The history of Brookdale’s radio station began during the visionary tenure of the College’s founding president, Dr. Ervin Harlacher. Dr. Harlacher was central to every part of Brookdale’s founding. Because of his academic background in communications and his knowledge of the value of positive public relations, Dr. Harlacher was convinced that a primary focus for the College should be a radio station, to reach Monmouth County citizens directly.
Brookdale applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a license to operate a station in the FM band, and received a construction permit to build at 2.25KW (2,250 watts) of radiated power at the frequency 90.5 on the FM dial. The call letters WBJB were chosen to reflect “Brookdale Jersey Blues,” after the nickname for New Jersey’s revolutionary war regiments, which were clothed in distinctive blue uniforms, the name which had been selected for the College athletic teams.
WBJB was assigned to the Community Services division, and put on hold as other priorities arose. Shortly before the FCC construction permit was due to lapse requiring the license’s return to the FCC, a chance conversation between Ron Subarsky, a staffer in Student Life and Activities who had worked in radio during his college years and Louis Pullano, chairman of the Mass and Visual Communication learning Center reinvigorated the project, leading to the transfer of responsibility from Community Services to the learning Center. Subarsky and Pullano became the first general manager and program director and developed
A proposal for a dual-functioning station: on-air voice of the College and hands-on learning laboratory for students in the Communications Media Radio Broadcasting degree option. (This system continues to the present day.) Electronics faculty member Frank Dacey, who held the required first class chief engineer’s license, agreed to participate.
In 1972, a new academic department covering Communication- related areas such as mass media, radio/television production, journalism, graphic arts, photography, film and audio recording, had been organized under the title “Mass and Visual Communication Learning Center.” Subarsky sought out the chairman of the new Learning Center in the fall of 1973. With communication as the byword, both parties recall the conversation:
Responsibility for the station was switched to the Mass and Visual Communication Learning Center. It was decided that WBJB’s transmitter should be located in a maintenance building and that, as soon as funds were allocated, a 125-foot transmission tower be erected adjacent to it. The station itself would be squeezed into the Mass and Visual Communication area of the Applied Humanities Institute. Subarsky’s and Pullano’s proposal benefited greatly from the volunteer consultancy of Mr. Arthur Silver from Harris-Gates Corporation.
Acting president Thomas Auch presented the proposal to the College Board of Trustees, who approved it, and the Class of 1974 allocated their $500 class gift toward construction of the tower. The FCC application was adjusted to adhere to the educational license radio standards and, at 2 a.m. on January 13, 1975, Dacey and Silver were in the maintenance building tuning the transmitter, while Subarsky and Pullano were outside in a car, tuning the radio to 90.5 FM. A voice announced, “This is WBJB-FM from Brookdale Community College,” and the first on-air New Jersey community college radio station made the transition from dream to fact. Students eager to learn broadcasting came to Brookdale, and with them came the need for a full-time staffer to run the station.
Richard “Rick” Hansen was hired in a learning assistant/program director capacity. He soon became station manager. Lou Pullano continued as the general manager. More than a dozen disc jockeys and 20 newscasters were at work by 1975. That year saw the introduction of musician Bill Haslach’s “Adventures in Music: The Big Band Era,” Latin/salsa music programming and the Spanish-language show “Pueblo Latino.” Hansen developed WBJBâ€™s “bible,” outlining policy, format and procedures for student-operated radio at Brookdale. Progress was constant.
July, 1976, saw the first fund-raiser. This ten-day jazz marathon segued into a live benefit concert, broadcast from the Monmouth Arts Center. The concert featured Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, with a guest appearance by The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who did not play, but came on stage to introduce the Jukes. Tickets to the show were $3.50 each!
In 1979, an Advisory Committee of field professionals began monitoring course offerings and laboratory learning to ensure that students attained the knowledge and skills needed to enter the broadcast industry. In 1980, WBJB was five years old, and converted from monophonic to stereophonic sound. During the early years of that decade, the station flourished, adding among other programs, the popular Sunday “Jazz Morning” with its blend of contemporary, progressive and historic jazz.
As it entered its second decade, the station continued to evolve and change, applying to the FCC to increase power and the station’s range to a 50-mile radius of the College. In response to the popularity of the jazz programming, the station adopted a contemporary jazz format between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting approved WBJB, for CPB funding; National Public Radio accepted the station as an affiliate member.
