WUOM Records

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WUOM Records

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger WUOM record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the records, please consult the online finding aid.

Researchers may also be interested in the Michigan Radio (University of Michigan) Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

University of Michigan radio station, founded 1948; Michigan Radio is a service of Michigan Public Media, the public broadcasting company at the University of Michigan. Michigan Radio broadcasts in Ann Arbor/Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Flint; all stations of Michigan Radio are licensed to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Collection includes sound recordings digitized from original analog materials held by the Bentley Historical Library.

Radio broadcasting at the University of Michigan began in 1923 when students in the Department of Electrical Engineering set up a homemade broadcasting station in the West Engineering Building. On January 14, 1924 a federal license was issued, authorizing the university to operate station WCBC on 1,070 kilocycles, with 200 watts of power for unlimited time. However, the equipment was experimental and proved inefficient for more than periodic transmission. Consequently, the department submitted to the regents a request for $20,000 to build a more professional station, and a yearly appropriation of $3000 to maintain it. However, the regents, believing that the university's broadcasting program could be carried out with less expense through the cooperation of a commercial station which had an established audience, refused the request. As a result, when the station's license expired in June 1925, no application for renewal was filed, and the station's privilege was canceled in October.

Lack of administrative support for funding did not mean lack of support for radio broadcasting. In the same year that WCBC's license was allowed to lapse, the regents established the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service (UMBS) and appointed Waldo Abbot, then instructor in rhetoric in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, as director of the Broadcasting Service, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1957. During the 1925-26 academic year arrangements were made with Detroit radio station WJR for the regular broadcasting of programs originating on the campus, chiefly talks presented by faculty and musical programs by School of Music students and organizations.

The first of these "Michigan Night" programs featured University President Clarence Cook Little, who, in his remarks set forth the broadcasting mission of the university: "to give to the former students, alumni and alumnae, a few reminders of the spirit of the campus [and] to give to the citizens of the State entertainment and a brief opportunity to become acquainted with certain of the policies which are shaping the efforts [of the university] to serve the State as wisely and as widely as we can." [1]

In 1933 UMBS became a unit of the Extension Division. Though Abbot continued as director of the Broadcasting Service, he was transferred from the Department of English Language and Literature to the Department of Speech and General Linguistics, in which he instituted courses in radio speech, dramatics, and writing. These were "hands-on" courses that provided students with both "on-air" and "behind-the-scenes" broadcasting experience. The functions of the Broadcasting Service were increased to include class instruction, the recording of speech for students and for faculty research, and the making of recordings to be used by University of Michigan alumni clubs.[2] Radio programming throughout the 1930s and 1940s would consist of music instruction, art and vocational guidance to schools, and a host of adult programs featuring the academic and cultural resources of the university.

One of the first educational institutions to recognize the potential in FM broadcasting--a technological marvel first demonstrated at the 1939 New York World's Fair--the University of Michigan applied for authorization to build a non-commercial frequency modulation station in 1943. Although the FCC granted the permit in 1944, construction was delayed until after World War II, and it wasn't until July 1, 1948 that station WUOM made its debut. Since 1928 UMBS had operated out of a small studio located in Morris Hall. When Morris Hall was torn down to make room for a new administration building (now the Literature, Science and Arts Building) in 1945, UMBS moved into temporary quarters in Angell Hall, while awaiting construction of a "state of the art" facility that was to dominate the fifth floor of the new building.

When it first went on the air in 1948, WUOM offered a daily broadcast schedule of forty to fifty hours per week, with scheduled programming from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Then, as now, the largest percentage of this programming consisted of music: faculty chamber music recitals, regular rehearsals of the University Choir and the Symphony Orchestra, an "informal program of music appreciation" hosted by Wiley Hitchcock, and recorded classical music. But the new station did not abandon its commitment to sharing the university's cultural and academic resources; rather, it also offered a fairly diverse schedule of radio plays performed, and often written, by the Radio Guild and students in the Department of Speech, a children's story program, foreign language programs, and talks by university faculty.

