Not many college radio stations can lay claim to 70 years of broadcasting, so it’s exciting to hear that student radio has been a part of campus life at Wellesley College since 1942. The first station, WBS 730 AM, launched in 1942 and was apparently the first all-woman college radio station. Eventually that station evolved into FM station WZLY, which is on the air at 91.5 FM today. Take a look in the Wellesley College archives to see an amazing photo of the station from 1947.
Sadly, there isn’t much on the WZLY website about the history of the station. I did unearth a few tidbits and stories, though. Students who helped found the station included Ruth Nagel Jones and Rosamond Wilfley Neilson from the class of 1942. In 2006, Jones helped WZLY out with a major donation and “to commemorate – Jones’ gift, WZLY played parts of the college’s first radio broadcast from April 20, 1942, including music from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ and toe-tapping songs from the Big Band and swing era. The two-hour music extravaganza was dedicated to the memory of Jones’ fellow student radio pioneer Rosamond Wilfley Neilson, Class of ’42, who passed away May 8.” Jones’ father Conrad Nagel was also in radio, hosting the CBS Silver Theater radio show.
A 1949 yearbook entry gives a little bit more station flavor, as it describes the programming that aired over campus-only station WBS and mentions the station’s participation with other local stations in college radio networks in the 1940s.
“…Every day energetic directors, program planners, script writers, and technicians bring to the campus a variety of programs from Beethoven’s Seventh or Boogie Woogie to a word-by-word transcription of Mrs. Morton’s latest address, via W.B.S.’s own gadget, the wire recorder. Newly equipped to transmit programs to Simpson, Eliot, and Noanett, W.B.S. this year concentrated on developing its feature shows. To put across good drama, novels, and musical programs, it exploited the campus for new and undeveloped talent.
It marked the growth of outside features by participating in programs with Harvard, Yale, and other schools. The best of W.B.S.’s efforts were sent via recordings to Boston and New York for wider distribution…Its Music for Studying was a must program for most students. From eight in the morning till eleven at night W.B.S. offered ample opportunities to hams and listeners alike, giving Radio the highest Hooper rating on campus.”
Back in 1955, AM station WBS was forced off the air temporarily by the FCC for “excess radiation.” According to a Harvard Crimson article, “The FCC compelled WBS to shut down because excess radiation from their coaxial cable to the dormitories interfered with commercial radio stations in the Wellesley area.”
It’s unclear when the station transitioned from campus-only AM station WBS to the class D FM station WZLY, but it was broadcasting over FM in the 1980s. By 2000, WZLY was broadcasting online in addition to its terrestrial broadcasts and by 2006 the station was able to remodel its studios.
Speaking of other pioneering women’s college radio stations, Bryn Mawr College’s campus-only station WBMC debuted in 1944 and was on the air until 1960. Smith College’s first radio club began in 1947 and broadcasting began in 1949 over WCSR, which aired until 1956. Radio was revived with the launch of WRSC in 1977, which became FM station WOZQ over 91.9 FM in 1982. Barnard’s student station WBAR began in 1993.
If you have information about other pioneering college radio stations at women’s colleges or know more about the history of radio at Wellesley College, please let me know in the comments.
Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!