The year 1986 saw the inception of the “Performance” series, with its focus on the arts. This was the first program in Monmouth County to be produced digitally. Preparations were begun to convert from vinyl recordings to compact discs (CDs). When Rick Hansen moved on, Brookdale Radio alumna Cheryl Cummings, who had been working in New York City, came on as acting station manager. She remained in that capacity for 18 months, until Steward Edwards was hired. Edwards oversaw the installation of a professional weather station on the roof of the Main Academic Complex, and joined executives from around the nation at the National Association of Broadcasters Development Seminar at Notre Dame University.
The 90s began with a combination of innovation and controversy. June of that year saw the publication of “Jazzette”, a new schedule/newsletter, as well as approval by the Board of Trustees of a new, 350-foot transmitting tower to be built on campus as the station expanded to 1,000 watts.
Brookdale entered into a partnership with Atlantic Coast Communications, with Atlantic Coast to build the tower and maintain it for 40 years. The Township of Middletown was notified and construction began. Colts Neck residents lodged numerous complaints, taking the College to court, demanding tower removal. The case was dismissed.
The same year, WBJB was chosen to be the official radio station for the Asbury Park Jazz Festival and a broadcasting station for the Stoli World Music Series, broadcasting contemporary jazz groups live-via-satellite.
In November, CPB awarded a grant of $62,238, allowing the station to join the National Public Radio Network and to gain access to national computerized programming data. Early the next year, the station received approval to expand power and become one of the largest educational public radio stations in the state.
The early 90s were defined as “The Tin Can Studios Years.” Renovations to the Applied Humanities area were underway, and the station’s equipment and personnel were moved into two large trailers situated in the parking lot of the Advanced Technology Center. Subsequent renovations to the Natural and Applied Sciences area allowed for a move to a specifically designed suite on the top NAS floor. Personnel were in place in the new studio during the 1992-93 academic year.
Stewart Edwards moved on; Cheryl Cummings returned as station manager. Community involvement continued, with WBJB co- sponsoring RiverFest, Red Bank’s three-day music and food spectacular, and collaboration with Senior Citizens Activities Network (SCAN) on “Senior Focus,” a monthly program addressing senior issues.
In 1994, WBIB became a full member of National Public Radio. As its 20th year began, the station moved into full 24-hour operation and, in February of 1995, began a year-long 20th anniversary celebration.
Early in 1996, WBJB adopted a “Triple A” format from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.. This “Adult Album Alternative” is the newest format mix in the nation. Those hours were dubbed “The Night”.
The Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey passed a joint resolution recognizing the station’s 20 years of “Outstanding Public Service and Educational Integrity.” So WBJB-FM, which began with President Harlacher’s dream of community communication, continues.
Over its 20+ years, it has grown from a mostly amateur undertaking to a 1,000 watt public radio station, recognized throughout the county, state and country. And Radio alumni, fiercely loyal and grateful for the opportunities afforded them at WBIB, continue to serve as Brookdale ambassadors, as they pursue their careers. Cheryl A. Cummings is the manager of Brookdale’s Broadcast Services department; Dr. Louis Pullano is director of the College’s Arts and Communication Division.
In April of 1997 WBJB elected to add the award-winning National Public Radio programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The station continued to carry contemporary jazz music and NPR programs during the week and offer a variety of programs on the weekend. That Fall WBJB entered into its first 8-day on-air membership drive with the jazz/NPR hybrid.
The next major step for WBJB coincided with the turn of the millennium. On January 3, 2000 at 8:00 a.m. WBJB started its new AAA format airing “Because the Night” from Patti Smith. The history of the AAA Program which started to air in 1996 lent itself for staff at the station to call Brookdale Public Radio, The NIGHT. That April WBJB held it’s most successful membership drive to day in only 5 days.
On Saturday June 25th, 2005 WBJB entered into a new revolution…HD Radio. With significant help from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting WBJB is now running a digital simulcast of its current program stream. You will notice NO difference in sound to your current analog receiver. The leap from FM quality to CD quality will happen when more and more HD receivers hit the marketplace.
On Friday, September 1, 2006 WBJB announced the start of “Jam room radio” a program stream being feed via the internet. “Jam Room” plays bands such as the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, Miles Davis, and Phish.