Some form of WBCR-FM has been in existence since 1907. That year, Professor Dr. Culver began experimenting with radio. Since Beloit was one of the first stations in the nation, Dr. Culver felt that Beloit’s radio program could be of some use during the First World War and he created a radio corps based in Beloit. The unit had 76 members and over half were either Beloit students or alumni.
After WWI, the second form of WBCR came into being. In 1923 WEBW went on the air on the fourth floor of Pearsons. Although it is not the first college radio station, it humanized the art of radio and it ran five nights a week for about an hour each night. This early radio had a wide range of listenership and reached listeners as far away as New York, Arkansas and Kansas. However, the frequency was too loud for local listeners and they were not able to tune in. The following year they had their first music broadcast. In 1928, the FCC asked WEBW to be shut down due to lack of community interest. Due to the Great Depression and WWII, radio lay dormant at Beloit College until the 1940s.
In 1947 a new form was resurrected—WBNB. It only lasted a year until December 14th, 1948 when WBCR aired its “inaugural program” which included speeches and a performance from the “Eight Notes and Keys.” In the beginning, WBCR broadcasted on AM frequency. Aside from a new radio station, 1948 also brought the inauguration of the student director board, which gave the majority of the power to the students. The next year WBCR’s call letters had to be changed to WBWR-AM due to another station with the same call letters.
The next decade was relatively uneventful in WBCR’s history. Lack of student interest and funds plagued the station. The 1950s also focused more on music entertainment. In 1952, WBCR began contacting record labels and we acquired our first record from Capitol Records. In 1956 the station was “revitalized” and went back on the air full-time with the call letters WBCR-AM. Carl Balson, often described as the “heart and soul of the station” became its advisor in 1957.
By the 1960s, things were looking up for the station. In 1960, WBCR broadcasted its first away basketball game—against Knox College. The following year WBCR-AM became the largest student organization. With the advent of the Beloit Plan in 1964, summer broadcasting began in 1965.
In 1966, WBCR began broadcasting in both AM and FM frequencies. This caused a rift of sorts between the stations. AM continued to provide more “conservative” broadcasting and was largely lead by the Sigma Pi Fraternity (Often referred to the WBCR Frat), while FM provided more underground and free-format playlists.
During the 1970s the format slowly shifted towards free format. In 1971, the first attempt was made at a 24/7 broadcasting schedule. The attempt was short lived and soon cut back to 19 hours. The following year saw the introduction of playlists and music directors. During this time the station gained a reputation of playing albums often not heard in the Midwest. WBCR was the first station in the Midwest to play and acquire The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, radio stations from Madison and Chicago were clamoring to buy it (the station still has the record). 1973 brought WBCR to the basement of Haven, where they had persistent problems with album theft and water damage. That summer, the station welcomed its first female station manager Peggy Robinson. In 1974 the station shut down its AM operations due to lack of interest and relied completely on FM’s free-format. This lasted until 1979 when station manager Jeff Geer mandated stricter programming.
Over the following years, after Geer graduated, the station slowly shifted back to free format. In 1985 WBCR moved yet again, this time to its current and original home on the fourth floor of Pearsons. That summer, it also brought back summer programming—the first one since 1978 and it has been running ever since.
Since then, the station has moved to its current frequency at 90.3 FM and still has many of the problems that previous generations have endured—budgetary, lack of space and student interest and infrequent run-ins with the FCC. In 1991 the station acquired its beloved 360 machine, which met its unfortunate demise in 2010.
If you are an alum and would like to tell your WBCR story please don’t hesitate to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information taken from Ethereal Messages: A History of Beloit College Radio 1907-94 Researched and written by Dave de Anguera '91, edited by Frederick Burwell.