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About College Radio

radio stickers at college radio station KPSU

This frequently updated page is intended to be a comprehensive resource to learn all about college radio. Here you will find news, resources, and opinion on the culture of this important medium that sadly doesn’t get much attention from mainstream media. At Radio Survivor we write about college radio regularly, including in our weekly College Radio Watch column on Fridays.

Contents:

1. What is college radio?
2. How old is college radio?
3. Which college radio station was the first in the United States?
4. What are some of the best college radio stations?
5. Is college radio dying?
6. How can I learn more about specific college radio stations?
7. How do I learn more about college radio history and how do I go about researching and/or archiving a station’s history?

1. What is college radio?

Although college radio can be a debated term, it generally applies to radio stations operated on college campuses with at least some degree of student involvement. College radio stations can take many forms.

In the United States, there are the following types of college radio stations:

  • FCC licensed AM, FM, and low power FM (LPFM) radio stations
  • Unlicensed terrestrial stations that operate on campus at very low power (under FCC part 15 rules, which you can read more about here)
  • Campus-only carrier current stations
  • Cable stations that utilize campus cable networks
  • Internet-only stations
  • HD-only radio stations (broadcasting on HD-2 or HD-3 channels)

Some stations utilize combinations of these options.

Although we primarily report on college radio in the United States, there are college radio stations all over the world.

2. How old is college radio?

College radio has a storied history in the United States. Some of the first student-run radio stations in the U.S. launched over AM in the 1920s, but experiments were happening on college campuses prior to that. Campus-only carrier current radio stations rose to prominence beginning in the 1940s. Learn more about the early days of college radio in this Q&A that I did with author Hugh Richard Slotten.

3. Which college radio station was the first in the United States?

There are many “first” claims in college radio, which we discussed on Podcast #45 and also wrote about in College Radio Watch. Take a look at those resources for a discussion about the first women’s college radio stations, the first college radio stations to stream online, and more.

Although a few stations lay claim to the title as the very first college radio station in the United States, it’s not easy to identify the very first college radio station. Some of the schools where early radio experiments and broadcasts occurred include:

Beloit College

A Beloit College professor began experimenting with wireless telegraphy in 1907 and conducted some impressive transmissions during the next decade. Beloit College built a licensed student radio station by 1924.

St. Joseph’s College (Philadelphia)

St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia was awarded the first experimental radio license in the United States in 1912, although it didn’t build a broadcast station until 1922 (which was very short-lived).

University of Minnesota

Many other schools were doing experimental work in radio before 1920, mainly through academic departments. University of Minnesota’s KUOM (aka Radio K) celebrated 100 years of radio on campus in 2012, as it commemorates a professor’s experimental broadcasts in 1912. According to the KUOM website, a University of Minnesota football game was broadcast using Morse Code in 1915. The school received an experimental radio license in 1920 and a broadcast license for WLB in 1922. More history is detailed on Continuum, the University of Minnesota Libraries website.

Grove City College

A Physics professor at Grove City College did radio-related experiments beginning in 1911 and by 1913 a radio receiving station was built, followed by licensed, experimental transmitting station 8CO in 1914. According to WSAJ’s website, “After a brief moratorium on amateur radio during World War I, the college returned to the airwaves for experimental and training purposes in January 1920, this time as call-sign 8YV. On the evening of April 26, 1920 under the watchful eye of Dr. Harmon, Weir C. Ketler, president of the college, went on the air and addressed the New Castle Rotary Club nearly 20 miles away.” The WSAJ call letters were assigned to the AM station in 1921 (the station continued over AM until 2006). Today, the school operates FM station WSAJ-FM.

University of Wisconsin

An electrical engineering professor set up a wireless set in 1914, with license 9XM. That license was transferred to the physics department, where experiments continued and the station’s first regular broadcast was a 1916 weather report transmitted telegraphically. Records were played over the air in 1917 by the station in a demonstration and human speech was broadcast clearly in 1919. A regular program schedule began in 1921 and this station is the predecessor to current public radio station WHA, whose call letters were assigned in 1922. More on the Portal Wisconsin website.

New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts

According to New Mexico State University, in 1919, “Ralph Goddard, a founder of the engineering school at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, broadcast the first signals from his hand-built radio station in a small shack on the college campus. It was one of the first radio broadcasts west of the Mississippi, and the first-ever in New Mexico. Over the next few years, KOB could claim several firsts, including one of the first play-by-play broadcasts of a college football game. By the late 1920s, KOB was the largest college radio station in the world, and rightfully boasted of being the ‘voice of the Southwest,’ reaching homes 1,000 miles away.” The call letters KOB were assigned, according to New Mexico State, in 1922 and the station’s first play-by-play also occurred during that year. Although KOB is no longer affiliated with the university, student-run KRUX is on the air today. Read more about the history of radio at New Mexico State University on the KRUX website.

Union College

One of the first licensed college radio stations was WRUC at Union College, which launched in 1920, claiming to be the first.

Clark University

Clark University launched a radio club possibly by 1914 and in 1921 the club broadcast a glee club concert. According to an article in Clark Voices, “In 1921 the club broadcast the first Radio Glee Club Concert in New England. Received in towns surrounding Worcester, the program also included an address by physics professor and club adviser Robert Goddard, A.M. 1910, Ph.D. 1911, on ‘The Significance of Radiophone Development.'” Licenses were issued for a number of stations at Clark in the 1920s, including WCN in 1922 and WCUW in 1925. Today, students operate online radio station ROCU, while community members run the formerly student-run WCUW-FM.

