionalism and responsibility runs through decades of DJs at WLVR.

“I took my role really seriously and carefully created my music mixes,” Miller says. “If you took it seriously, you sounded like a real radio station to people on the other end listening.”

Adds Manganelli: “We frequently get compliments from listeners proclaiming how professional our staff sounds, and that is a result of our structured training program and hard work.”

Turning pro

Some student DJs enjoyed their WLVR radio days so much that they turned the experience into a career.

Cameron, whose love of the basement studios of WLVR convinced him to switch majors from civil engineering to arts, went on to be an on-air commercial radio personality at WLIR on Long Island and WQIV in New York City. He also worked as a news broadcaster at Hartford’s WHCN, WCOZ/WHDH in Boston, and NBC News at 30 Rock in New York City, where he won a George Foster Peabody award—the oldest, most prestigious honor in broadcasting.

“From there, I launched my own consultancy in 1982. Without WLVR, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says.

Prisament, who drastically expanded WLVR’s music collection in the early 1980s by tirelessly calling record companies and asking to be added to their mailing lists, morphed her two loves—marketing and music—into a successful career working for record companies.

“While working at WLVR, it occurred to me that I could combine my passion for music with my work and ultimately ‘market’ something I loved,” Prisament says. “As music director, I attended music industry conferences as a representative of our radio station. It was at these music meets that I made the connections that ultimately led me to my first job at Elektra Records in 1986, six months after graduation.”

She went on to spend 15 years in the sales and marketing departments at Elektra, Chrysalis, and Capitol record companies. She is currently raising two sons, ages 6 and 9, while working as an independent music professional serving artists in marketing and management in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. And three years ago, she began to co-organize an annual music festival in her hometown.

“At my core, I will always consider myself a DJ, as my love for connecting people and music never seems to dissipate,” she says.

Following stints at WLVR and as a part-timer at WAEB in Allentown, Bill Hall ’75 went to work full time in 1979 at WDHA in northern New Jersey while he was going to school to get his MBA.

“Since 1984, I have worked at WDHA on and off as a weekend DJ, and I currently do a regular Sunday shift that includes a full hour of new music at 10 p.m. I also do voice-overs for radio and TV commercials,” he says.

For the former and current DJs with primary career interests outside of radio, their WLVR days have no doubt added valuable skills to their résumés.

“You have to know how to audible in life, and being a DJ helped develop those skills,” says Miller, who now lives in Granbury, Texas. “On the air, you have to be quick on your feet, but not so off-the-wall that you get yourself in trouble.

“As a chief financial officer of a telecommunications company, I negotiate for a living, and my days at WLVR helped develop my ability to speak on the spot,” he says.

Barry Lehman ’70, now an ordained Moravian minister who works in the addictions program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says his time on WLVR gave him a chance to be part of history.

“For me, the highlight of 1968 was to be the anchor of election night coverage,” Lehman recalls. “We were on live for the whole evening with feeds from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting Service. We finally signed off at 2 or 3 a.m. with the prediction that Nixon would win.”

Lehman also remembers coming into the studios on a study break in April 1968 to discover that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. “I went on the air with the news,” he says.

Those experiences have remained with him throughout his life.

“Working at the radio station was nothing short of life changing,” Lehman says. “I was asked a few years ago what I would have done if I hadn’t felt called into the ministry. Without hesitation, I said I would probably be working at NPR.

“I might still do that for my next career ...”

Story by --Elizabeth Shimer Bowers

Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2010

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