The radio station we now know as WECI (FM) began in the 1950s as an unlicensed AM station whose signal was transmitted on the electrical wiring of campus buildings (“carrier current”) and could not be received off-campus. Students built the studios and much of the equipment in the basement of Bundy Hall. The station used the call letters WVOE (“Voice of Earlham”).
In 1963, a group of students decided to apply for a Class D (10 watt) FM license, which was granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on August 5, 1964. It turned out that the WVOE call sign already belonged to a licensed station in Chadburne, North Carolina. The call letters of the new FM station became WECI.
With a power of 10 watts, the WECI signal covered the west side of Richmond and downtown, but little else. The station operated only at night and on weekends. But when the term “public radio” came into use in 1967 by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (later to become NPR), WECI seized the opportunity to brand itself “Richmond’s Public Radio,” which it has maintained ever since.
In 1969, WECI moved to new studios in the basement of Runyan Center. Unlike the Bundy basement studios, this facility was professionally designed and soundproofed. WECI remains there today.
In 1983, WECI applied for and was granted a power increase to 300 watts, with a tower and antenna located on the east side of what then was called Trueblood Fieldhouse (now part of the Athletics and Wellness Center). With the increased power came a requirement to increase operating hours. WECI has operated 24/7 ever since.
Construction of the Athletics and Wellness Center and a new electrical power substation forced the station’s tower to be moved. In 1993, the FCC granted a permit to increase power to 400 watts and move the antenna and tower to its current location on Abington Pike.
Except for a brief period in the 1980s, WECI has always been managed by students. Extensive participation by community volunteers began in the 1980s and continues to the present. WECI has always presented a mix of music and public affairs programs unavailable elsewhere.
Students are involved with WECI in a variety of ways, from producing and broadcasting their own radio programs to managing the station.
Through WECI, students have the opportunity to learn, hands on, how a public radio station functions, including the technical aspects of running an FM station, public radio non-profit underwriting, federal licensing, producing local news and information programming, use of broadcast software, and experience working directly with musical artists and distributors. Along with radio-specific experience, students gain experience in management, budgeting and collaboration.