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

In 1922, WCAT launched at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, according to the station’s history page, “In 1922, a handful of energetic Electrical Engineering students established the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology’s very first campus radio station. WCAT, or Wildcat Radio, began operating from the school’s Physical Education building on the commercial AM band. Initially airing mostly news and informational programming, the station’s popularity grew steadily through the 1940’s and 50’s with the inclusion of basketball games and music that was unique and popular for the era. Unfortunately, WCAT’s rich broadcasting history met an abrupt end in 1952 when it was pressured off the air by a competing commercial station.” Following the demise of WCAT-AM, KTEQ-FM launched in 1971, died in the early 2000s and was brought back in 2015.

North Carolina State University

The school’s first radio station, WLAC-AM was on the air from 1922 to 1923 and radio didn’t resume on campus until a carrier current radio station was built in the mid 1940s. WKNC-FM launched in 1966 and continues to broadcast as a student radio station. See more here and visit WKNC’s online history exhibit on its website.

Haverford College

Although not the first, Haverford College definitely had one of the earliest student-built and student-run radio stations in the United States, launching AM station WABQ in 1923. Its powerful signal could be heard in the Philadelphia area until 1927, when it was sold to a commercial radio group. Subsequent campus-only radio stations returned to campus by the early 1940s (WHAV, then WHRC) and an online radio station still exists today.

Dartmouth College

In his book, College Radio Days: 70 Years of Student Broadcasting at Dartmouth College, Tim Brooks outlines the history of radio at Dartmouth. According to Brooks, “Dartmouth ham operators were active as early as 1908, listening in on an early receiver, and by 1914 they had their own transmitter. Their experimental station 1 YB (later W1ET) was operating by 1919, and in 1924-25 the radio club tried its hand at standard AM broadcasting…” This early AM station, WFBK, broadcast a number of events, including football games, the glee club, debates, and other live events.

St. Lawrence University

In Tim Brooks’ account of the history of radio at Dartmouth, he mentions that Dartmouth’s president was concerned about having a student-run radio station in the 1920s. Brooks writes, “He had been tuning in to broadcasts from St. Lawrence University and Rensselaer, and looking into other colleges’ radio activity…” According to the North County Public Radio website, experimental radio station 8SZ was built at St. Lawrence University in 1921 and broadcast station WCAD went on the air in 1922.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Radio broadcasts also began at Rensselaer in the early 1920s. According to the WRPI website, “The history of WRPI begins with WHAZ-AM, the RPI-owned AM radio station that began broadcasting in the early 1920s. In 1924, a group called Campus Review was formed, devoted to broadcasting college-oriented entertainment and radio to the Troy area. Campus Review was initially responsible for programming a half hour of WHAZ’s six-hours-a-week schedule on Monday night.” WHAZ-AM launched in 1922 and was owned by Rensselaer until 1967. It is now owned by a Christian radio network.

If you are interested in radio history, the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force is actively working to find radio archives, including those that document college radio history.

4. What are some of the best college radio stations?

As with anything else, determining which college radio stations are the “best,” is subjective. Various publications and organizations have created lists of the “best” or “most popular” college radio stations and there have also been contests to determine popular college radio stations as well. Although these lists are useful as far as bringing attention to college radio in general, there are plenty of interesting and high quality radio stations that never make these lists.

We regularly cover the Princeton Review’s annual list of the “most popular” college radio stations (which is based on student surveys that ask “how popular” the radio station is on campus), mtvU’s online contest for the College Radio Woodie Award (the contest has changed a bit over the years, but the 2014 winner was determined by online voting), CMJ’s annual college awards (see the 2014 awards here, which were based on nominations by CMJ subscribers and votes by CMJ Music Marathon attendees) as well as awards given by regional broadcasting and media organizations and by national student media organizations, such as IBS (see the 2014 IBS winners here), BEA, and CBI (see the 2014 awards here).

5. Is college radio dying?

No! Don’t believe all of the dramatic headlines. Although college radio has had some set-backs in recent years, it’s alive and well. To get a complete picture of the state of college radio since 2009, take a look at our year-end summary articles:

2014: The Year College Radio Embraced LPFM

2013: A Year of Opportunity for College Radio

2012: A Mixed Bag for College Radio

2011: The Year that College Radio Fought Back

2009: Cash-Strapped Schools Turn Their Backs on College Radio

6. How can I learn more about specific college radio stations?

Our intrepid College Radio Editor regularly visits college radio stations all over the United States (and even a few in Ireland). Here are some of her reports:

10 Fascinating Things Spotted at College Radio Stations in 2014

Photo Tour of Five College Radio Stations Near Boston

Touring College Radio Stations in 2013

Touring College Radio Stations in Atlanta

Bay Area’s Bounty of Independent Radio Offerings (includes list of San Francisco Bay Area college radio stations)

To read more about individual college radio stations, take a look at the Spinning Indie radio station field trip series on both Spinning Indie and on Radio Survivor.

7. How do I learn more about college radio history and how do I go about researching and/or archiving a station’s history?

If you have historical college radio artifacts or recordings, please get in touch as we may want to sign you up as an affiliate for the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force. Here are some additional resources for stations that want to undergo a station history project:

Saving College Radio Symposium Highlights Importance of Archiving Radio History

Archiving College Radio History

Coming Soon…

How do I get on college radio / How do I become a college radio DJ?
How do I get my music on college radio?
How do I get a college radio station for my school?
How do I fight a college radio station sale or takeover?

 

You can search our entire archive of college radio stories here.

 

RADIO SURVIVOR’S LATEST COLLEGE RADIO COVERAGE:

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