In November 1939, a new administrative building–George Washington Hall–was built and featured “a large, soundproof major studio with equipment for sound effects, and a control room with monitoring equipment, two turntables, and facilities for recording and transmitting programs.”1 Initially, there was a direct wire that connected the studio with Fredericksburg’s 1260 AM WFVA, which broadcast the college’s programs. The shows were created by the burgeoning radio program at the college and, soon, the Mike Club. In fact, at the time, Mary Washington was “the only college in the state having a radio studio.”2 The pioneering group of women behind the original radio broadcasts took a four-day field trip to New York City in 1940 to witness radio broadcasts as well as shows at Rockefeller Center. (The trip cost them $30). The 1940 Battlefield specifically mentions Personality in Rhythm, the school’s dance orchestra, producing popular radio programs.3
Dr. Alvey’s history of the college notes an interesting technological development in the early 1940s:
The activities of Station WMWC were extended considerably when arrangements were made to broadcast programs directly from the college studio. Mary Washington became one of the first colleges to utilize telephone wires on the campus for transmitting electric impulses that could be picked up by radio receivers on the campus and in nearby homes. The system, developed by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, utilized frequencies that did not interfere with the normal use of telephone lines for conversational purposes. It was mere necessary to tune radios to the frequency of the college station.4
Barely a month after the end of World War II, WMWC registered with the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System as “Station WMWC” on October 11, 1945.5 Shortly after, the “The Mike Club,” which supported the newly founded radio station, was born at the all-women’s Mary Washington College. To get a taste of how things “used to be,” here is the entry from the the first Battlefield yearbook entry for Station WMWC in 1946:
600 on the dial . . . 4:30 on the clock . . . and Mary Washington College is on the air! This year the campus radio station became affiliated with the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, and adopted as its official title Station WMWC. Daily dramas, campus news, the concert hour, and the hit tune parade have become favorites on the Hill. Those who are selected to be on the staff receive valuable training as announcers, actresses, engineers, and script writers — training which will prepare them for jobs in radio.
In 1947, WMWC switched frequencies to 590 AM and by 1955 it was sitting at 120 on the dial.
In the 1955/1956 school year, the studio moved into duPont Hall and started a partnership with Fredericksburg radio station WFVA, broadcasting remotely twice a month.6
As the 1970s approached, however, interest in the studio waned, with fewer Mike Club members as the years went on. In the 1969/70 school year, WMWC and the Mike Club quietly disappeared from campus during a “decade of uneasiness.” During the 1970s, a movement was underway to bring the station back bigger and better than ever. In early 1973, a poll was taken gauging interest in re-launching WMWC and 400 out of 410 respondents expressed approval.7 However, it was another five years before the station’s rebirth came to fruition. On November 19, 1978, the current incarnation of the station was reborn in ACL Hall on 540 AM, “[transmitting] radio waves directly into the dorms, academic buildings, ACL, Mercer Hall, and Seacobeck during the proposed times of 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 12:00.”8 The AM transmission came by way of carrier current, which transmitted to the dorms via phone lines.9 By this point, the college had been co-ed for eight years and, thus, so was the newly re-formed WMWC with a large staff of DJs that included current Associate Vice President & Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker.
By the 1990s, few dorms on campus were receiving the station. As the story goes, rats ate through transmitter boxes in dorms and the antennae WMWC used just wasn’t strong enough.10 There had always been a strong push for a move to FM. In a 1992 issue of the Static zine published by the station, then-Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jenifer Blair noted that “The minute we were on AM carrier current, there was a move to go FM.” Other issues of Static from the early 1990s give updates on attempts to complete this move. This continued until the summer of 1995 when a compromise came in the form of “cable FM,” something investigated as early as 1992.11 During the fall semester of 1995, WMWC began broadcasting as 91.5 caFM. More students could hear the station, but a special attachment (provided for free by the station) was required to hook one’s stereo up to the cable box in each room.
In the fall of 1996, WMWC experimented with live on-air acoustic shows in a series titled Live at the Station featuring exclusively musicians from the college. In the second half of the decade, specialty shows born of partnerships with campus groups like Black men Of a New Direction and the Campus Christian Community aired. It also wasn’t unusual to have regionally or nationally-known artists come up for interviews, including the Indigo Girls, Erin McKeown, and the Jazz Poets Society.
In 1997, WMWC started a long-planned experiment with “radiating cable” (aka “leaky cable”) which allowed people on campus to listen to the station in their dorm rooms without any special attachments. It started with one dorm being connected and slowly spread to cover other dorms.
In the 2002/2003 year, the station became the background audio for the college’s cable station, channel 27. Early attempts at Internet broadcasting were thwarted, but eventually the station began streaming.12
In the Fall of 2006, the station moved out of the “attic” of Lee Hall and into Woodard Campus Center. It remains there to this day and is the only remaining campus organization still bearing “MWC” as part of its name after the college became the University of Mary Washington in 2004.
1History of Mary Washington College 1908-1972, Edward Alvey, Jr., p. 580.
2 Mary Washington College Bullet, October 25, 1940.
3 Mary Washington College Battlefield, p. 179.
4History of Mary Washington College 1908-1972, Edward Alvey, Jr., p. 581.
5 Gas Pipe Networks: A History of College Radio 1936-1946, Louis M Bloch, p. 109.
6Battlefield (Mary Washington College yearbook) 1956, p. 152.
7 Plans Underway for WMWC (1973, February 26). The Bullet, p. 5.
8 WMWC A Reality! (1978, September 12). The Bullet, p. 3.
9Static, November/December 1992, p. 9.
10 This story is not confirmed.
11Static, October 1992, p. 5.
12Battlefield (Mary Washington College yearbook) 2003, p. 249.