Wednesday, October 26, 2016


From time-to-time I get anonymous comments from folks who sound like they are industry insiders. I like to get comments from almost any source but I never publish anonymous comments until I’ve had a chance to check out the story. Readers can send emails to me at

One anonymous source claims to be on the Board of WNYC Public Media.  I have no way of verifying his/her claim but the person sounds legit.  Yesterday I received a message from this source.  Here is a portion of it:

“I’ve been saying at WNYC board meetings for years that New York City still has some of the best radio programming I know of including WNYC, WFMU, WNYE and WBAI (less so these days). But, hands down, WKCR is where my radio is tuned most of the time.”

WKCR has just been declared "best radio station 2016" by the unscientific Village Voice Best of New York survey, doesn't even appear in the [Nielsen Audio ratings]. Why is this?”

I looked for WKCR in the Village Voice and, sure enough, there it is [link]:

Columbia University's WKCR is a beacon of uptown grace. The award-winning radio institution has provided alternative programming for 75 years, with shows spanning fringe jazz, baroque classical, and Middle Eastern folk.

WKCR seems to have an ample budget, estimated to be around $200,000. The station occasionally has fund drives but a lot of WKCR’s revenue appears to come from alumni. They don’t subscribe to Nielsen Audio’s ratings because they don’t care. They say they don't need to know.

A former WKCR manager once said: “We pride ourselves on providing content that is uniquely ours. We love our music and we play it with pride.”

That is still the operating philosophy today.


WKCR 89.9 FM [link] is Columbia University’s noncommercial student-run radio station. WKCR is now celebrating its 75th anniversary.

WKCR began at the dawn of FM broadcasting. Edwin H. Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio was a professor at Columbia University in the 1930s. In July 1939 Armstrong’s first FM station signed on near Alpine, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. 

Armstromg encouraged the Columbia University Radio Club to apply for a FM license. They did and on February 24, 1941 what is now WKCR went on the air. Soon after that date, America was thrust into WW2 and FM broadcasting ceased until after the war.

Today, you could call WKCR “the alternative to all of the alternatives.” It is truly a one-of-a-kind student station.

REASON #1: They never throw anything away.

The library includes analog tapes, records, 78s, compact discs, basically anything classical and jazz that has ever been recorded. Old analog equipment is restored and used, not sold.

REASON #2: Longevity of programming.

One program – Out to Lunch – that airs weekdays from Noon to 3pm began 45 years ago. Columbia alumni are urged to donate their record collections and other media.

REASON #3: Sound quality is of paramount concern.

WKCR airs lots of analog recordings. New student employees are taught how to use and maintain reel-to-reel tapes.

REASON #4: Folks at WKCR know the station is unique and they don’t care if you don’t like it.


Elisabeth Stam
Elisabeth Stam, station manager of WKCR was interviewed in September 2016 by College Media Journal (CMJ) {link]:

 CMJ: WKCR has quite a history, what is one of your favorite stories from the stations past that you think best defines the station?

STAM: One of my favorite stories from WKCR’s past occurred on October 4th 1957, when WKCR students managed to record transmissions from Sputnik’s radio pulses (some sort of beep sound) while Sputnik was orbiting the planet. WKCR broadcasted the recording on the radio before any of the networks in New York City had a chance to. The next morning, the FBI arrived at the station and confiscated WKCR’s Sputnik recordings, much to the students’ surprise and indignation.

This story epitomizes the WKCR spirit where young people immediately sgrasp the importance of developing events and pull together whatever necessary to bring our listeners what they deserve to hear, the best and nothing less. WKCR has always operated in a sphere beyond traditional college radio and that is what this anecdote demonstrates.

CMJ: The first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think college radio is not Classical and Jazz, how has the station carved out a place for itself with this unique format?

STAM: WKCR is dedicated to playing genres of music that are infrequently heard, if not at all, on commercial radio and even on college radio. WKCR has carved out a place with our unique format because no one else anywhere on the FM dial devotes so much time and energy to playing large amounts of Jazz and Classical.

We also pride ourselves on playing compositions in their entirely instead of excerpts. During our Bach Festival at the end of December, WKCR plays Bach compositions uninterrupted for a week or more.

KEN SAYS: This is all well-and-good in the here-and-now but a radio person like myself always looks for a plan “B.” Look again at WKCR’s coverage area.  I’d guess there are ten million people who can receive 89.9, plus countless more on digital platforms. Columbia University has such an amazing history of knowledge, innovation and service to humanity, I find it amazing they have not considered a more contemporary and urgent sound for WKCR. This is a major under developed asset.

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