Kelvin Smith Library
WRUW 91.1 is the campus radio station of Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). WRUW is non-profit, commercial-free, all volunteer staffed, and operates 24/7/365. Though a student radio station, numerous community volunteers and alumni are involved, giving WRUW a continuity not found at most college stations. This exhibit will explore the origins and operations of your college radio station, WRUW.
In the early 1940s students from Flora Stone Mather (FSM) College for Women started a radio enthusiast club in the basement of the Mather Memorial building. By 1946 the ladies of FSM were broadcasting as WFSM and the young men from Adelbert College were eager to join this popular student activity. The student radio station was an important source of information and entertainment for the campus.
In 1956 the call letters switched to WRAR 590 on the AM (Amplitude Modulation) dial. A Cleveland Press article from February 11, 1955 described the programing on WRAR as ‘dreamy, Dixie and Bop tunes maneuvered by student disc jockeys.’ The broadcast was piped directly into the dorms; transmitting via closed circuit. This method did not, and currently does not, require Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensing. However, WRAR could broadcast remotely from different places on campus with a mobile unit made up as a robot named ‘Blinky.’
With the changes brought by CWRU’s federation in 1967, it was deemed financially feasible to switch the radio station to the FM (Frequency Modulation) format. At this time FM was becoming the preferred method of radio broadcast. On February 20th, 1967 the FCC approved the University’s use of the call signal WRUW at 91.5 MHz, with first broadcast on February 26, 1967. Almost 1/3 of the programming was devoted to talk and public affairs, as stated in the 1967 application to the FCC. The music genres reflected the conservative tone of the campus; symphonic, jazz, and show tunes. Less than 14% of the programing featured popular genres of the era like R&B and rock. In fact, the September 1968 issue of Esquire proclaimed CWRU as one of the most conservative campuses in the U.S.
Response to this culture of traditionalism is the spirt of WRUW and propelled the station’s growth and greater ubiquity into the 1970s. An Observer article from February 20th 1987 celebrating WRUW’s 20th anniversary and history declared the WRUW staff in the 1970s as ‘the radicals of the University.’ In 1971 the broadcast schedule was extended 7am-2am Monday-Thursday and continuously Friday-Sunday. By 1974 the broadcast switched from mono to stereo. In 1977 the station’s tagline became ‘WRUW- Your Spectrum of Sound.’ The programming truly was a broad spectrum of musical genres: blues, reggae, pop, world, country, and new emerging genres into the 1980s; like punk, rap, metal, EDM, and hip hop. Importantly, the disc jockeys had full creative programing control and still do.
In 1981 WRUW began to broadcast 24/7 and the transmission power was increased to 1,000 watts, permitting over a 30 mile audience radius. WRUW traditions like ‘Studio-A-Rama,’ a festival of live music, and ‘Live From Cleveland,’ where live local bands preform on air, began in the early 1980s. By 1983 WRUW received an Arbitron rating of market share. This directly correlated set lists from WRUW to music sales. Record labels, mostly indie, representing the musicians played on WRUW noted sales at least 10% higher in the Cleveland market compared with other and often larger media markets. WRUW remains the premier region wide college radio station and is recognized nationally as an influential taste maker.
The 1980s and 1990s were truly the golden age of college radio. Before the predominance of internet based media and streaming, college radio was the place to discover the new, the avant-garde, and a way to revisit the once over looked. By the 1990s mainstream broadcasting, though always commercial, was rapidly redeveloping to a far more corporate and controlled model of programing. Different genres of music were no longer broadcast together and disc jockeys lost control over programming choices. College radio was the antithesis of this; WRUW’s tagline became ‘WRUW-The Sound Alternative.’
In the over 50 years operating as WRUW, the station has acquired a library featuring 100,000+ albums and 45s and 100,000+ CDs. In 2002 WRUW increased its broadcasting capacity to 15,000 watts, permitting WRUW to be heard in parts of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ontario. Additionally, WRUW can be listened to worldwide through live webcasting and through an on-demand archive of shows.
In the 21st century independent college radio matters more than ever. Over 90% of Americans of all demographics listen to traditional AMFM broadcast radio. Most of this programing is delivered by commercial stations that are controlled by a monopoly of media conglomerates with mandated and derivative playlists. In an article from April 9th, 2004 The Observer interviewed Ron Cass, WRUW public relations director at the time, he stated, ‘WRUW offers access to music commercial radio stations won’t play in combinations they won’t play.’ WRUW prides itself on presenting a diverse range of music not found on commercial radio stations. Each disc jockey (the modern term is programmer) is free to choose the content of their own radio show. In the 21st century WRUW’s official motto has evolved to ‘More Music, Fewer Hits.’ Here’s to more music and fewer hits for another 50 plus years!