Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Great WVBR War Hoax

The history of WVBR begin in 1935 with the founding of the Cornell Radio Guild. The group didn't incorporate until 1941 but they were active before that. (They are one of the handful of early non-commercial broadcasters to appear in the Louis Bloch book The Gas Pipe Networks.) The guild proposed construction of a wired (i.e. carrier current) radio station in 1939. The university permitted this and provided a room in Willard Straight Hall with some strings attached. The studio must be sound proof, clean and tidy and they could neither scratch the paint not hammer a nail into the walls. This complicated construction a tad.

So they began producing radio programs on WESG the forerunner of WHCU, in Ithaca. On November 1st 1940 their own station signed on: CRG.By December they were airing 4 hours of programming per day. Early programs included drama, sports and recorded music. (In 1946 CRG changed calls to WVBR.) Like many carrier current and low power stations there remains an apocryphal rumor that they "connected to the power grid" and were heard far beyond campus. It may or may not be true, like the KDIC legend. But what got the students into real hot water was a hoax broadcast in the 1950s.

But unlike the former legend, this one has some evidence. [Source] In the Deane W. Malott Papers at Cornell University Libraries there is a record of an event on May 28, 1952. Twenty-five Cornell University students raided the WVBR radio station, broadcasting music and a false news report concerning Russian bombings of London and Marseilles. It even appears on the museum of hoaxes. [Source]
Apparently on that date, a group of Cornell students disguised in Halloween masks raided WVBR.  they broadcast false news breaks stating that that Russian planes had bombed Paris, Marseilles, and London. The reports caused some "hysteria" in the dorms. The students involved were suspended for a year.The records at Cornell include an original  typescript summary concerning disciplinary proceedings of the Student Conduct Committee. Yet somehow the station managed to survive and get an FM license in 1958.