Since he was a child in the late 1950s, Norm Prusslin has been tuned in to the joys and possibilities of radio. It was a passion that stayed with him when he entered Stony Brook University as an English major in 1969, and one he would carry forward when he joined the university’s staff after graduating in 1973.
Forty-eight years of technological advancement and changing musical landscapes has only stoked the fire. In June, Prusslin, now director of the Media Arts Minor and a faculty member in the Department of Theatre Arts at Stony Brook since 1981, was elected board chair of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS), returning to a seat he left in 2010.
To Prusslin, the role is both a labor of love and an important challenge.
“To this day radio is still my medium of choice,” he said. “I would much rather listen to a baseball game on the radio than watch it on TV. It’s a ‘theater of the mind’ thing that still allows you to be creative interacting with the medium.”
IBS has been around since 1940, when it was started by two Brown University students who wanted to bring “radio broadcast” communication to dormitories and other campus buildings, essentially creating the first incarnation of college radio – The Brown Network. In the mid-1960s, changes to broadcast regulations regarding FM stations led to a boon in new programming opportunities, and shortly thereafter, an overall increase in radio’s popularity.
IBS was instrumental in getting the FCC to secure an FM “reserved band” of 20 education channels from 88.1 to 91.9 MHz, and today boasts a membership of nearly one thousand non-profit, education-affiliated radio stations and webcasters.
Prusslin, a staff member in 1977 who joined the faculty in 1981, was the founding general manager of WUSB-FM, Stony Brook’s on-campus radio station. “Stony Brook got involved with IBS in 1971, before we even had an FM station,” said Prusslin, also a former WUSB disc jockey. “As general manager I would represent us at conferences and eventually became more and more involved.”
Prusslin was elected to the organization’s board of directors in 1975, and became chair for the first time in 1982, holding leadership positions continuously until 2010. In 1982, the industry saw the release of an industry-changing innovation – the compact disc. Prusslin was immediately tasked with helping other college stations navigate the requirements of acquiring, migrating to, and understanding new technology. It was an aspect of the volunteer position that would never go away.
“IBS is about building relationships with the stations,” he said. “Since I got there in the ‘70s we’ve been dealing with new technology. In 1982 it was compact discs. Then it was the challenges of the internet. Now it’s things like podcasting and streaming.”
IBS grew nationally under Prusslin’s guidance, and closer to home, WUSB carved an important place in IBS history when the organization’s annual conference was moved permanently to New York.
“Once that happened we sort of became the host station, which meant that staff and other Stony Brook students could serve as moderators and facilitators,” he said. “With each passing year, WUSB became a more important part of the conference.”
In 2010, with his responsibilities at Stony Brook increasing in addition to playing a key role in managing the Long Island Music Hall of Fame — an organization he co-founded — Prusslin decided it was time to pass the torch.
“I still wanted to be involved, but I thought it was time for some new blood,” he said.
Prusslin maintained an emeritus position on the board and contributed to IBS’ annual conference. But the COVID-19 pandemic compounded what were already challenging conditions for the industry, and he was asked to return.
Prusslin cited important and complex issues that college radio has to deal with, like copyright payments in the streaming age, not to mention the ones presented by the pandemic. Despite the challenging times, Prusslin is able to find a silver lining to carry forward.
“I think an upside of what the last year-and-a-half has been is the ability to do remote broadcasting from home,” said Prusslin. “As we transition back to in-studio we’ve learned to use that technology, and that will certainly be useful moving forward. College radio has always been an important part of bringing information to the local community, and the pandemic only reinforced that.”
Prusslin is proud of the many Stony Brook graduates that went into the music industry, a group that includes Howie Klein ’69, who became president of Warner Brothers’ Reprise Records label, and Jason Hanley ’93, MA ’95, PhD ’11, the Vice President for Education and Visitor Engagement at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“To me college stations have always been very important, and I think the industry recognized that,” he said. “In the 1980’s and ‘90’s it was a really important position in a record company to get new music out to the college stations, but over the years radio has been so challenged by all these other audio distribution systems. Stations have to be always forward thinking. The challenges will always be there, and the solutions vary from year to year depending upon the circumstances. Everyone has to be flexible and open-minded. Take the best of what has worked, but don’t get stuck in a ‘that’s what we’ve always done’mindset. That was then. What are you going to do about it now?”
— Robert Emproto