WVBR-FM (93.5 FM) is a radio station that broadcasts to Ithaca, New York, and surrounding areas. It operates at 3 kilowatts from a transmitter on Hungerford Hill, in Ithaca. A translator on 105.5 FM provides a cleaner signal to certain areas of Ithaca. WVBR's current studios are located on Ithaca's East Hill.
WVBR is very involved in the Ithaca and Tompkins County community. The station features a "Community Calendar" segment twice daily, where non-profit organizations can send bulletins of their events to be read over the air during the morning and afternoon. WVBR also does remote broadcasts from a variety of locations in Ithaca, including from the Ithaca Farmer's Market and from local businesses around town. Much of the station's advertising time is filled with local advertisers as well.
The FCC-licensed FM station first went on the air in June of 1958, though the WVBR call letters had already been in use for years on the Guild's AM "carrier-current" broadcasts, which could be received only on campus. The call letters originally stood for "Voice of the Big Red", referring to the Cornell Big Red athletic teams. But the station de-emphasized that connection over the years as it carved out an identity independent of the university, and as the university's sports broadcasts were generally carried by WHCU, a commercial station that Cornell owned for many years.
In its early years, WVBR-FM's musical programming was mainly classical whereas the AM side carried popular music. WVBR-FM switched to rock and popular music in 1968 in a format change billed and promoted as "The FM Revolution." The station greatly expanded its audience, especially off campus, initially with a sound that blended hit music, progressive album cuts, and a sound that anticipated in many respects both album rock and adult contemporary radio formats of subsequent years. By the early to mid-1970s its format had evolved to progressive rock radio, similar to pioneering rock stations like WNEW-FM in New York, WMMS in Cleveland, KSAN-FM in San Francisco, and nearby WCMF in Rochester. In later years the station's format evolved toward more tightly controlled, hit-oriented playlists, mirroring the larger trend in FM radio programming influenced by national programmers like Lee Abrams and Kent Burkhart.
The station's commercial success peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was adversely affected in the late 1980s and 1990s by several factors including: changes to the economy; New York State raising its drinking age to 21, a blow to the radio station's nightclub and bar advertisers; several new stations brought into the Ithaca market via translators and cable; and after deregulation of the radio industry resulted in most of its local competitors being taken over by a single chain owner.
A 1980s format change to contemporary hit radio, led by then-program director and air personality (and current Z-100 New York programmer and Clear Channel Radio senior VP) Tom Poleman, was initially successful. But after Poleman and other key personnel graduated from Cornell in the mid-1980s, the new format eventually faded in audience appeal, especially with WVBR's traditional 18-34 core. The station then moved back toward album-oriented rock, regaining much of its old core audience in the process. Structural problems with the station's long-time Collegetown district studio building, which forced it to relocate its studios and offices in 2000, also proved to be both a financial and administrative burden for a time. The station's business picture has improved more recently, thanks to its strong showing in both 12+ and 18-49 audience measurements over the last few years in Arbitron's regular rating surveys of the competitive (13 station) Ithaca radio market, and to the introduction of popular new youth-oriented VBR After Dark programming on weekday evenings.
Currently, WVBR features Jeff Mix on mornings and Peter Knight on mid-days every weekday. The station's afternoons and evenings feature a different DJ every day and night. All or most are students at Cornell University, although a few hail from other colleges around the area. The station also provides news and sports reports in the morning at every half-hour from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m., and also hourly in the afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.