Celebrating 57 Years of WMBR!

On the 10th of April in 1961, a tiny radio station with call letters WTBS signed on the air for the first time from the campus of MIT, with a 10-watt FM signal at 88.1 MHz. 57 years later, that station is now called WMBR, broadcasting with a 720-watt signal and entirely supported by volunteers and listeners.

We’re incredibly grateful to have had the support of so many wonderful people throughout all these years. Thanks for sticking around and supporting our college radio shenanigans! This post details a bit of WMBR history for anyone interested in reading about WMBR’s humble beginnings.

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Photo by Karina, host of Mare Nubium.

Here’s a snapshot of how WTBS began, written by WMBR Historian Shawn Mamros and available in full on the Boston Radio Dial –

WMBR traces its roots back to an MIT campus-only carrier-current AM station which called itself WMIT. It first signed on November 25, 1946, broadcasting from the basement of the Ware dormitory (now part of the Senior House dormitory) on 800 kHz (later 640 kHz). The station was entirely run and staffed by MIT students; even the equipment (including the transmitters) was built by electrical engineering students at MIT. Initially, the station only aired three evenings a week, programming classical and popular music, but programming eventually expanded across the week as more students joined the station’s staff. Commercials were aired on the carrier-current station, which was soon able to support itself solely on advertising revenue.

In the mid-1950’s, the station began exploring the possibility of obtaining an FCC licensed AM or FM commercial frequency in order to bring its programming to the fraternities located across the river in Boston, as well as faculty and staff located throughout the greater Boston area. It was soon discovered that the call letters WMIT were licensed to a station in North Carolina, so station management reluctantly chose WTBS (“Technology Broadcasting System”) as a second-best choice of call letters in 1956. It also turned out that all commercial frequency allocations in the Boston area at that time were taken, so the last available non-commercial FM frequency, 88.1 MHz, was chosen. The WTBS Foundation, Inc., was incorporated on March 10, 1959 as a corporation separate from (but related to) MIT which would hold the station’s FCC license. New studio facilities were constructed in the basement of Walker Memorial, and the station moved to its new location in November of 1960. The station’s technical staff constructed new equipment for the new studios, including the MK-60 console, believed to be one of the first all-transistorized radio consoles ever built. (Another larger all-transistorized board, the MK-62, joined the MK-60 a couple years later.) An FM transmitter and antenna were installed on the roof of the three-story Walker Memorial Building, sharing a tower with the MIT Radio Society (which still uses it today). Finally, on April 10, 1961, WTBS-FM signed on with a 10-watt monaural FM signal at 88.1 MHz.

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