WBGU (88.1 FM) is a non-commercial, college radio station located on the campus of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. The station is commonly shown in print as WBGU FM. WBGU is a student run radio station that focuses on independent, underground, and under-represented music.
Broadcasting at 1,000 watts, and via webcast, WBGU offers people in Ohio’s Black Swamp region the opportunity to hear music which is an alternative to the format offerings of commercial radio stations in the region. Music played on the station’s college radio format includes Indie rock, Jazz, Hip hop, Electronic, World, Folk, Metal, Punk, Industrial, Goth, Experimental, Blues, Country, Latin, and Turntablism.
WBGU 88.1 FM’s roots go back to December 1947. That year a group of enterprising students set up a P.A. system connected by telephone to New York where an engineer and two announcers “broadcast” the Bowling Green vs. City College of New York basketball game to all interested listeners willing to spend 15 cents to hear it. The popularity of this system, along with the birth of closed circuit radio on many campuses around the country, led the University to establish its own wired-wireless. At 5pm on January 14, 1948 WRSM went on the “air” for three hours at 600 kHz. The station’s signal was carried into campus buildings via the heating and power tunnel system, by wire received through the War Assets Administration. The station was registered with the FCC and was affiliated with the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System.
WRSM was first housed in a classroom of the old Administration Building. The operation and maintenance of the station was conducted by radio broadcasting classes and student volunteers. Its programming was diverse and included music, news (handled by a press club), short plays, interviews and sports. In March 1948 the station added an amplifier and increased its coverage to fraternity row. Popular demand encouraged the addition of weekend programming. By the end of the summer the station had received recognition from the surrounding community as well as from record companies who added WRSM to their distribution list.
In July 1950 WRSM moved to a studio and office space under the main auditorium in University Hall. The station was able to broadcast live concerts simply by running a cable and microphone up and out of the orchestra pit. In 1951 the University applied to the FCC for a construction permit. The application was approved in May of that year, and the station became a 10 watt FM at 88.1 MHz. The call letters were changed to WBGU, and a new era of broadcasting was born in Bowling Green.
South Hall opened in 1959; with the opening came new studios for WBGU as well as a power increase to 1350 watts. In the late 1960’s the station’s undergraduates were replaced by three fulltime employees and two graduate assistants. In December 1969 WBGU’s sister station WFAL signed on as an alternate source of experience for undergraduates beginning in 1970 when the college officially accepted a pirate radio signal run by a student’s dorm room. The result of the new staff arrangement at WBGU was an era of professionalism that helped raise the prominence of the station in the community. From 1970 to 1975 the station enjoyed the position of being the only station to receive funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in northwest Ohio. Except for a few university stations in southern Michigan, WBGU was the only public broadcasting station available to area listeners. In 1975 Bowling Green State University released WBGU’s affiliation with National Public Radio (NPR) to WGTE-FM in Toledo. The three full-time employees were dropped, a faculty member became the station manager, and undergraduates were again relied upon to donate their services in return for broadcast experience. A student was appointed as an assistant General Manager.
In September 1983, WBGU was still broadcasting from their studio in South Hall. Power output was 1350 watts, although this figure is questionable. From speaking with Alumni of WBGU and WFAL, different figures have been given for our power output during the early 1980’s; 800 watts and 300 watts were the figures cited. What this means is that WBGU most likely decreased in power output at some point during the 1980’s, although when, how, and why remain unclear. University sources speculate that the station was not utilizing their transmitter effectively enough, or new transmitter equipment was limited to a certain wattage. At this time the transmitter itself was located on the fourth floor of South Hall, and the antenna was on the top of the Administration Building (as it is today).
In the spring semester of 1985, at midnight the Friday before final exams, WBGU signed off for the last time at the South Hall studio. The last record to be played that night was “See Me, Feel Me” by The Who. The station would remain off the air for the duration of the summer as facilities were moved to West Hall, which is where the station is located today. WBGU began broadcasting from the new West Hall location at 7:30am the first day of classes of the 1985 fall semester. A new transmitter was installed in the Administration Building. The radio station has been broadcasting at 1000 watts ever since. Also for the first time, the station was broadcasting in stereo. The first record played on the air at the West Hall studio was “On The Air” by Peter Gabriel.
The first CD player in the WBGU studio was installed in the fall of 1987. Up until 1997, the station continued to use reel-to-reel tape machines and cart machines to broadcast announcements (PSAs, Station IDs, etc.) In 1997, WBGU was one of the first stations in the area to go “digital.” From 1997 through 2001, WBGU utilized this initial, very basic and somewhat crude software to play announcements. In 2001, WBGU switched over to the broadcast software, QuicPix. On Labor Day, 2006, WBGU made the latest transition to OMT iMediaTouch v2.6. Prior to QuicPix and iMediaTouch, the station had been unable to broadcast content without a live DJ in the studio. At the end of the broadcast day (at the first vacant time-slot), a sign-off announcement was played and the transmitter was then shut down. At the beginning of the broadcast day (when the next live DJ came in), the transmitter was turned back on, and a sign-on announcement was played. Switching to the new broadcast software (QuicPix and then iMediaTouch) allowed WBGU to provide “automated” programming during those times that a live DJ was not available. The station now broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
During the 2000–2001 school year, WBGU was approached by NibbleBox, a college radio station internet broadcasting company, and for the first time ever, WBGU broadcast online. On the NibbleBox network, WBGU was one of the highest rated radio stations, with several of its radio programs awarded feature spotlights. Webcasting with NibbleBox lasted over a year, until the company went bankrupt and liquidated all of its assets. A semester later, however, WBGU was webcasting once again through SHOUTcast. Today, WBGU’s webcast audio stream is hosted by WBGU-TV.
In January 2003, a new digital audio console (the broadcast board) was installed. Over the summer of 2005, the WBGU studio, Randy Room, Production Room, and Lobby were remodeled, re-wired, and updated to reflect the more modern technological and aesthetic needs. During Labor Day, 2006, two new Stanton Magnetics ST150 turntables and a new Tascam X-9 mixer were installed, replacing two Technics SL-1200mk2 turntables and a Pioneer Corporation DJM-707. In addition, a new Comrex STAC digital phone was installed, allowing up to 6 callers and an easier method to put listeners on the air.
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