Robert W. Meister
Sometime in 1970 several students had thoughts of starting a radio station at the University of New Haven’s West Haven (CT) campus. I was one of three engineering students (who had FCC First Class Commercial Licenses) blessed with the task of filling out the FCC paperwork. This included taping together nine topographic maps, lying over them on the floor of the student center, drawing eight radials, finding the altitude of 50 points on each radial between two and 10 miles from the campus, and adding and averaging all of these, just to get the required Height Above Average Terrain value. (Of course, now you just input your latitude and longitude, and a computer gives you the result in seconds.)…
Over the next two years, the station was granted a license to operate on 88.7 MHz at 1.7 kW ERP with a Gates FM-1H transmitter and a four-bay antenna. Studios were designed and built in a very limited space in a corner of the student center. Dick Gelgauda and others won awards in at least one broadcasting magazine for their innovative design and clever use of space.
I was involved in the early efforts to start a college radio station which became WNHU. I was an electrical engineering student at then New Haven College planning to graduate in spring 1970. My fellow engineering students were the source of much interest, the technical expertise and the needed FCC commercial licenses. I represented the engineering students in the Student Government so my role became to acquire the needed financial commitment and to secure physical space in the student center from the Student Government to finance and house the radio station. After some compromises, these efforts were successful. The college had recently changed its name to the University of New Haven. In the hunt for a station call sign, it was determined that WUNH was already taken by the University of New Hampshire but WNHU was available. Since the university was not open to revising its name, the natural approach became to poll the student body, and with some lobbying, convinced them that WNHU should be the choice.
The University of New Haven has a great location, perched high on the hill, substantially well above average terrain, where elevation is an important factor for determining radio station coverage. But there were problems. As I recollect, there was only one frequency available for use and there was also interest by a private school and another local college. Our plans were adjusted, we already had a height advantage, so we went even higher with a tall 200 foot tower and high radio station output power. I was convinced we would prevail to the FCC as the better use of the remaining FM frequency by demonstrating technical competence, financial and facility commitments and wide radio station coverage. I met with the university’s legal counsel and President Peterson to discuss the radio station. The only guidance I received was to ensure if the antenna fell it cannot fall on U.S. 1. On my last day at school, I met with President Peterson and provided him in an accordion folder all the records of Student Government’s financial and physical space commitments together with other technical radio station details to date including the location and height of the tower which located far enough from U.S. 1 to meet his restriction. I subsequently graduated and moved to Maryland to begin a career in the U.S. intelligence community.
The campus radio station faded from my memory. A couple years later, I enrolled in law school. When roaming the law library which is what law students sometimes do, I spotted the FCC publication which documents FCC decisions. I quickly searched and found the University of New Haven’s case. I was pleased not only the University had followed through with the FCC application filing, but that our logic and planning did prevail and our station application was approved. WNHU was born.
Bob Congdon (currently the University’s Director of Gift Planning)
When I saw the radio antenna extending high above Bartels Student Center as I was walking across campus, I remembered my conversation with alumnus Richard MacGregor, now living in Arizona, who helped start the radio station. He was part of a group of students that persuaded the UNH president to sign an application to put the antenna on the roof of the student center, and there needed to be assurance that the 200 foot tower would not resonate with the frequencies of WAVZ, which uses twin towers close to the highway in West Haven. Vince Berluti, Chief Engineer when WNHU went on air, did the measurements/report. Bob Russo, who served as Chief Engineer from June, 1974 to May, 1976, assisted with the field measurements to prove the WAVZ pattern was not affected.
The radio station wanted to be WUNH, not WNHU, but that Call Sign had already been in use by the University of New Hampshire since 1962. So WNHU became the name.
With the political turmoil of that era, students agitated for having two student representatives on the Board of Governors. The student government fragmented, and the black students formed a separate Black Student Union. Richard helped run the student newspaper, and to plan and produce a Fleetwood Mac concert in the gym, which necessitated protecting the floor with fiberboard. Part way through the concert, they lost electricity, and needed to shut off circuits in unused parts of the building before the concert could go on.
