A Piece of UConn History/WHUS Radio
November 1, 1999
n the October 24, 1939, issue of the Connecticut Campus, there is an article that signals the future of radio broadcasting. It was a development that would change radio, yet it would not be used on campus for nearly 20 years.
The Campus story is about a special program to be broadcast on WDRC, the nation's first FM radio station. FM had been developed in 1925, and it intrigued Daniel E. Noble, a Naugatuck native who attended Connecticut Agricultural College, as the University of Connecticut was once called. It was Noble who, as a student, designed and built the college's first radio station, WABL, in 1922.
Noble, later an instructor in engineering, also designed and supervised the construction of the WDRC-FM station on Meriden Mountain, and developed a statewide FM two-way radio system for the Connecticut State Police. The item in the Campus reported that Noble was giving a demonstration of "his new development" on WDRC.
The station Noble built on campus in 1922 was a 100-watt AM station. One of the first college stations in the nation, it signed on the air just two years after the first commercial radio stations began in the United States. The studio for WABL - there is no record of what WABL stands for - was on the top floor of the Mechanic Arts Building, which now houses Institutional Research, near the Storrs Congregational Church. Two 103-foot steel towers were the station's antennae.
The early broadcast schedule was one hour three times a week, beginning at 7:15 p.m., and included weather reports, agricultural news and information for farmers, collegiate sports scores, and musical concerts on campus.
When the power supply was increased from 100 to 500 watts in 1925, the station changed its call letters to WCAC, for Connecticut Agricultural College, and the first basketball game (versus Trinity) was broadcast live. By 1931, the station was broadcasting eight hours per week. But sometime in the mid-1930s, the station license was sold.
For a while, the only broadcast facility on campus was a short-wave station. In the aftermath of the September 1938 hurricane, which caused widespread damage throughout southern New England, it was this shortwave station that students jerry-rigged to get messages to Hartford area newspapers and students' families.
In April 1940, students were back on the air with a low-powered AM station, known as the "Husky Network," offering one hour and 15 minutes of programming three times a week from a studio in the Community House of the Storrs Congregational Church. But the station was short-lived, disbanded nearly two years later as the United States entered World War II and its equipment dispersed for use in the war effort.
A student radio station was revived in the fall of 1946, again called the "Husky Network," and broadcasting at 640 AM began early in 1947. A student contest selected new call letters: WHUS, short for HUSky Network. The studio was in the basement of Koons Hall, until the station moved to its present home in the newly constructed Student Union Building in 1952.
It was in 1952 that the station began conducting an annual "Musical Marathon" as part of the Campus Community Carnival - a week-long university-wide event held each spring to raise money for charity. Disc jockeys at WHUS spun favorite records for listeners who pledged dollars for their favorite cause. In the 1960s and early 1970s, when there wasn't a pending pledged-for song, the station played a particularly obnoxious record over and over until the next caller came through with a pledge and a new record request.
The WHUS Marathon was discontinued in the late 1970s, as was the Campus Community Carnival.
The station went off the air from 1954 to 1956, owing to technical difficulties in complying with Federal Communications Commission restrictions on signal strength. But broadcasts continued - heard only in the Student Union - three to five days per week from noon to 6 p.m.
Broadcasting on the FM side of the radio band began around 1956, with a 10-watt transmitter at 90.5 FM. The station moved to 91.7 in the 1960s, and there was a power increase in 1968 to 1,250 watts. The station went to 3,200 watts in 1974, and stereo broadcasting came in 1977.
Until the late 1960s, broadcasts on the AM band were dominant - playing music, sports and news that reached the students. But FM, with enhancements by Dan Noble and others, began to grow in usage and popularity, owing to its "static-free" signal.
Then FM took over - it was the place to be for aspiring DJs and for the burgeoning album-oriented record industry. Separate broadcasts continued on an AM carrier system that reached into dormitories and buildings on the Storrs campus only and was used only for training new staff. The carrier system was abandoned in the late 1970s, when all energies were put into the FM system.
Since it began, WHUS has carried classical programming, and jazz has had a continuous run on the air since the early 1970s. One of the oldest continuously running programs on WHUS-FM is the Sunday night folk music show. The weekend program dates from the late 1960s, and had a succession of student hosts until Susan Forbes Hanson, a teacher from Hartford, took over the show in 1979.
There is also a devoted audience for another long-running weekend program, the Polka show. Polka listeners are among the most vocal and supportive when the station holds its annual fund-raising radiothon.
For the near future, says John Murphy, WHUS General Manager, the station is planning to overhaul its aging equipment, making a major change to digital audio. That change comes as plans are progressing through UConn 2000 to remodel the Student Union Building.
Recently, the station replaced the 1960s 212-foot broadcast tower with a 330-foot antenna that extends its service area by about 30 percent. Located behind the North Campus residence hall complex, the new antenna will also be a boon to the state police, other area emergency services, students and others.
Mark J. Roy
(Sources: Connecticut Campus, October 24, 1939; biographical sketch of Daniel Noble by Winthrop E. Hilding, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering, 1995. Unpublished manuscript, Evan Hill, 1980.