In 1993, WRUB had over 100 students on staff.
It had a radio signal that played everything from grunge to early hip-hop on airwaves throughout campus.
Today, the on-campus radio station is a shell of its former self.
It has only two staff members, no computer and an offline radio broadcast.
UB’s decision to replace Sub-Board I, the previous fiscal agent for student governments, with the Faculty Student Association left SBI without student fees, and WRUB without funding. Overnight, 23 student-run weekly shows were put to a halt.
But that could soon change.
A group of UB alumni, motivated by WRUB’s uncertain future, wants to reinvent the station and UB’s student radio presence. The group’s members work in journalism, media production, writing and other fields and say WRUB defined their college lives and gave them their professional start.
“The soft skills that we learned [at WRUB] continue to help us today as professionals,” ‘03 alum Joseph DiDomizio said. “We know that without those experiences and those skills, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
DiDomizio believes WRUB’s absence hurts current and prospective students. He and other alumni said they are frustrated the university has not done more to save student radio.
“The classes that come in for open house aren’t being sold on a radio station existing, because right now it doesn’t,” DiDomizio said. “So any student that’s looking to come here isn’t going to see it, because it’s not an option.”
The group, spearheaded by ‘96 alum Mike Vago, plans to relaunch WRUB as a multimedia platform called Subject. He envisions it having magazine-style articles, a 24/7 radio stream, podcasts and student-made videos. The alumni are ready to fund it themselves, though at this point they have no quote on how much that will be. They hope the university, the student government or other donors will step forward to help them once it is launched.
Administrators, during the fiscal transition, said SBI’s services –– like WRUB –– were up to student governments to fund.
“That would be completely legitimate. We’re not saying it has to go away. That’s their decision as a student government,” Vice President for Student Life A. Scott Weber said in a May 6 interview about the fiscal transition.
SBI is planning to sell what is left of WRUB’s equipment, according to Vago, and currently, FSA has no plans to fund WRUB.
“The student governments have the authority to decide what student services they’d like to fund with the fees they collect,” UB spokesperson John DellaContrada wrote in an email. “They are free to decide whether or not WRUB is a service they’d like to fund on behalf of UB’s student population. The student governments have the authority to fundraise, too.”
SA has expressed interest in WRUB but also has no explicit plans to fund the station at the moment.
“There have been talks amongst the executive board in bringing back the radio station, although we had to put it on halt while we fixed the legal services program,” SA President Yousouf Amolegbe said.
WRUB, formed in 1979, is no stranger to uncertainty. In 1991, UB stopped funding the station because of “student mismanagement,” according to Vago, who was integral in helping revive it in September 1993.
“That was when I felt like the station I launched was a success,” Vago said. “It wasn’t just self-sustaining, it was growing.”
Since the ‘93 revival, the station lost its AM spot, a broadcast spot it held since it returned. In 2014, UB moved it from a larger space in the Ellicott Complex to the Student Union. And in 2018, UB relocated it again into an even smaller studio in South Campus’ Diefendorf Hall, replacing its former Student Union studio with a Veteran Services office.
Current students and alumni agree: WRUB enhanced their lives and their time at UB.
Sullivan Fitz-James, a junior media study major, was a WRUB DJ and says being a DJ gave him a place to belong on campus.
“For my one-hour [broadcast] every Friday, that was my time. I could play any music I wanted, be anybody I wanted to be and challenge anybody I wanted to challenge,” Fitz-James said. “Now that WRUB is gone, I feel as if my way of expressing myself is gone.”
WRUB’s uncertain future follows, in the past 10 years, the disappearance of two student-run publications, Generation and Visions, due to a lack of funding either from the university or from SA. In 2011, UB sold WBFO, its NPR station based off of South Campus, to WNED for $4 million.
Even when fully-funded, WRUB still struggled in comparison to other SUNY college radio stations. Buffalo State’s WBNY, a station funded by 8,000 undergraduates’ mandatory student activity fee, has a student-run broadcast on 91.3 FM that has been on air since 1982.
WRUB struggled and ultimately stagnated, although UB’s 21,000 undergraduate population exceeds Buffalo State’s 8,000.
Timothy Butler, ‘19 Buffalo State alum, believes on-campus radio stations are vital for students.
“My time spent working with and networking through WBNY was invaluable to my overall college and post-grad experience.” Butler said. “By participating and networking through student media outlets such as radio, television or film provided by colleges, students build rich relationships with their peers and members of the community.”
For now, Subject is working to get an official presence on campus.
The alumni want to act as an advisory board while the “content-creators of the organization” will be students.
Vago and DiDomizio say moving forward with Subject is urgent because of the sudden gap in student radio. They are determined to make WRUB a reality again.
“Having those opportunities to come together and create and essentially tame the loneliness of just existing is something that we found at the radio station,” DiDomizio said. “Giving that opportunity back to students is why we’re all in communications and it’s why we do what we do. It’s to help people connect and do better.”
The arts desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Whetham is an asst. arts editor for The Spectrum.