WBFO The Bridge, the newest addition to the Buffalo Toronto Public Media family of stations, launched on November 23, 2021. Incredibly hard to believe we were able to go from our first committee meeting to launching the station in a little over 3 months.
The Bridge was born out of a simple idea: to bring a non-commercial AAA (Adult Album Alternative) radio station to Western New York and Southern Ontario. We set out to play the best post-modern, classic, old school, indie, new wave, underground, and alternative music. It’s quite a mouthful, try saying that on-air (I have!).
I’ve been working on WBFO The Bridge since its inception. Actually, that’s not even true. I’ve been with it before it began, as just an idea during my first meeting with our new President & CEO. It’s an incredibly enjoyable and exciting project to be a part of, and being able to create the logo, brand, campaign, all from scratch has been a ton of fun.
Like any branding campaign, the logo sets the tone. For me, I knew I needed to still use our BTPM family font, PBS Sans, so that The Bridge would aesthetically match the rest of our stations, if only in font. But we also wanted The Bridge to be a little different, quirky, and to stand out. It is purposely a sandbox for us to experiment.
While doodling on my iPad Pro one day I had a quick idea in my head: the logo should incorporate a stylized version of the Peace Bridge, the crossing between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, the titular “Bridge” from the station name. The design of the Peace Bridge features a distinctive round Parker Truss over the Black Rock Canal on the U.S. side, and it was this feature I chose to incorporate in my sketch.
The logo sketch itself was one of those perfect “designed in as long as it takes me to get the idea out” and that was it. I passed it around as my rough idea and it was quickly approved, so I created a finalized version in Illustrator. The logo doesn’t fit the standard CALL LETTERS – LOGO – BRAND that I’d established during our brand overhaul. I wish I could say it was on purpose, but we all fell in love with the way the logo looked that no other options or ideas were even attempted.
The primary color for The Bridge brand would be black. A Forest Green and Steel Gray were also proposed as a nod to the colors of the materials on the Peace Bridge, but black just fit the aesthetic and mood we were trying to establish. How much more black could it be? The answer, of course, was none.
I finalized the logo in Illustrator with our font and that was it! Or so I thought.
After completing the Band Logo Artwork (see further below) I quickly fell in love with the more gritty, less-corporate feeling of my drawn version of the logo. This felt right. I photoshopped the logo out of the scanned drawing and began to slowly incorporate it into social media posts and some other internal uses. After a little amount of time went by, I made my case that this should be the proper, public-facing logo for The Bridge. Again, everyone agreed. The clean “Corporate” version of the logo would be used sparingly in-house and the gritty version would be used as often as possible.
The “drawn” logo aesthetic is topped off with a dark grey grunge background. That, combined with the off-white color of the inverted sharpie drawing, really set the foundation for the rest of the branding campaign.
When tasked with starting a new radio station from scratch, we wanted to come up with a short, concise tagline to help convey what we are and what we play. The phrase “College Radio For Adults” was casually mentioned in passing during one of our committee meetings, and I wrote it down as a great tagline. Sure enough, a few weeks later we were brainstorming a slogan and I recalled the note I wrote down. I reminded the group, everyone thought it worked well, and it stuck.
For our rollout, we had the idea to create stickers and magnets to send to early social media fans as a thank you gesture and to help drum up some interest. To start things off, we really wanted to lean hard into the tagline so that, even if people didn’t know anything about us, they would see “College Radio For Adults” and either an 80s, 90s, or 00s alternative sticker and be curious enough to look further.
I had the idea to create a series of stickers, one each representing a decade of music we play. It was important that the stickers were obviously different designs, so the ideas might not have represented the music we play but the decades they represent. For the 1980s, I wanted to go with an admittedly stereotypical retrowave aesthetic design. For the 1990s, something straight out of the pop-art Saved By The Bell style. For the 00s, pop-punk ransom note letters. For a “modern” logo, I wanted something that would work across genres and be a bit more evergreen.
I have no shame admitting I got some help with most of these. The 80s were, by and large, templates that we paid for and I repurposed. The 90s were a bit more manipulated on my end. The ransom notes were all part of a pack, I did spend a good amount of time meticulously browsing the dozens of options per letter.
For the modern-day one, I chose a cool looking block font that had two options, one looking like cut-out letters and the other standard letters. I really liked that the counter of certain letters were completely filled in. It looked cool and unique.
