Central State University Radio Jazzes Up Area for 50 Years
By Khalid Moss
Nestled behind the bramble in the southeast corner on the Central State University campus in Wilberforce, Ohio is a building that is home to an FM radio station with the call letters, WCSU-FM. 88.9 on your radio dial.
The majority of residents of the Miami Valley have probably never heard of WCSU. Some may have come across it by accident while blindly tuning their car stereos, while others may have picked up its relatively weak signal – compared to the area’s FM powerhouses – on a clear, cloudiness night. But if you love jazz or call yourself an aficionado of good music and horizon-widening features, WCSU is just the station for you.
Now under the leadership of station manager, CSU grad, Edwin Clay, WCSU-FM is the first and oldest HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) radio station in the nation. Under Clay’s visionary guidance the station is experiencing a remarkable rebirth that has put new legs under the station and given it a distinct identity.
Clay’s background is in public television and TV documentaries. A former station manager at WOSU-TV, he is the recipient of numerous regional Emmy Awards and has garnered personal accolades for his groundbreaking documentaries and forward-thinking programming. Upon retiring from his OSU gig, he could have kicked back, cracked open an adult beverage or two and devoted the rest of his life to his church, his new-wife and his music. (Clay is an accomplished keyboardist/composer who fronts his own band, The Patrol.)
Instead, he chose to direct his energy into a new goal: ensuring the life and health of a radio station he loved.
Clay said WCSU signed on in October of 1962.
“Dr. Charles Wesley, then president of Central State College in the early ‘60s wanted the university to have a radio station similar to other state universities,” Clay said. “His motivation was to ensure that CSU students and the university had similar resources compared to other universities. He also understood the importance of media and its effects on people and culture. The station was put on the air with the help of Central State Business Manager, Harry Johns, who gave the station its first call sign WJSC. CSU grad William Smith became the first station manager. The station changed its call sign to WCSU in 1965-66 when it became a university.”
Initially, WCSU broadcast from the second floor of the old CSU bookstore. The station offered a variety of music and information for residents located in the Miami Valley covering a geographic area of 4 to 5 counties. Some of the major cities covered by WCSU included Beavercreek, Springfield, Dayton, Xenia and Wilberforce.
In 1974, the horrific “Xenia Tornado” demolished major portions of Xenia, Wilberforce and areas on the CSU campus including the bookstore where WCSU was housed.
During the period of campus re-building following the tornado, the university moved WCSU to the old Cook Building located on the southeast corner of the campus. Several years later WCSU-FM qualified to receive Community Service Grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that assisted in the creation of additional program and outreach activities.
In the fall of 1992, with the assistance of Dr. William “Bill” Cosby, WCSU moved to its current facility, the renovated Cook Building, now known as the Camille O. and William H. Cosby Mass Communication Telecommunication Building.
But hard times for the station were not over and, although he had retired, Clay was called to the rescue.
“I had retired from WOSU in Columbus after a fairly successful career in public broadcasting,” Clay said. “Several months into retirement I received a call from Central State to see if I was interested in helping to guide the station through some serious issues it was facing. Being a CSU alum, I decided to leave retirement temporarily and come back and help address these issues. With the help of the administration and station staff we began to focus the station in areas where it needed some strength. I was going to stay a year but now I’m going into my second year in this position. The station and staff seem to be making positive strides as a public media outlet.”
I’ll say. As part of the 50th anniversary celebration for WCSU, the station coaxed cool jazz man Roy Ayres to Dayton for a May 19 concert/party at Gilly’s nightclub. Ayres, who hasn’t performed in Dayton for quite some time, blew the roof off of the sucka during the course of two sold-out shows. The fundraiser was produced and MC’d by Clay, who also opened up both shows with his band. He’s now contemplating the future of the station.
“The future goals are two-fold,” he said. “We want to connect the station to the community as a resource for America’s music/jazz. We want the community to see the station as a multi-media resource it can turn to for cultural/musical information either by on-air or via the web. We want to collaborate with the jazz community and other resources to showcase outstanding through live community events and broadcast projects; and we want to be creative in seeking financial support for the station.”
Contact DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMoss@DaytonCityPaper.com