Reflecting on 50 years of WRVO Public Media

Jan 6, 2019

WRVO Public Media is celebrating a milestone in 2019. On January 6, 1969, WRVO aired its very first broadcast. Through the year, we'll be commemorating our 50th birthday, but we wanted to start with some history.

The first broadcast

"January 6, 1969, I was the board operator. And the actual first voice was General Manager Bill Shigley," said former GM John Krauss during an interview in 2010.

An announcement from SUNY Oswego in January 1969 that WRVO began its first broadcast.
Credit WRVO Public Media

A number of student employees gathered to watch the first broadcast, including John Hurlbutt, who would go on to spend more than 40 years at WRVO, as "Morning Edition" host and Program Director.

"He [Krauss] was in the control room, I think I was standing in the door at the time. I was pretty close there, as were some of the other student part timers," said Hurlbutt during an interview in December 2018.

At 12:00 p.m., Shigley's voice was broadcast on WRVO for the first time.

"At this time, WRVO in Oswego, New York, begins its broadcast day. WRVO is owned and operated by the State University of New York, and broadcast with 10 watts of power on an FCC assigned frequency of 89.9 megahertz."

After Shigley's announcement, Krauss did the first station identification announcement.

"It was just 'WRVO, Oswego, New York,' even though you couldn't hear us all throughout Oswego with only 10 watts," he said.

With that, WRVO's first program was on the air.

"The button was pushed, the first program started, which I think was called "Perspective" with Dave Nellis, and away we went," said Hurlbutt.

Why 'WRVO'?

The call letters that identify radio and television stations are often assigned by the Federal Communications Commission with no meaning. But station founders were allowed to request their own call letters for approval. When Bill Shigley founded WRVO, he explained why he chose those letters.

"I decided that RVO was the best," Shigley said. "It stood for something. 'Radio Voice of Oswego State'."

With the station up and running, its programming in the early years was not the news and information service it is today.

"This was all before NPR," said Hurlbutt. "Stations at universities and college campuses had been on the air for various years and what was called then 'educational radio.' Eclectic, as our schedule was in the early years."

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting offered some financial assistance to some stations, which allowed WRVO to hire a few full time employees in the early 1970s. NPR launched All Things Considered in 1971, and WRVO's audience, slowly, started to increase. This increase led to a series of power increases over the years, allowing WRVO to be heard by more people across central and northern New York.

Filling the schedule

Through most of the 1970's, All Things Considered was the only program NPR distributed. That left a lot of time to fill each day at WRVO.

"In the course of filling that daily schedule, we decided to try to pair the old time radio," said John Krauss. "So we did a program called 'The Great American Wireless Talking Machine.' And we played an hour of old time radio every day at 4:30. As programs started to disappear from our schedule because we were dumping them to go all news, we kept expanding the old time radio, because it was free programming. And it did very well. It surprised us."

"The Great American Wireless Talking Machine" gave way to "The WRVO Playhouse" in 1977. It became one of the longest running old time radio programs in the nation, and WRVO's collection today exceeds 15,000 programs. "The WRVO Playhouse" gave way to "Tuned to Yesterday" in 2011, which airs for two hours each night on WRVO.

Growing success

As the years went on, NPR offered more programs, including the debut of "Morning Edition" in 1979, and WRVO's growth continued. The number of listeners grew and WRVO added more transmitters to increase our coverage area.

But since the beginning, WRVO's core mission has been to serve our listeners.

"I was taught very well by Bill Shigley that you're talking to one person. You're talking to your best friend," said John Hurlbutt. "It's not always easy to do, because you're distracted by what's going on around you at the radio station. But when you lose sight of that, you lose sight of your connectivity to your listener."

Bill Shigley retired as WRVO's general manager in 1998, and passed away in 2000. John Krauss retired as general manager in 2011, and passed away in 2013. John Hurlbutt retired as "Morning Edition" host in 2009, and still tries to play as much golf as he can. They may not be with us at the station, but their legacy lives on here at WRVO Public Media. 

We want to thank every for listening and supporting WRVO for the last 50 years, and we hope to continue to provide the same level service for the next 50 years. 

We're in the planning stages for some 50th anniversary events that will take place throughout the year. Stay tuned for more information!

Audio piece produced by Mark Lavonier with help from WRVO's intern Ethan Magram.