Prior to the existence of the Campus Broadcasting Network, the University owned and operated an FM station, WUOM, also known as Michigan Radio. However, this station was not (and still is not) an outlet for students. It was up to interested students to create their own broadcasting outlet, so they formed radio clubs in the basements of their dormitories.
In 1947, a friend of Fred Remley received an FM transmitter as a Christmas present. They set it up in his dorm room in East Quadrangle, and by 1950 there were independently operating studios in East Quadrangle, South Quadrangle, and West Quadrangle, each with their own programming. These studios utilized carrier current broadcasting by sending their signal through the electrical system in its building and could not be heard beyond the building they originated in. In 1952, a switching system was developed to combine these separate studios and allow the individual dormitories to hear and contribute to one broadcast. The Campus Broadcasting Network was born as WCBN-AM 650
The popularity of the Network grew rapidly. With programming aimed toward the student body, the station became a major outlet for student interests since only students could hear it. According to a Michigan Daily Freshman Issue from 1960, WCBN-AM did regular broadcasts of Michigan football, basketball, and hockey games; band, glee club, and orchestra concerts; and various other campus events. In addition, all of WUOM’s programming was available for WCBN to broadcast.
The carrier current broadcasting system was brought into other University buildings, including women’s dormitories and the President’s residence. As the years progressed, carrier current loops were installed into private residences, including the Inter-Cooperative Council’s building on North Campus. CBN’s studios remained scattered across campus until the creation of the new Student Activities Building in 1957 which became the new, unified location. The Network began to take advertising from both local and national businesses to fund equipment purchases and other station expenses.
On November 30, 1970, WCBN put forth a proposal to the Office of Student Services Policy Board asking for support and funding to broadcast on FM in addition to carrier current AM. In February of 1971, the Board of Regents approved the proposal for a 10-watt WCBN-FM, and construction began.
WCBN-FM went on the air for the first time on January 23, 1972, broadcasting at 10 watts in stereo on 89.5FM. The carrier current station’s call letters were changed to WRCN in 1973 and kept in operation. WRCN adopted a “60’s Gold” format, and emulated commercial radio in every manner, from the “slickness” of the on-air personalities to the scheduled commercial breaks. 1974 marked the first year WCBN stayed on the air during the summer months.
The years spent on 89.5FM marked tremendous growth for WCBN. With a larger range of listeners, community involvement became an integral part of the Network’s aesthetic.
In 1977, WCBN was forced to move to 88.3. This new frequency happened to be the lowest frequency, which made for a variety of new slogans to associate this physical leftness with liberalism and free-thinking free-form radio.
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 $8,830, 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.