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Almost a goner, campus radio returns as global player Niagara U sends stronger-than-ever signal as retooled station goes digital in a big way

Niagara University has always had a significant presence in western Niagara County -- and now it has a bigger voice, as well.

After about 30 years of operation, the school's old radio station, WRNU-AM, all but disappeared more than a year ago.

But last year, the university decided to resurrect the station. It spent $30,000 to build a modern radio facility, which opened last month in the Gallagher Center.

Called WNIA, the new station is all digital and broadcasts over the Internet at wniaradio.com. Anybody anywhere in the world who has access to a computer can listen, said Fred Heuer, the university's assistant vice president for marketing.

That's not all.

Where two years ago, WRNU was run by less than a handful of people and aired only a few shows, WNIA is running programs almost all the time, usually from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Its new 45-member staff produces about 30 original programs, mostly featuring students and faculty. The shows focus on news and sports, a wide variety of music, and talk and informational formats.

The rebirth of Niagara University radio fell to Heuer and senior Christina Crane, a Niagara County Community College transfer who was working for Buffalo Entercom, which owns stations that include WKSE-FM. She also was one of the pioneers involved in television development through Our Schools Channel, Cable 21, at Niagara Falls High School.

Crane said WNIA started up in September in the temporary confines of Dunleavy Hall until the new facility was completed during the holidays.

The original station never officially closed, Heuer said.

"It wasn't active last year, for the most part," he said. "I think part of that was because it was located in the basement of Alumni Hall next to the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps department. I don't think many people knew it existed, since no one ever saw it.

"It was back in this dark hallway, and the facility was really dingy, dirty and full of old equipment," Heuer said. "We advertised it every year, and we'd get a few people coming over. But honestly, when they saw the facility, they kind of lost interest."

Crane came on board when a professor told her that the school was starting up a new radio station, and she and Heuer worked all last summer to get things running.

"We needed to get people to manage it who are motivated, involved and passionate," she said. "And we needed to get the word out there."

As the new station's general manager, Crane said she found what she was looking for in senior Ron Biehl, the station's promotions director, and junior Jessica Garfinkle, the programming manager.

To make sure the station had listeners, she said, her staff covered the campus with e-mails about the station and its programs.

Biehl said the station provides a great opportunity for communications majors because it gives them experience and lets them build the portfolio they need to gain employment in the field.

Many of the talk shows are fun, Garfinkle said.

"I actually do a show with Christina and Ron and another guy, Chris Budde, called 'The Inside Joke.' We play music, do a lot of talking and take phone calls," she said. "It's on from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays. It's very chatty, and subject matter often comes up at random."

Crane said, "We did an entire show on being left-handed, because Jessica and I are left-handed. We ended up with people telling us stories about left-handed people and the things they do. Some people were calling in saying how being right-handed is better. It's stupid stuff to talk about, but a lot of interesting and funny facts come up."

Crane also does a show called "Speak 'n' Spin" with fellow student Natalie Czaplicki.

"We did a show on creepy guys and talked about all the different times some guy really freaked us out or wouldn't leave us alone," Crane said. "Unfortunately, I have a lot of stories like that. We even talked about really bad pickup lines like, 'I lost my number. Can I have yours?' "

There's also a relationship advice show featuring student Ralph Donatelli. "I don't know if he's helped anybody, but he broke up a couple once," Crane said. "On the air, this guy was saying he cheated on his girlfriend -- while she was listening to the show."

Garfinkle said the station also has a great newsman in Geoff Redick, a student who's on from at 7 to 8 a.m. daily and produces news breaks that are used during the rest of the day.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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