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The Cross-Oakland Charge

WYEP's Saturday Light Brigade picks up shop for CMU

It'd be convenient to say that, in moving his popular children's radio show The Saturday Light Brigade down the dial from WYEP-FM to Carnegie Mellon University's student-run WRCT-FM, Larry Berger was returning to his radio roots. But, although Berger is a CMU alum, the longtime Pittsburgh Saturday morning fixture got his start before college even came a-knockin'.


"WYEP's been a great relationship," says Berger. "I got there in 1975 -- I think the station started in 1974 -- and it's a hard thing" to move to WRCT. Berger and former co-host Bill Lucker began The Saturday Light Brigade on WYEP in 1978, and built it into a Pittsburgh tradition, a live radio show directed specifically to children, with interactive games and acoustic music. But earlier this year, the station announced that it would cut SLB's time slot by an hour, ending at 9 a.m. rather than 10 a.m., in order to expand WYEP's Saturday music programming.


"We started the music mix at 9 a.m. on Saturdays in the spring because people wanted more music, not talk radio," says WYEP General Manager Lee Ferraro. "WRCT is going to give [SLB] six hours -- we certainly couldn't give them six hours here, and three of those hours are ... 9 to noon, some meaty hours -- anything past 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning is pretty good. That opportunity was a little too enticing."


Enticing it was, especially because, according to Berger, the show's direct audience participation was hurt badly by the loss of that 9 o'clock hour. But WRCT wasn't enticing just for its time slot: According to Berger, SLB's ambition is to eventually export the show to other radio stations in other markets, even in other time zones -- an option that comes into play with a six-hour time slot, but that becomes truly possible with CMU's and WRCT's long-term commitment to Internet radio technology. "WRCT will be the hub of a network," says Berger, and each of the show's hours will be self-contained.


"I'm not proposing that we'll have stations across the country carrying six hours of SLB," Berger says. "I'm not delusional."


The move from WYEP to WRCT does have its downside. WRCT's broadcast range isn't nearly as powerful as WYEP's, which previously has gotten the show out to listeners as far as Ligonier. But, for the most part, all parties seem content -- Ferraro, whose station will likely replace SLB with an acoustic music show, calls it "a reluctant win-win."


Perhaps the oddest player in the SLB saga is the show's new home -- a college radio station best known as a free-form proponent of underground rock and electronica. Current WRCT General Manager Andrew Widdowson says that SLB may not be the type of show the station has had, but it's the type they should have.


"It's not what you'd think of when you think of college radio," says Widdowson, "but everyone's opinion of college radio is different, and we're the intersection of all those ideas."

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