WMWC: Forgotten Campus Legacy, 1939-2021

Written by Ryan A. MacMichael ’98, guest author and curator of the current exhibit, WMWC: Forgotten Campus Legacy, 1939-2021

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.” 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 what would eventually become “The Mike Club.” In fact, at the time, Mary Washington was “the only college in the state having a radio studio.”1 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).

It was a few more years before the college’s own station was officially born. A month after the end of World War II, WMWC registered with the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System as “Station WMWC” on October 11, 1945. The station aired “daily dramas, campus news, the concert hour, and the hit tune parade” on 600 AM.2

Students, Betty Sparks and Janet Ryder, stand at a microphone and turntable set-up in the WMWC Studio inside of George Washington Hall. One of the women is wearing headphones.
Betty Sparks and Janet Ryder at the WMWC studio in George Washington Hall, Battlefield, 1948.

Over the next several decades, the radio station aired original programming of interest to the campus and community. In the mid-1950s, the studio moved out of George Washington Hall and into a newly designed, well-appointed new studio in duPont Hall. Campus programming continued to air as well as twice-a-month broadcasts in cooperation with WFVA.

Ten female students sit in the WMWC studio with a microphone mixing board, turntable, and reel-to-reel tape deck. One woman is sitting.
The Mike Club, Battlefield, 1957 Left to right: C. Wohlnick, S. Zabner, S. Epps, I. Phillips, J. Lautenslager, R. Craft, D. Sensabaugh, S. Kates, R. Gaines. Seated: L. Eadie.

As the 1970s approached, however, interest in the studio waned, with fewer Mike Club members as the years went on. In the 1969-70 academic year, the station quietly disappeared for nearly ten years during a “decade of uneasiness.”3 During those intervening years, though, a movement was underway to bring the station back bigger and better than ever. As early as 1973, polls circulated that showed a strong support for the return to airwaves for WMWC. On November 19, 1978, the current incarnation of the station was reborn in Lee Hall on 540 AM, “[transmitting] radio waves directly into the dorms, academic buildings, ACL [Lee Hall], 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.”4 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.

Since 1978, WMWC has persisted and remains as the last student-run organization still bearing a reference to the University’s former name of Mary Washington College. During those 40+ years, the station has moved from AM to “cable FM” to “radiating/leaky cable FM” and, after the move from the “attic” of Lee Hall to Woodard, it has settled as an Internet streaming station. During the ensuing years, programming has included live performances in the station, in-studio interviews with artists as wide ranging as the Indigo Girls and the Pietasters, and of course, plenty of the entertaining banter you can only get from students broadcasting for the first time on college radio.

Musicians the Indigo Girls stand in the CD library of WMWC with six Mary Washington students and one visitor.
The Indigo Girls visit WMWC on October 21, 1997.

I was a DJ at WMWC during the AM-to-cable FM days of the mid 1990s, sometimes spending up to six hours a week at the station spinning music. I had a stint as General Manager in 1997 and count my time at the station as one of the highlights of my years at Mary Washington. I also created the first web site for the radio station, launching it in 1996. No in-depth history of the station had ever been written, so it was then that it became my mission to learn more about the station’s origins and start to preserve as much of its history as possible.

WMWC station in the attic of Lee Hall. Visible is a table with a mixing board, cart machine, tape deck, CD player, and speakers hanging from the ceiling.
WMWC station, Lee Hall, October 1995

This month, working with current station staff, including WMWC’s president James Pryor ‘22 and Vice President Lu Sheikhnureldin ‘22  as well as Simpson Library’s Tammy Hefner, Convergence Gallery Supervisor and Marketing/Outreach Assistant and Carolyn Parsons, Head of Special Collections & University Archives, we’ve launched an exhibit at Simpson Library titled, WMWC: Forgotten Campus Legacy, 1939-2021. The exhibit highlights the history of the oft-overlooked campus radio station and features physical artifacts from the station, including mixers used during the 1980s and ’90s, zines published in the early 1990s, a concert poster, and other equipment dating back to the station’s re-birth in 1978.

Display case at Simpson Library with a label that says "WMWC: 1939-2021." Included in the display are a yearbook, a zine, a large mixing board, a microphone, the Instant Replay cart replacement system, and a poster from a WMWC-sponsored concert of The Connells and The Goodguys from 1989.
The WMWC exhibit at Simpson Library, February 2021

It’s something of a miracle that so many artifacts have remained with the station, even after its move into the area it now inhabits in Woodard. This is a testament to the respect for the station’s history that its members have had, preserving the physical artifacts even though they serve no practical purpose in 2021.

The exhibit at Simpson Library runs through the first week of March. In addition, the station’s web archive has been relaunched at wmwc.org and features photos, a deeper history, and an audio archive of station IDs, interviews, and more. WMWC’s own web site is at wmwc.umw.edu, where you can still tune into the station to hear original programming and prerecorded shows.

Notes

  1. Bullet, October 25, 1940
  2. Battlefield, 1946
  3. Bullet, November 15, 1977
  4. WMWC A Reality! (1978, September 12). Bullet, p. 3

February 19, 2021

5 thoughts on “WMWC: Forgotten Campus Legacy, 1939-2021

  1. Betsy Rohaly Smoot

    Very fond memories of my time as a DJ on WMWC! I may still have tapes of some on-air interviews I did with candidates for class councils/honor court in maybe 1980 or 1981. If I come across them I’ll see if they can be salvages

  2. Denise Hill Ruterbories

    I was a DJ during my sophomore year 78-79 and LOVED every moment of spinning classic rock, ensuring my transitions were smooth from turntable to turntable. Loved every second! Denise Hill, 1977-1981

  3. Scott Harris

    I had a Sunday evening news show on WMWC in 1981-82 that NOBODY listened to. I also followed in the footsteps of Jenifer Blair as news anchor on AVC-TV, the campus television station broadcast from the AV center in the late Chandler Hall. Vince DiBenedetto worked in the center and did occasional commentaries. Good times . . .

  4. David Minor

    I really enjoyed my days at WMWC between ‘81 and ‘85. I had a show with the late Tom Colletta (‘82), which I carried on with Richard Ehrle after Tom graduated. Did some early morning and late evening shows — it was a great part of my MWC experience!

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