|City of license||Lowell, Massachusetts|
|Broadcast area||Massachusetts college|
|Callsign meaning||University of Masssachusetts Lowell|
|Former callsigns||WLTI (1967-1975)
|Owner||University of Massachusetts Lowell|
Radio at UMass Lowell was started in 1952 by a student named Ed Bonacci. Bonacci built a receiver for his dorm room stereo system that actually turned out to be a transmitter.
A studio was built in Kitson hall and the 5-10 watt transmitter located in the basement of the old (Alumni) library. This low power meant the station was not regulated by the FCC, who had issued the callsign. At exactly 7:00 PM on January 15, 1953 WLTI, 550 AM began broadcasting on carrier current over the electrical power wires (not airwaves) to the dorms of the Lowell Textile Institute (now UMass Lowell), specifically to Eames and Smith Hall, and the Alumni Library on the University's North Campus. It was later discovered that some freak conditions allowed a little airwave leakage down the Merrimac but there were no complaints because the locals said they "liked the programming."
The self modulating amplifier was heard a few rooms away, the carrier current transmitter only in three halls, and a few accidental homes nearby, the 10 watt system hardly seemed to be able to get out of Pawtucketville (despite the 5 mile rating), but the changes in 1973 made WLTI a clear signal from Pawtuccketville to Belvidere and to the surrounding towns.
During the summer of 1953 permanent station consoles were built and readied for the move of the studio from Kitson Hall to the basement of Eames Hall which at that time Ed Bonacci remembered, was being used "as a trunk room."
The station funded itself through donations from student government, and by running commercials for local businesses, allowable because they were not regulated by the FCC due to the low power output. WLTI strove to be financially independent at all times.
In the fall of 1963 the station was placed under the control of the AVS (Audio Visual Society) and the Administration became responsible for all station funding, the commercials were abolished and more time could be spent on programming.
On November 26, 1967, at 4:00 PM WLTI became a licensed and regulated FCC educational FM station broadcasting over air on its current frequency at 91.5 FM, using a transmitter (10 watts) and an antenna, which was capable of reaching Cumnock, Southwick, Leitch, and Bourgeois Halls and a five-mile radius from the transmitter and antenna which were both located in Southwick Hall.
In the early 1970s some of the most famous names in of the era spoke and did live shows from the WLTI studios, Frank Zappa, Cheech and Chong, Jorge Santana and Malo, Jethro Tull and many others performed live from the studios.
During these years, and a bit after the general population, the radio station began to reflect the music and ideals of the counterculture, more than the engineering focus of the University. Still student run, it was one of the voices of student dissent during the day, and the large steel station door to the studios under the library were sometimes locked to prevent campus security from disrupting the station during more controversial airings. Yet throughout this period the student managers stressed one thing - professionalism. DJs were taught to keep the door locked, the language clean, and the logs filed accurately.
In 1969 construction began on new facilities in the basement of Lydon Library, which were opened in 1971. The old studios became the Eames hall Laundry. A 10,000 watt transmitter purchased from WNAC in Boston was discovered to be too large to fit in the new facilities built by the administration, so a smaller 1000 watt transmitter was installed.
But before the more powerful transmitter could be used, a highly directional antenna pattern had to be devised to protect the meager 10 watt station (WPAA 91.7 MHz) at Andover Academy. A significant amount of student and paid consultant effort went into revision after revision to the antenna until it was finally certified for operation.
During the 1973-1974 school year the antenna was delicately moved to the roof of the newly opened 18 story dormitory later named Fox Hall.
By 1974 the station had dramatically increased its educational and community service programming, music was still there but as a balanced part of a total package. The station re-invented itself.
But in 1975-1976, an ad-hoc community of the university nearly changed the face of radio. It was proposed that the radio station be overseen by a committee including administrators, faculty, community members, and an at-large student elected by the general student body. The committee would aid in determining policy and programming. The idea was dismissed, and WLTI remained student-run. The most significant changes from around this time, however, were the change of the call letters to WJUL, reflecting the newly merged University of Lowell (1975).
