A Little About Our Past…
WCAL 91.9 FM is owned and operated by SAI. WCAL was founded in 1971, and is a 24-hour a day, 3.3 kilowatt, non-commercial radio station that services a five county region including Washington, Fayette, Greene, Westmoreland, and Allegheny counties. In addition WCAL has listeners in parts of West Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio. WCAL’ typical audience member is a male between the ages of 16 to 35 years old. 91.9 FM employs an “Active Rock” format during its regular business hours. The “Active Rock” format utilizes a large rock library spanning three decades of rock music from the 1970’s through the current rock hits of today. The regular format hours are defined as being Monday through Thursday 10 AM to 10 PM and Fridays 10 AM to 6 PM. The remaining hours are designated as specialty shifts allowing the disc jockey to create their own format from a variety of music genres.
The station’s primary function is to provide programming to the student population of California University Of Pennsylvania with additional obligations to serve the University community as well as the regional area, while providing student broadcasters with educational experiences necessary for professional development. WCAL provides opportunities in radio operations including: broadcast management, programming, sports, weather, production, promotion, news, in addition to, writing, sales, and underwriting.
During the mid to late 1960’s, a group of students created the Vulcan Amateur Radio Club under the government/club structure of what was then called the Student Activities Association or S.A.A. Faculty under the Industrial Arts department was sponsoring this club. The purpose of this club was to join together students who had a common interest in radio. The club continued for a few years in this fashion, but with one inherent problem. Some of the members were interested in popular AM/FM formatted radio, while the others were interest in Ham radio operation. By 1970, a decision was made to have the Vulcan Radio Club continue as a Ham radio organization. A new path was started for the other students interested in radio.
The college and S.A.A. Director, Joe Dochinez reached a decision to start the research and engineering studies needed to acquire a FM license for California. It was decided that the station and license should be housed under the S.A.A. for use by the club. The initial application request and engineering report were completed for review by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in the fall of 1971. The request was for a 10 watt, FM license/channel in the educational band (under 92 on the FM dial). The request identified several open frequencies available and also submitted several suggested call signs (letters) including WCAL among others. Finally, by the start of 1972, the FCC had awarded an educational FM license to the S.A.A. and California State College. The station’s 10 watt frequency was 91.9, it’s official call sign…WVCS (the Voice of Cal State). The small station was housed in the student union basement, near the old poolroom. Its 10-watt antenna was located on a cement pad, between the union and McCloskey Hall. At that time, the station was all LP vinyl covering the rock music of the day and school announcements. WVCS could be heard across the entire campus and partially in town.
By 1975, WVCS and its membership had grown. Rumblings began for a “real” radio station – one that pushed past the boundaries of campus. Once again, the student government and S.A.A. agreed and began the complicated paperwork necessary for a power increase with the FCC. Engineering studies, the backbone of any request, were completed in June of 1976, along with the construction permit. By 1977, WVCS had been granted a power increase, from 10 watts to 3300 watts. With its new transmitter and antenna location at the college stadium, WVCS moved well past the boundaries of campus. WVCS could now be heard in a 40-mile radius, with California its epicenter. Of course with great power comes great responsibility. The students soon realized that being heard by the outside world was a double-edged sword…what played to a student-friendly campus audience, wasn’t necessarily proper conduct for the general public. A constitution for WVCS was drafted. This constitution not only included the usual club structure, but policies for on-air conduct and FCC guidelines (the entire FCC Code of Regulations 47, Telecommunications is kept with the Advisor).
By 1978, the S.A.A. had become the Student Association, Incorporated. And a few years later, the college had become a university. WVCS continued to occupy a small suite of rooms across from the pool hall. During the early 1980’s, WVCS was still utilizing records for a lot of the music. One entire room was filled with record albums, taking up a third of the allotted space. WVCS was also using several cart machines; a tape based format looking like an eight-track shell. Carts were used for formatted “heavy rotation” songs, as well as station spots and identifiers. Later on, the station began its first move into the digital area with the development and eventual takeover of the compact disc (CD). Soon, fewer and fewer LP’s were being played, replaced by the clearer sounding and easier stored CD. The station used several consumer model CD machines, as they were cost effective. The station’s format was still rock, but you also began to hear a variety of evening and weekend specialty shows including Christian music, Top 40 dance and even some country.
In 1992, the student union – thanks to a construction project that doubled its size, became the Natali Student Center. Gone was the old poolroom in the basement. In its place was a newly designed media suite with new facilities for newspaper, TV and radio. One of the first things you notice about the new area is the large window, allowing visitors to see into the WVCS on-air studio. The facility had space for a large on-air studio, a production room for off-air work, a storage area for equipment and media and space for the student station executives. There was even some money for new equipment; a new on-air board, studio monitors, studio console and mics, and some professional CD changers. Around this time WVCS also updated its transmitter site with a new 5k transmitter and antenna. The transmitter and CD changers made the biggest impact. The transmitter replaced the original, which had been failing on a regular basis and also improved our sound. The CD changers worked more effectively for on-air jocks and since they used locked jewel cases for the CD’s, stopped the station’s problem with CD theft. WVCS was now well into the formatted music of choice for college stations – alternative. Groups like REM and Nirvana owe their success to college stations like WVCS, the only stations who would play their music. Specialty shows still provided avenues for varied student tastes and music variety. The final big change occurred in spring, 2005, as WVCS officially became WCAL. This was our original call letter choice and when it became available, SAI was able to acquire it for the station.
WCAL, thanks to an equipment purchase around 2006, the station is completely digital. The station is completely run with CD changers and DAT machines. All production work is done on an Avid Pro Tools computer editing system with final productions burned onto CDs. In the future, computer servers digitally storing thousands and thousands of songs from various genres will replace the CD changers. The current format is variety to represent a host of DJs within the station. Diversity and student training are at an all time high. The students are completing this new policies and procedures manual to replace their old club constitution. Education and service continue to be the mission of FM 92, WCAL.
By: Jeremy Elder ‘04; Angel Hart Funk ‘19