The first known radio activities at William & Mary occurred in the spring of 1956, when a group of students, using equipment purchased in their own financial initiative, broadcast a weak signal from the Chapman House. Although many students and some faculty were behind the effort, this early initiative failed due to lack of administrative backing, according to a letter to the editor by former WCWM Program Director Fred Schaffer (class of 1957) that was published in the Flat Hat, the William & Mary newspaper, on March 10, 1959.
WCWM officially began operations in September, 1959, after two years of political process aimed at procuring funding and administrative approval, and another year to complete construction and obtain a broadcast license from the Federal Communications Commission. The station was originally licensed to operate at 89.1 megahertz with an effective radiated power of ten watts. The original operating schedule was daily from 4:55PM to 10:30PM. Programming featured news and mostly classical music.
WCWM has historically relied on a steady supply of student volunteers. During 1975 and 1976, WCWM upgraded its studios and transmitter to stereophonic operation and increased its effective radiated power to 1,600 watts, according to former student John Keimig (class of 1978), who worked in the station's engineering department during that time. The whole process of procuring and installing facility equipment and submitting the necessary applications to the Federal Communications Commission was handled by student volunteers who then held leadership positions at the station. The college provided funding and administrative support. Programming in those years typically ran from 7:00 AM to 3:00 AM, with continuous operation when volunteer staff were available to fill the "graveyard" shift.
Since then, the station has grown to a 13,500 watt signal, operating continuously on 90.9 megahertz. The station continues to draw a majority of its talent and personnel from the William & Mary student body.