It's Thursday night, and DJs Jason Cuthbert and Chris Green are in the new WRUR studio recording an episode of Cuthbert's show, Wide Awake. A song by Kanye West and the rapper Consequence starts the show. A tune by G-Unit rapper Lloyd Banks, another by A Tribe Called Quest, and another by Jadakiss featuring Anthony Hamilton follow.
But listeners won't hear any of it.
Over an hour into the show, right after they finish an off-the-cuff music-news segment, Cuthbert and Green look at the monitor of the studio's new computer. It's supposed to show that the first hour of Wide Awake has taped, Green says, but it doesn't. In fact, he says, it looks like nothing has taped at all.
WRUR DJs began to pre-record their programs at the behest of the UR Broadcasting Corporation, which is headed by UR officials William Green and Anne-Marie Algier. UR Broadcasting decided to switch from live to recorded programming, William Green told City in May, "to respect the general concerns" of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC increased fines for "indecent" broadcasting content earlier this year, causing stations across the country to self-police and modify their programming.
In Rochester's radio market, which is dominated by Clear Channel, the student-run WRUR is a minority voice. Known as "your station for variation," RUR is a place where musicians who aren't backed by multimillion-dollar machines, and the DJs who enjoy their music, can build an audience.
New equipment purchased by WXXI, whose partnership allows WRUR to air shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, helps make pre-recording possible at the refurbished WRUR studio.
So far, several DJs say, pre-recording has caused dead air, choppy transitions, repeat programming, and confusion when listeners call in to request tunes during other DJs' shows. It's also caused profanity, one DJ says, to be replayed multiple times on the air. Some in the station community say they're worried that the changes are a step toward more WXXI programming on WRUR.
Sonic Insanity, a metal show hosted by Mike Bayusik and Ronald Pappert, Sr., is one of several shows that have recently disappeared from the airwaves. Bayusik and Pappert decided to stop recording shows after wasting "three weeks of our time taping shows that never aired," Bayusik says.
Every week they'd tape shows, Bayusik says, and every week they'd tune in and hear the show they'd taped May 11. They didn't even realize that show was being recorded that night, Bayusik says; RUR's pre-recording initiative hadn't officially started.
That May 11 show contained a song with a curse word in its lyrics that apparently nobody caught, Bayusik says. Not even Jared Lapin, RUR's general manager, who is responsible for listening to every hour of programming before it goes on the air this summer. (Lapin declined to comment.)
"Of course, nobody called and complained about it, so what is all this fuss about pre-recording shows?" Bayusik says. "We spent the next three weeks pre-recording shows that never aired, and those shows didn't have swear words in them."
UR Broadcasting has suspended or removed at least five DJs since February, sending them letters saying that profanity was heard on their shows.
Dave Klueger was suspended from February through his graduation in May because a listener reported hearing profanity on his show, Klueger says. His comedy show, which aired stand-up and skits by comedians like George Carlin, Woody Allen, and Sandra Bernhard, aired Sunday mornings from 3 to 6 a.m. When he tried to solve the problem, Klueger says, UR Broadcasting ignored him.
"I was told to make a tape of everything on that play list, which I did. I submitted it, and never got a response back," Klueger says. The time slot now airs a BBC news shows from WXXI.
Bayusik's isn't the only show whose broadcasts have been mistakenly repeated several weeks in a row: Cuthbert's Wide Awake and Dorian Hall's hip-hop show The Hotspot have also been repeated, the DJs say. And another DJ who preferred not to be named has also had problems with repeat broadcasts.
"I suppose that might be true," Chief Engineer and UR student Steve Carlton says of the curse word that reportedly aired on Sonic Insanity. "I'm sure that shows got repeated. But I don't know exactly what ones and how many times."
Carlton says the issues were computer-related. "We had been working on some problems with the computer system that involved it missing recordings, which in turn led to shows being repeated to prevent dead air," he says.
Pre-recording was never supposed to be a permanent thing, several DJs say. And some, like Cuthbert, question why neighbor station WITR hasn't felt the need to stop its live programming. (WITR General Manager Mark Zuniga says the station has "no intention whatsoever to go to pre-recorded programming.")
DJ Ruth Elaine, who hosted a jazz show on RUR for 10 years, is one of several DJs who left RUR recently because of the station's switch to pre-recorded programming. Pre-recording, she says, hurts her ability to connect with her audience.
But other DJs say they appreciate the efforts UR Broadcasting and WRUR student leaders are making and don't mind pre-recording their shows. John Sebaste, who plays world music aimed at Rochester's Italian-American community, says that there have been glitches since pre-recording began but that WRUR's new equipment is "state-of-the-art." Joseph Verba, host of Journies Through the Arts and director of classical programming at the station, agrees.
"The studio is full of new equipment and new software and so just getting a handle on that, I'm sure, is a major hurdle for the students that are involved," Verba says.
The administration will have the final word on future programming. Asked if WRUR will go back to being live when students return in the fall, Algier responded: "We're still deciding."
"We're trying really hard to get the radio station to be a station people can listen to that doesn't have profanity on the air," Algier says. "I don't know what we're going to do yet. I don't want to make any promises about anything."
Several DJs say Algier has talked about the rolling-out of a "more professional" station in the future: WRUR 88.5 FM would be a mix of WXXI programming and experienced DJs, they say, and an online version available on RUR's website would be a forum for the shows of less-experienced student DJs. Algier refused to comment, saying that UR Broadcasting is waiting for students to return from summer vacation.
The question of who'll manage the station is another issue on which the administration and some WRUR DJs disagree. Student members elected former Community Relations Manager Seth Berkowitz general manager for the coming year. But Lapin is still acting as general manager, and Algier says the positions have not been decided yet.
"We're going through a transition right now," Algier said. "The students had an election that isn't certified. We have to make sure that people capable of running the radio station are in the positions. Everybody was informed of this. If DJs don't know, they didn't read their e-mails or letters that went into their boxes."
The students who were elected in the spring will have to present proposals to UR Broadcasting in September before their positions are officially decided.
"I am still in charge at WRUR and was elected during the spring of 2003," Lapin says.
For Cuthbert, Green, and Hall, the problems at the station have become almost too hard to handle. The turntables that many of the DJs used, Cuthbert and Hall say, were recently removed from the studio. Those DJs, who volunteer their time and spend their own money on expenses, must transfer songs from vinyl to CD if they want to keep playing music on their programs.
"Reggae, hip hop, house, dance --- 95 percent of the time you use vinyl," Hall says.
"Not having turntables is crippling my show," Cuthbert says, partly because artists send RUR DJs records, not CDs, to promote their music.
The turntables were removed because of vandalism, according to Carlton. (The vandalism: "Turntable One" and "Turntable Two" was written on them in ink.)
"Those are low on the priority list," Algier says of the turntables. "It isn't affecting anybody's ability to play any type of music that they want to play. They can put their vinyl on something else."
Hall says he's committed to the station despite its problems, but wants to know where RUR is headed.
"I don't know if it's because they want to take the radio station in a different direction" he says. "If they do, they should be honest about it."
Editor's note: City Newspaper Managing Editor Chad Oliveiri is a former WRUR DJ whose show has been canceled. He did not participate in the writing or editing of this article.