When most people look at JCU's clock tower, they usually admire the architecture of St. Ignatius Hall, listen to bells ringing, or wonder how to get on the roof. Often overlooked is the history of its interior, namely the tiny, old studio where WJCU, then WUJC, hosted thousands of broadcasts until the station moved to the D.J Lombardo Student Center in 1984. Nearly four decades later, on March 28, 2023, that fourth-floor studio opened up once again as a part of WJCU's "Turn Back the Clock" event, a six-hour broadcast hosted by the teams of "808s & Mixtapes" and "Old Rock, New Rock."
Earlier in March, the teams from these two WJCU shows came up with the idea to host an event in the clock tower studio after a few members visited it with the permission of Jasen Sokol. It would be an excellent opportunity for alums to come back and tell their story about working on the radio station, something every member that worked to put the event on wanted to hear more about. With an idea in mind, the teams went to work, coordinating with Chief Engineer Corny Gould to set up the studio.
"The place looked dead," said the host of 808s & Mixtapes, Zach Sinutko, "and it took a village to make it look alive again." in those 39 years without use, the space's three old, wood-paneled rooms collected equipment, record albums, and dust. But, by the time the team finished their work, they had refurbished the front room with memorabilia in the corners, a small studio with a banner of 88.7 WJCU's logo, and another room with all the albums organized. One can even see the Cleveland skyline from the front room's windows in the distance.
The logistics of the event went far beyond a simple broadcast and space. The teams invited over a hundred past WJCU hosts and radio workers to the studio and welcomed them in the O'Malley atrium for a reception. There, alumni saw old program guides, a station for Radiothon, and a poster they could sign their names on. Throughout the night, these alums would get to stand in the old studio again.
As the clock ticked down to the beginning of the broadcast, the co-hosts of Sinutko, Joe Gumeny, Lauren Gumeny, and WJCU general manager Jasen Sokol settled into the studio chairs to start. With the 30-second announcement to going on-air sounded, the rest of the room fell silent in anticipation. Sinutko then played the intro sequence and introduced the broadcast crew to the audience. Sokol set the tone for the evening, saying, "For the first time in almost four decades, we are back home."
The broadcast followed a structured schedule. For each hour, DJs played music from several decades, the 60s from 6-7 p.m., 70s from 7-8 p.m., and so on. Sinutko would play two songs, then interview someone in the following three minutes. JCU alumni weren't the only guest speakers. Mayor Michael Brennan of University Heights was first on-air. He discussed his experience broadcasting at college. He played primarily progressive rock in his heyday and noted, "A lot of stations sound the same nowadays. It's stations like these that keep the variety and radio alive."
Other past WJCU greats came on the air shortly after, like Milt Roney '69, who started the entire station by gaining FCC approval. He saw the antenna go up for the first time in 1969; it remains there today. Sean Fink talked about his time growing up in the studio when his father, Phil Fink, did a morning "rip and read" news broadcast. David Sipple '86 mentioned his news broadcast and his famous "accuwindow weather," where he would put his hand out the window and say, " It's raining in University Heights."
Each time an alum came on air, their silky smooth radio voice returned to fill the room. A common theme continued to arise in stories of WJCU's past. Most started like this, "Zach, I want to thank you for putting this on. It brought back a fond memory of mine -- that almost got me kicked out of school." This alum went on to talk about a day when he dressed up as the pope and blessed people from the window of the "Grasselli Tower." Father O'Malley sent him a message the following day after the stunt, telling him not to do it again but, "If you want to join the Jesuits, you know where to find me."
Even off-air, stories popped up in the studio when alumni found the dusted-off equipment and records. "That was the bumper sticker I designed!" said someone while looking at a display. Another was taken aback when he stepped into the room: "I can't believe how small this place looks now!"
The volume of stories packed into these 6 hours seemed endless, which made the event so special. "This event isn't for us," Davala said, "it's really for the alumni. They haven't been up here in 39 years, so it's truly something special because of that amount of time." For the JCU community, it's another example of the strength and vibrancy graduates give back to this campus.
To find out more about WJCU 88.7, visit https://www.wjcu.org/
808s & Mixtapes is a show produced by Zach Sinutko, Emily Davala, Collin Kennedy, Daunte Horton, and Swayyyfather that features rising underground hip hop and rap. Tune in to WJCU 88.7 on Tuesday Nights from 10 p.m.-12 a.m. https://www.808mixtape.wixsite.com/home
Old Rock, New Rock is a show hosted by the father-daughter duo of Joe and Lauren Gumeny that plays rock from every sub-genre and era. Tune in to WJCU 88.7 on Tuesday nights from 8 - 10 p.m.