My very first date with radio was as an intern in the news department at WPLR FM in New Haven. On my very first day, January 19, 1983 I was instructed to call the toll operators on I-95 and get the traffic updates. My first call reached a frantic toll booth operator who informed me of the worst traffic crash in Connecticut history, where I would eventually learn of the deaths of six unfortunate commuters. Life was unfolding in real-time and I was a part of it, forever hooked on the immediacy of radio.
I started working at WNHU as a newscaster with classmate, Liz Maida. We were truly awful on the air, but we shared a million laughs and became close friends. At that time, WNHU was on the top floor of the Student Center. I remember watching music director, Don Hanson cue up an album and I longed to be doing that instead of reading the news. Don sensed my enthusiasm and my propensity for new sounds and artists and began grooming me to take over for him as music director. Eventually, the radio station was moved to the basement of the main building, albums transported across the parking lot by able-bodied college kids in their late model cars. UNH was mainly a commuter school back then, so thanks to the commuters!
As the music director in our new basement location, I got to open fresh new albums from Capitol and Warner Brothers and soon enough came face to face with a new music movement spreading the globe. Some of this music was called “punk” some “hard core,” but all of it fell into a category called “New Music.” I was in contact with student record company Reps from A&M and the CMJ New Music Report and came to the realization that WNHU was an outlier; our mixed programming and scheduling of community hosts and fill-in DJ’s was a hodgepodge of whatever the DJ wanted to play and there was no consistency for an audience to find a rhythm.
An A&M rep (who would later became influential in the music business) schooled me on why it was essential for a college station as powerful as WNHU to follow a consistent schedule. Since we were reliant on these reps sending us the hottest records, I agreed that it was the right thing to do. I had the approval of the then General Manager, Rose Majestic but this change was the most difficult struggle of my time at WNHU. Students called me at home and even threatened me. Tempers ran high.
However, I also had many supporters and in time, the new format proved itself a huge winner. We had our biggest ratings, ever and our yearly Phone-A-Thon was a huge financial success, even the specialty programs had more enthusiastic audiences. Most importantly, we had the greatest surge of student volunteers we had ever seen, kids eager to be a part of the WNHU FM family. They were enthusiastic, hard-working and reliable, one in particular would eventually become my successor as the station manager.
At WNHU in the 80’s, we experienced one of the most prolific, exciting times in music and the best kind of madness; punks on the streets of New Haven, Bridgeport and Danbury in mohawks and high-top sneakers and college radio was driving it all.
Dave Novak, WNHU Station Manager (1999-2001)
My stepfather, Joel Marks, is a professor emeritus of Philosophy at UNH. During the summer when I was 12 or 13, he could tell I needed to get out of the house. He brought me to a strange subterranean radio station, which was ice cold compared to the humid summer heat. He walked me in, told the DJ on the air that I was going to hang around for the afternoon and then left me there while he went to do his summer office work.
I’d never felt more like a stranger in a strange place. I’d grown up around electronics, speakers, records and music, but this was disorienting. There were no windows. All the music was unfamiliar. When I wandered through the record library, I felt like I recognized maybe 5% of the artists on the spines of the albums and CDs. Even as a 12 year old, I could tell this was something special.
I spent at least a couple of days there every week that summer, meeting most of the new-music DJs. But, what was better, is that music that I was exposed to changed my life entirely. I suppose it’s possible that I could have stumbled upon 88.7 on the radio dial at some point later in life, but right then in 1991 was the right time in my life for a game-changing experience that would inform the musical passion that I never knew I could develop.
The radio station still looked and smelled of the 1980s. The afternoon “new music” program was still an unstoppable force. Connecticut’s Alternative Source provided kids like me with a true alternative to whatever was being programmed on Top 40 radio. Without it, I never would have known that the world of unpopular and/or underground music even existed — and I had the honor of riding shotgun to these DJs!
Those DJs were spinning CDs by bands that would be known as the foundation to the grunge movement, which later blew up on commercial radio. If the written playlists still existed from then, they would look like a photocopy of the “big” radio stations’ playlists only a couple of years later.
In the following summers, I didn’t make it down to WNHU. But, my passion for music kept growing and I learned to play some instruments, which led to playing in rock bands, and then exploring how to record them.