On October 15, 2003, the radio station began broadcasting as WUML, finally reflecting the new name for the university (University of Massachusetts Lowell).
Since its formation in 1952, WUML has grown into a large, self-sufficient organization that continues to be entirely student run. The station's active membership is over 50 students as well as 100 additional alumni and community members.
The policy of the undergraduate student organization that runs the station is to play music in a variety of genres, including artists who are just getting a start and local musicians. One of the longest-running shows on air is "Blues Deluxe", on-air for about 26 years.
The broadcast week includes programming produced by UMass Lowell students and by community hosts who represent the ethnically and linguistically diverse community of Lowell. Among the languages that can be heard are Khmer (the language of Cambodia), Spanish, Portuguese, Laotian, Armenian and French. Non-English-language programming is clustered on weekends and in the hour from 11:00 a.m. to noon Mondays through Fridays. A more updated schedule is found on the station's web site, linked below.
WUML programming is also available online via streaming audio through links provided on its webpage (wuml.org). The streaming audio is conveniently available at various bit rates (for slow and high speed connections) in MP3 and Ogg formats.
Recently, there was a controversial addition to the programming schedule: a morning show "Lowell Sunrise" produced by paid professional staff and managed by the university itself, rather than the undergraduate student organization. Historically, all programming was overseen by students, not university officials. The show itself was meant to have a format somewhere between that of National Public Radio and AM commercial morning drive-time talk shows. The original goal was to provide listeners with local news stories with a focus on activities and events at the university - and possibly prompt better funding opportunities.
The WUML Alumni and Community Broadcasters placed all of their support behind the students rather than the Hogan administration, so the hours for the paid professional show were limited. However, following the failure of talent brought in from a local newspaper, which worked on the show to try and generate interest from local listeners, the university administration took over programming of "Sunrise." Soon afterwards, the broadcast window was cut even further due to personnel/budgeting constraints and on Dec. 19, 2008 the University of Massachusetts Lowell cancelled the show altogether, returning all broadcast hours, budget dollars and station management back to the students.
Much of the controversy surrounded the lack of student input in making these changes, prompting open meetings to be held where students, alumni and staff of UMass Lowell could discuss the changes. No common ground was ever established and the meetings were discontinued - forcing the university to move forward without any student, community or alumni support which set the stage for non-student programming at WUML to fail from the outset. This was not the only mis-step by the university administration as they tried to move WUML from a student run operation however.
A secondary plan to boost community interest was launched by the university in late May 2005. Professional radio host Christopher Lydon was hired to create a new show called Open Source, to air on WUML and be syndicated to some 700 radio stations through Public Radio International. As part of the deal with Mr. Lydon, the The University of Massachusetts Lowell was also expected to build a new radio broadcasting facility so his Open Source program could broadcast from Lowell, MA and it was anticipated that a communications program would be added to the curriculum of the U Mass Lowell, in which Lydon would have been an instructor. Massachusetts State Senator Steven Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, recently noted in an October 16, 2006 Lowell Sun article entitled UML drops Lydon that "I don't think we accomplished either one of those. Without those, the benefit on campus is very limited." Failure of the show to capture an audience with the proper size and demographics necessary for it to be considered successful, resulted in pre-recorded Open Source shows being aired on WUML the day after their original broadcast on PRI so that the more popular student and community broadcast offerings could remain on schedule. On October 16, 2006, it was announced that Chris Lydon's contract would not be renewed in December 2006 and the show would permanently be taken off the airwaves of WUML.
General Manager Nate Osit was also quoted in the October 16, 2006 Lowell Sun article entitled UML drops Lydon as saying "No tears will be shed by students or the community for Chris Lydon."
With the subsequent failure of the Sunrise show to maintain sufficient underwriting and a listener base, WUML Radio, 91.5FM in the Lowell, Massachusetts is once again an entirely student funded and managed operation at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The students have put the recent controversies behind them and have replaced the Sunrise program with one of their own entitled "Morning Drive By".
- Query the FCC's FM station database for WUML
- Radio-Locator information on WUML
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WUML