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WCBN-FM logo.png
City Ann Arbor, Michigan
Broadcast area [1]
Branding WCBN FM
Slogan Freeing Your Mind For Over 40 Years
Frequency 88.3 MHz
First air date January 23, 1972
(originally carrier current 1952-1972)
Format Freeform
Power 200 watts
HAAT 54 meters
Class A
Facility ID 66316
Transmitter coordinates 42°16′37″N 83°44′7″W / 42.27694°N 83.73528°W / 42.27694; -83.73528
Callsign meaning Campus Broadcasting Network
Former callsigns none
Owner University of Michigan
Webcast [2]
Website wcbn.org

WCBN-FM is the student-run radio station of the University of Michigan. Its format is primarily freeform. It broadcasts at 88.3 MHz FM in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


WCBN is one of the longest-standing continuous practitioners of primarily free-form radio programming. "Freeform" radio format is best described as an approach that allows the individual radio programmer (or DJ) maximum, if not complete, latitude, in determining what is broadcast from moment to moment. In practical terms this may mean that a listener may hear a number of different kinds of music in the course of a single program, often chosen spontaneously during that same program; but a listener might just as easily hear live broadcasts from a field with sounds of crickets, a radio play, poetry, or spontaneous political protest. The AP national newswire covered one such protest in November, 1980 when a DJ on the station began playing Lesley Gore's "It's My Party (and I'll Cry if I Want To)" continuously for hours when President Ronald Reagan was first elected. Other DJs joined in and the protest ended up lasting for a number of days.

WCBN was created in 1952 when three existing carrier current broadcasting systems on campus pooled resources. WCBN-AM college radio could be tuned to in University buildings at 650 kHz. Programming was coordinated between the existing broadcast facilities.

In 1956 WCBN hosted the first meeting of the National Association of College Broadcasters.

Until 1958, South, East and West Quad had separate transmitters, each on a different frequency, as well as one on the Hill, with a loop connecting the three studios. In 1958 John Maurer built a limiter and switching device so that sound was constant and could be switched by any studio to feed all transmitters and was wired by Cliff Vander Yacht. Dave Mills had constructed the Hill transmitter the year before and tested it at National Music Camp during the summer. Some years before, the Federal Communications Commission FCC had allocated the call sign even though the carrier current transmitters were not licensed. (CVY)

In 1965, the WCBN operations were consolidated in the newly completed Student Activities Building.

In early 1971, the U-M Board of Regents approved a proposal to seek a full license for WCBN on the FM band. On January 23, 1972 WCBN-FM went on the air at 89.5 MHz with a 10 watt transmitter. At this time the carrier current station adopted the new callsign WRCN, and programming was divided.

In October 1977, neighboring station WEMU-FM at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan upgraded its studios and changed its FCC broadcast frequency from 88.1 MHz to 89.1 MHz. With WCBN broadcasting at 89.5 MHz, there was a danger of station overlap. Accordingly, WCBN received a stipend from Eastern Michigan University to change its operating frequency to 88.3 MHz, where it remains today.

Beginning in 1980, the station began holding regular annual on-air fundraisers to supplement its University support. The first fundraiser was organized by then-General Manager Ann Rebentisch and lasted for 88.3 hours, with a goal of raising $8830, nearly doubling the station's funding. The event culminated on Valentine's Day with a free concert of local bands for all who had pledged to donate.

WCBN's transmitter was upgraded to 200 watts in 1987, an FCC action that was delayed for several years after some disgruntled former station volunteers filed an extensive complaint letter which turned out to contain mostly erroneous information. The power increase had been deemed necessary after the FCC began threatening to reassign frequency positions of 10-watt Class D (Educational) stations like WCBN.

In addition to on-air studio productions, WCBN also has a rich history of local concert sponsorship, recently hosting performances by Jad Fair, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Mount Eerie, The Books, and Jandek.

Currently, WCBN is in the process of installing a new 3,000 watt transmitter. It is expected to be operational at the end of November, 2013, at which time the station will switch over to the new transmitter and antenna and utilize an extended broadcast range. Nearly all of the money used to pay for the upgrade came from fundraiser donations raised over the previous years.


Lobby of WCBN

While WCBN's programming format is primarily freeform, it also broadcasts specialty programs focusing on specific styles or origins of music including Dance Hall Reggae, Nothin’ but the Blues, the extremely eclectic country program The Down Home Show, the Bluegrass show Bill Monroe for Breakfast, the techno show Crush Collision, and the Hip hop show The Prop Shop. Several of these programs have aired continuously for over 20 years. Sunday programming consists mainly of specialty shows featuring the music of Africa, Asia, India, Israel and the Middle East, Japan, Turkey and the Mediterranean. The weekly, 2 hour Local Music Show features local artists performing live in-studio.

In the past, WCBN has broadcast locally and nationally produced news and issues programming, such as nationally produced FAIR's CounterSpin, and Free Speech Radio News (who has since stopped broadcasting full news segments), as well as Dave Emory's commentary show For the Record. The locally produced LGBT issues program Closets R4 Clothes had aired since 1975. Experimental children's radio program The Show and Tell Machine was started in 2006 by Brendt Rioux, and has since stopped broadcasting.

The WCBN News Department was revitalized beginning in 2004, when a group of students converged to conduct live coverage of the presidential elections. Out of this grew a more long term project called BlackBox Radio,[1] which produced over 50 episodes of its weekly show. BlackBox radio stopped production in 2006.

Currently, WCBN is seeking new sources for nationally produced news programming, but still airs local talk programming such as Interactive Technologies and Grey Matters.

WCBN also features a Sports Department. WCBN Sports covers all Michigan athletics, local and national professional teams, and national and international sporting events. WCBN broadcasts Michigan football, basketball, hockey, baseball, softball, and volleyball. The Sports Department runs a Monday evening show called Extra Points, Daily Sports Reports Tuesday-Thursday, and a Friday evening Game of the Week show that features live athletics and sports talk, trivia, and other novelty segments. In 2009, WCBN was the official voice of University of Michigan volleyball.[2]

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