April 23—Natalie Costanza got the party started by performing “Friday I’m In Love” by The Cure. It’s the song she’s used to kick off her radio shows since she was 14 and aired her first program on a station in Rochester.
Costanza, a 2020 SUNY Oneonta alumnus, had returned to campus to attend the 60th anniversary celebration of WONY, the college’s student-run radio station. During the weekend, former DJs will resume their WONY student shows every hour from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Constanza helped organize the meeting and was first on air on Friday afternoon, April 22.
“90.9 FM, WONY. It’s DJ Nat the Cat and you’re listening to the weekend preview. Welcome back,” Costanza began as The Cure faded away. Although she hadn’t hosted a radio show in nearly two years, her voice was smooth and confident.
Two minutes before going live, however, she had manipulated a microphone, looked at a monitor and said “this is when I realize I don’t know how to do anything”.
Current station general manager Riley Brown, a senior from Cooperstown, was host in the front lounge of WONY’s new space at Hunt Memorial Union, welcoming alumni. He entered the studio and showed the location of several sliders on a sound card.
Once the music started, Brown praised Costanza for his introduction. “It took me until this year to find my voice on the radio. I would go mute,” he said. As Constanza played favorite songs from her college years, students and alumni walked in and out of the studio.
As a freshman, Constanza decided to join the radio station but “didn’t expect to make any friends. I couldn’t have been more wrong,” she said. “We were so close straight away, it was more of a family than a club.”
Kim Doolittle entered. He is a 1977 graduate who is now a consultant in North Carolina. He spoke with Brown about the main thing he learned as a DJ and newscaster: how to connect with an audience. He hasn’t worked in radio since college, but credits WONY. “Being able to ask a lot of questions and get good insight and good information is something that has really helped me in my consulting career,” he said.
Andrew Bottomley, Assistant Professor of Media Studies and WONY Faculty Advisor, joined the conversation. It has been improving equipment since the station moved after more than 40 years to a basement. He and the students want to get a programmable automation system, so the station can do more professional shows when no one is there live.
Doolittle suggested alumni could help raise funds. “Asking for $1,000 from the sorority is like pulling teeth, but for alumni, raising $5,000 is okay,” he said.
Brown said his goal was to expand WONY’s digital music collection. “We have a lot of CDs, nothing that nobody wants to play.”
“A few years ago, we still used to get CDs in the mail, and we would get together, listen to them,” Costanza said.
WONY still receives demo CDs each week, Brown said, because college radio stations play a role as an alternative music venue where new bands can be heard. He pointed to a library down the hall with shelves full of over 10,000 compact discs. Brown is a music industry expert, like many WONY students, although he started out studying French.
Speaking to WONY alumni, “a lot of them don’t end up working in anything that we would recognize as entertainment industries, you know. Some go into finance, a lot go into education”, Bottomley said. What really stands out are the skills they learned – public speaking, how to present yourself in a public forum and leadership skills.
“They’ll say they spent more time on their show than on their homework that week. But that’s what it meant to them. The radio station is a great space anyway, because the students have a lot of freedom here to explore,” he said.
On air, Costanza said “if you were listening in 2019, you’d hear my show on Friday afternoon…and now it’s come full circle.” She then presented “That’s When” by Taylor Swift.
“And I said, ‘When can I come back? “Swift sang in the first verse.
Along with plenty of airtime, the weekend reunion will include panel discussions on WONY careers and history, a Brooks BBQ dinner and a tribute to Oneonta alumnus and influential broadcaster George Kaywood. died in 2020, and WONY’s mentor, David Ring, died in February, Costanza said.
Mike Forster Rothbart, editor, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow him @DS_MikeFR on Twitter.