By 1949, when WUOM finally moved into its new studios, Waldo Abbot could boast that "at the present [the station is] on the air fifty-five hours a week, devoting fifty percent of its time to transcribed and recorded musical programs. Eleven percent [is] live music presented by faculty, students, and organizations connected with the University's School of Music. Ten percent [is] programs in which students participate, such as dramatic programs, round tables, campus news, etc. Sixteen percent [are] presented by members of the university faculties, either in talks, round tables, interviews, or quiz programs. Six percent is devoted to sports and seven percent to public service programs from off-campus sources."[3] That fall, WUOM introduced "Treasures Off the Shelf," an original dramatic series based upon manuscript materials in the university's Clements Library. This series, the first of many such series WUOM would produce over the next twenty years, not only proved popular with listeners, but received a First Award from the Institute for Education by Radio.

Prior to 1950 the focus of WUOM programming had been on adult education and enrichment. That fall, however, the station inaugurated the Radio Classroom, through which it offered the university's academic and cultural resources to school systems throughout the state of Michigan. The first--and longest running--of the Radio Classroom series was "Festival of Song," a program of music instruction and singing lessons designed to enhance the classroom experience of every child. Though the series was first limited to schools in Washtenaw County, response was so positive that by 1952 Radio Classroom series were being carried, either via direct relay or distributed programming, by sixteen stations state-wide, including the Upper Peninsula. When WUOM celebrated its tenth anniversary on July 5, 1958, President Harlan H. Hatcher enthusiastically cited the station's efforts to "extend the important educational resources of the University to an ever-increasing audience ranging from pre-school youngsters to senior adult citizens... Through the maintenance of professional standards and the recognition of radio as serious art, educational broadcasters have made an important contribution to modern methods of communication. We are confident that the next decade will see the leadership of educational broadcasting extended, and the service of the University's own WUOM to the people of the State of Michigan enriched and expanded."[4]

The next decade did indeed see an extension of both leadership and service by WUOM, as well as significant changes in how that service was carried out. In 1961 WUOM received FCC permission to construct an FM station in West Michigan, in order to relay WUOM programming to the metropolitan areas of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Muskegon. WVGR began broadcasting on December 2 of that same year. Though WUOM had always been closely affiliated with the National Association of Educational Broadcasting and its affiliate, National Educational Radio, the 1960s saw an increase in staff involvement. Particularly significant is the role played by station manager Edgar Burrows whose tenure as NAEB chairman encompassed the critical Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, as well as the controversy concerning copyright law revision, and NAEB's 1967 reorganizational study.

Though still responsive to its listeners' preferences for classical music programming, and still committed to its long-standing policy of extending the University's academic and cultural resources to the people of the State of Michigan, in 1960 the station began to increase its emphasis on news reporting and analysis, as well as on broadcasting more of the issues-oriented public lectures and panel discussions held on campus. By 1969 WUOM felt that local, national, and international events were requiring them to spend more time "interpreting the proper role of the University to the general public, explaining and analyzing the nature of internal conflicts in the light of national and international events, and bringing to the University community itself as balanced and detailed a reporting of events on and off campus as possible."[5] Consequently, long-time musical program favorites like The Record Collector, Afternoon Musicale, and Music of the Masters increasingly shared the broadcast schedule with protest rallies, teach-ins and sit-ins, and special sessions of the University Senate.

Subsequent decades have brought even more changes to WUOM--new network affiliation, rapidly changing technologies, budget uncertainties, personnel and leadership turnovers--all of which have, in some way, influenced station operation and programming. Nevertheless the station remains faithful to the mission established in the 1940s by the University Executive Committee on Radio, to "interpret and report to its audience the various activities of the University with emphasis upon education, research, and training with the intent to develop a broader knowledge, a fuller understanding and deeper appreciation of the humanities, of the sciences, and of social, economic, and civic problems [as well as offering] entertainment consistent with the policies and practices of an institution of higher learning."[6]

1--Radio Programs Given at the University of Michigan During the Year 1925-1926, Printed Materials, box 34, WUOM, Bentley Historical Library (BHL).
2--"A Report on Radio Broadcasting at the University of Michigan", 1943, Annual and miscellaneous reports, 1933-1945, box 32.
3--"WUOM of the University of Michigan," Collins Radio Company, Cedar Rapids, Iowa [1949?], Printed Materials, box 32.
4--WUOM Program Schedule, October 1958, Printed Materials, box 32.
5--University of Michigan Broadcasting Service - Radio WUOM/WVGR Annual Report, 1968-70, Printed Materials, box 32.
6--University of Michigan Broadcasting Service - Radio Station WUOM [By-laws], Executive Committee on Radio, 1947-1948, box 2.

Please note:

Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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