WDAV signed on in 1973 as a student-run college radio station, taking over from a carrier current station that had been on the air since 1969. The format included jazz, rock music and educational programs. In 1978, it was upgraded to a full-service professional operation. However, student volunteers quit because they did not want the station to go all classical, and it took three months to return to the air. WDAV became "Your station for the arts" and played mostly classical music.
In 1985, WDAV made plans to increase its signal from 20,000 to 100,000 watts using a directional antenna to prevent interference with WEPR. The station was also moving from a small space in the college's union building to a new building. The power boost, approved in August 1988 and completed in mid-1989, would increase the listening area from 1702 to 2402 square miles, with as many as 850,755 listeners. On October 1, 1988, WDAV began broadcasting 24 hours a day. That same month, the station became an affiliate of American Public Radio, with Radio Kronos and High Performance with André Previn.
On April 19, 1995, WDAV moved from a 350-foot tower two miles south of Cornelius to an 815-foot one in Huntersville, improving its signal in some areas and increasing its signal range to 22 counties. Also in 1995, WDAV ended Metropolitan Opera broadcasts because they had to be live and WDAV felt not enough listeners liked opera.
In July 2003, WDAV added the NPR program World of Opera.
Lightning damage in August 2012 resulted in a reduced signal for WDAV after the station had to switch to its old tower temporarily. The signal was back to normal in June 2013.