I wound up incorporating several elements from these stickers into the final “brand” of The Bridge:
– I liked the cutout font so much that it became the default font for the brand campaign. Almost everything I create uses this font in one form or another, usually askew or at some kind of angle.
– The image of the Peace Bridge is a not-so-subtle callback to our logo and makes for a good background. For the main Bridge brand, I removed the color and edited the photo so it was suitable for backgrounds.
– The grungey gray background texture from the cutouts became the overlay or background for most of The Bridge brand moving forward.
This was the moment when things really coalesced and I figured out the path that The Bridge brand would be taking.
It began in a social media team brainstorm in which we wanted to think of a cool way to count down to the launch date on our Instagram and be a little mysterious at the same time. Our social media manager had the idea to separate an image into 9 smaller ones so that, when viewed together on the profile, it made up a mosaic into one larger image on launch day. Love it. Then I thought, what if we surround the logo with band logos and t-shirts or something to represent the cross-section of bands we play? Love it. I went further, what if it’s hand-drawn to call back to doodling band logos in high school notebooks? Everyone loved it, it was perfect.
In typical “me” fashion, I over-thought this process a bit. I went through our launch music spreadsheets and picked about 60 bands that were popular, had iconic recognizable logos, and were all a good representation of what The Bridge would be. I downloaded all these logos, laid them out in a square in Photoshop with The Bridge logo centered, and then transferred it to my iPad. I then spent an admittedly long time drawing and tracing directly from my iPad to a sheet of notebook paper. I used different weights of sharpies, pens, and pencils to create a variety of strokes and styles to keep it from looking homogenous.
I scanned the sheet back onto my laptop, did a small number of touch-ups (and fixed a typo I missed, bonus points if you can find it), and then had another idea, what if it was reversed? The main color was black, so it made sense. As soon as I flipped that image I knew I had something really cool. Everyone agreed, and it was used extensively leading up to and after the launch of the station.
Again, in typical me fashion, I grew kind of unhappy. This was the defining image of the brand, and I was a perfectionist about it. The image looked great but it was a bit messy in spots and I wanted to fine-tune the logos a bit. The need for a version with all the band logos and The Bridge logos separated for animation prompted me to re-draw the collage, but this time digitally on my iPad. This allowed me to tune things exactly as I wanted, and get more detail out of certain band logos (see: The Killers, Phoenix, Death Cab For Cutie). Again, I used a multitude of different ink, pencil, pen, and brush styles to keep things unique. Drawing on my iPad afforded me a much greater variety of style and control.
The only thing that remained from the first drawing was the WBFO The Bridge logo, I just couldn’t recapture the perfection again so that was transferred.
I quickly swapped out the revised version for the original hand-drawn version and it has been used everywhere since, from ads to stills to new social media posts, the ability to have the band logos separated on different layers means I am able to rearrange them as need-be for different screen sizes and ratios. It’s really given a whole new longevity to an image that was only supposed to be a social media countdown.
In December 2022 it was decided that some bands needed to be removed from the piece, either because we were no longer playing them or there were now negative associations with those acts that we didn’t want to place next to our brand.
As I settled into the design language of WBFO The Bridge, it became clear that our marketing material aesthetic could be tied closer to our main “grungy” brand style. At the same time, there were shortcomings with the font we were using (namely missing characters) so I decided to create a sketched version of the font we were using and take the opportunity to add the missing characters myself. I hand-illustrated each character and brought them all into a font program to create a workable TTF font that could be used by myself and others in our department to create uniform designs.
The result achieved exactly what I was looking for – our marketing materials looked more uniform with the custom font, the new characters gave us more choices in copy that we could present, and I could give the font to non-designers and have them create their own materials that would still tie into the overall brand.
WBFO The Bridge is the first work I’ve done professionally that I’ve been comfortable and excited enough about to submit for consideration at the local ADDY Awards, presented by the Buffalo chapter of the American Advertising Federation.
I was really excited to receive 3 awards that night:
– Gold ADDY: Art Direction — Campaign For the brand launch of WBFO The Bridge
– Silver ADDY: Art Direction — Single For the Band Artwork design
– Silver ADDY: Illustration — Single For the Band Artwork design
I was not expecting to win anything, and to come away 3 for 3 — including a gold award for the campaign — was genuinely humbling.
All work © Western New York Public Broadcasting Association (d.b.a. Buffalo Toronto Public Media)