In the same way Stockton University’s main campus borders the peace and tranquility of the Pinelands National Reserve, yet is close enough to experience the buzz and excitement of Atlantic City, the college’s radio station is similarly diverse.
Programming at WLFR 91.7 FM spans the gamut of musical genres, and provides a forum for artists whose material would not be found on commercial or conventional-format radio stations. Some are lesser-known artists haili ng from all over the country, and others are local musicians who sometimes get to perform their material live, in-studio, during shows.
“There are bands and musicians who have become some of my favorites over the years that I never would have heard of if it wasn’t for WLFR,” says Matthew Unversaw, a Stockton graduate who has had a Thursday afternoon show called Strange Ways Radio on WLFR since 1998, and is in his 11th year as the station’s music director.
WLFR celebrates 35 years on the air this year. As a tribute to the milestone, a 35th anniversary party is scheduled for 6-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at the Campus Center Event Room on Stockton’s main campus in Pomona. Several local bands and DJs will perform (see info box below) who are regulars on the station. The event is free and open to the public, but donations are welcome.
WLFR’s roots are as a closed-circuit college radio station called WSSR — short for Stockton State Radio — that go nearly as far back as the school’s first year of existence, as Stockton State College, in 1971. The school was granted an FCC broadcasting license in 1984, and has been transmitting from a 1,000-watt tower in Pomona ever since as WLFR — short for Lake Fred Radio, a tribute to the lake that borders station’s the on-campus studio.
“The majority of the artists are independent artists, and with Stockton’s being a non-commercial radio station, they cater a lot to artists that don’t get heard on commercial radio,” says Shawn Wright, whose on-air name is DJ Able, and shares a Sunday afternoon show on WLFR with DJ Leroy Bowe called Soul Revival. “So you might hear alternative rock on one show followed up by hip-hop on another.
“I have a background in hip-hop since 1979, and the artists I’m bringing in as guests to the anniversary show are all hip-hop or spoken-word artists who have also performed on my show.”
WLFR is dark only during the hours of 2 to 6 a.m. daily. The remaining 18 hours of each day are almost exclusively devoted to original local or independent-label music, says WLFR General Manager Chad Roberts. The exception might be a show that blends an informational component with music, such as Joe Molineaux’s Tuesday afternoon show that intersperses business advice with music sets.
“It’s considered a freeform station, where punk could conceivably be followed by opera if the DJ chooses, but there’s a new-artist rule that DJs usually abide by,” says Roberts, who came to Stockton from Central Michigan University, where he oversaw the operation of two college radio stations.
“During any given semester, there’s probably 60 to 70 people who are part of running the station, be they students, volunteers, or community members who do weekly shows.” he says. “Any first-semester students have to play music from what we call our new-music rack, which we add to each week and keep in a specific rack in the on-air studio.
“If a student stays on after one semester, they can come up with their own idea for a show,” adds Roberts, who will unveil a new WLFR logo during the anniversary party. “What we (station administrators) tell them, though, is that it basically has to be something that a commercial station would not play, such as indie music off of smaller labels, or lesser-known bands that are out there. We like to break new artists and help out the unknown.”
Wright, a 1986 Atlantic City High graduate and lifelong area resident, would agree.
“I think the great thing about this showcase is that it’s going to highlight all the genres and the different types of musicians that WLFR gives publicity to, and I can’t think of another radio station, when you’re talking about various forms of music, that goes from one range to another like that,” Wright says. “Commercial radio doesn’t do that. They’re either all rock, all top-40, all hip-hop or whatever. College radio still has the viability to do that — to be open to all types of artists. And I think an event like this is not just a great opportunity for them to play, but for their supporters to come out and hear them and see them play.”
Two of the original-music bands that will perform Friday night — Domini and Creem Circus — are Philadelphia based, and two others are from South Jersey. One band is called Molly Ringworm, whose name was spun from singer/songwriter Sarah Holt’s father’s “endearing name for a 1980s teen movie star,” according to the band’s Facebook page.
The other original ensemble performing is punk-rock accordion player Malcolm Tent with bassist Adam Berardo, whose show-biz name is 1Adam12. Both are lifelong area residents.
“You’re seeing more bands incorporating accordion players into their sound now, like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, but Malcolm Tent was doing it way back in the ‘70s,” Unversaw says. “And Adam, who’s playing with Malcolm at the party, is a former WLFR DJ from way back when.”
Tent makes triumphant return
Tent is a local music legend who is famous, or infamous, for being banned from ever performing again in a particular South Jersey municipality — a town he wishes to remain anonymous. He wears that fact like a badge of honor, and another fact that he is most proud of is being among the first musicians ever to perform live on WLFR, which has welcomed him back multiple times since.
“The station is 35 years old this October, and I performed on Bob Portella’s radio show on ‘LFR in ‘85 or ‘86, so almost since the beginning of the station,” says Tent, who first took up the accordion, at his mother’s behest, as a 10-year-old in 1957.
Tent has written many jingles for WLFR over the years, and will perform a new one during his 15-minute set on Friday night. His sideman’s son, Niko Berardo, is a 21-year-old multi-instrumentalist who will be playing drums Friday night for Molly Ringworm.
“During that same show I did back in the ‘80s with Bob Portella, a teenager called the show and told me he was impressed and inspired by me,” Tent says. “That kid turned out to be Adam. Now he’s got a 21-year-old son who is just a sensational musician — probably even better than his dad.”