I ended up being accepted to UNH and matriculating in 1997. In my first semester, I signed up for the FCC training class. I was lucky — I was being trained how to use a radio station that I essentially already knew how to use. Under the authority of General Manager Vin Burke, I began to DJ my very own new music show. There was no way to express to my fellow FCC classmates just how I had ascended. I was beside myself.
I was appointed Promotions Director by the next semester, and then station manager from 1999-2001. Though I no longer had time to DJ, I led the station through various technology upgrades such as retiring the carts in favor of Mini Discs, and adding lots of office computers (and subsequently figuring out how to improve the station’s operations by using them). I even suggested broadcasting 88.7 on the internet — and was met by blank stares.
I wrapped up my tour of duty in 2001, just as I approached the ten year anniversary of my first setting foot down in the basement of Maxcy Hall. It was the ten most formative years of my life, and WNHU was a large part of it.
Anyone seen that mini fridge and my old ugly yellow easy chair? I think I left my 13” TV there.
by Devon Maida, Class of 2019
My road to UNH started about two years ago when I was a senior in high school beginning my college search. When my Mom suggested several times I should take a look at UNH because it seemed to have everything I was looking for, I think my exact words were, “No offense, but I don’t want to go where you guys went.”
The signs could not be ignored and after the first visit I knew this was the place for me.
My parents met working at the station back in the early 80’s. My passions are all things sports and music so it was a natural fit to sign up at the station and ask for a music show. My freshman year I spent my Saturday nights from 10:00 to 11:00 hosting my own themed music show. It is an eclectic mix and I am looking forward to next semester.
My mom, Liz Ciccone-Maida, was the news director and my father, Glenn Maida had several music shows in a variety of genres and also hosted In Focus, a monthly public affairs interview show. (Both are pictured in the ’80s photo, above.) They talk about having the Associated Press (AP) wire that was used to pull the stories to read. It was the real deal. According to my Mom, “It was a truly special time, so much fun and one of the best experiences of my life, I met great people and loved every minute of my time there”. The news department covered election nights with student reporters assigned to precincts to call in what was happening in real time. She went on to work briefly as a production assistant at WEDW in Fairfield, a local NPR affiliate which aired a half hour weekly financial show before settling into a promotional advertising career.
My dad talks about his time at WNHU and college radio in the early 80’s as a golden age. He says he didn’t know it at the time, but he was spinning the records of bands like REM, The Smiths, and a host of other alternative acts that would become well known later in the decade.
REM even visited the station in 1982. He said doing In Focus enabled him to meet and interview a variety of interesting people at the station and he loves the fact that he made friends for life.
Tony Bonetti (also pictured above), who was very active at the station in the early 80’s, did play-by-play announcing for the station for UNH baseball and soccer. He became program director and eventually station manager. When asked about his experience at the station and what he liked about working there, he answer was, “Everything, we were on top of the world! It was like a fraternity, we had a blast. It was a hangout, a club, the place to go in between classes…made some life long friends there.” Back then he said he organized fundraising events for the station based on the local music scene. They were at the now closed Agora Ballroom. He orchestrated a few bands to play for free, in addition to getting the club for free on weekday nights with a cover charge to benefit WNHU. “We called them Heavy Metal Nights but not all the bands were necessarily heavy metal.” Tony said working at the station definitely helped him after graduating and is now with Subway Franchise World Headquarters as Assistant Manager in Sports & Partnerships, having initially worked in radio for a few years after his graduation in 1983.
Another friend of my parents and WNHU alumni, Gina Capristo-Gajdosik who is featured on this very same history section offered her sentiments on her time here at WNHU, “I LOVED EVERY MINUTE. We got into almost every rock show for free, we met Johnny Rotten, Roddy Frame, Joey Ramone, The GoGo’s, U2 and many more.”
She added, “At that time, New Haven was intense with live music playing everywhere. However, kids couldn’t get into anywhere bands played when the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21.” I think she summed it up best when she told me, “Young people create the trends, and life is dull without that.”
I hope to be a part of WNHU’s resurgence and make my own unforgettable moments here at our station.