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WBRU is a commercial radio station in Providence, Rhode Islandmarker that broadcasts on 95.5 FM. It was the first student-owned-and-operated college radio station in the United Statesmarker when it started as the Brown Network at Brown Universitymarker in 1936. Its slogan is "95.5 WBRU, The Original Alt Rock." Its transmitter is located in Providencemarker.



Founded by two freshmen at Brownmarker, David Borst and George Abraham, the first broadcast of the Brown Network was transmitted on November 30, 1936, from George Abraham’s room, who originally conceived of the idea as a way to share his record collection and serve as a personal disk jockey for his friends. By the next year, he had installed wires through the trees on campus, assigning students in Slater, Sayles, Brunonia Hall, Littlefield, Caswell, and Hegeman to act as “section managers” who would receive the signal on their receiver and transmit it to the rest of the dorm. The equipment in his room expanded and he made his roommate move into the smaller of the two rooms in Slater, and Abraham moved his studying to the basement.

The New England Hurricane of 1938 destroyed most of the wires in the trees and Borst and Abraham were forced to move the wires into the steam tunnels beneath the campus. In February 1940, the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System was formed by 13 colleges, and it held its first meeting at Brown.

The '60s and '70s

In 1962, the Brown Broadcasting Service (BBS) was established as a separate entity from the University and in 1965, the BBS was donated a commercial FM license (WPFM) from The Outlet Company, a local department store chain and licensee of Provdence stations WJAR 920 AM and WJAR-TV channel 10 (NBC). BBR was then split into two stations: WBRU-AM and WBRU-FM. WBRU-AM continued to broadcast locally as a carrier-current station (distributed through Brown's electrical system) and operated as the training station for WBRU-FM. In 1997, WBRU-AM split off and became Brown Student Radio (BSR) and started broadcasting on WELH-FM (88.1), a license owned by The Wheeler School. BSR currently broadcasts continuously online at, and from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. on WELH-FM. In 2003, BSR added a community radio element to its mission, incorporating community members as programmers and volunteers alongside students. During the 1970s, WBRU-FM broadcast at 20,000 watts on 95.5 FM and established itself as the principal progressive rock station in Rhode Islandmarker and southern New Englandmarker. Attempts to boost the signal to 50,000 watts with a transmitter on the Sciences Library failed because of the interference it caused to sensitive scientific equipment, but the station was making plans to move its transmitter to the WPRO-FM transmitter location and increase power to 50,000 watts. This cannot be done until 2009 because public TV station WSBE-TV (channel 36)'s analog TV antenna currently occupies the tower space where WBRU plans to put its broadcast antenna. WSBE is locating its digital antenna at the WJAR-TV antenna tower in Rehoboth, MA.

In the '70s, the station switched format to Album-oriented rock.

Switch to alternative format

In 1988, switched its format to modern rock and has remained in that format ever since, although with a lean towards playing newer artists and artists of the indie rock genre.

WBRU was also frequently named one of the best radio stations in the country by numerous trade magazines such as Billboard and Rolling Stone (which named it best radio station in the country in a medium size market three years in a row, the only radio station ever to achieve that).

The station is a huge part of the Providence music scene, and has been instrumental in introducing to the area alternative bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and countless other important bands. It was among the first radio stations in the United Statesmarker to play Ben Folds Five and Talking Heads. Kurt Cobain's last radio interview before his death was on WBRU.

Between April 17 and April 21, 2006, WBRU played their entire music catalog by title from A-Z, starting at 5:30 p.m. with "About a Girl" by Nirvana on the 17th and ending around 11:15 on the 21st with "Zombie" by The Cranberries. The songs ranged from new music (by such bands as Panic! at the Disco and Zox), 80's and 90's pop rarely played by the station (such as Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy") and classic punk (i.e. Sex Pistols and New York Dolls).

On June 15, 2006, the station began streaming live online.

In April and May 2008, the station simulcasted eleven Boston Red Sox games for WEEImarker because the games ran at the same time as Boston Celtics playoff games.

World premieres

In 2006, WBRU was the first U.S. radio station to play "Supermassive Black Hole" by British band Muse and played the Beck single "Cellphone's Dead" before its release until Interscope Records filed a cease and desist order against the station.

In 2007, WBRU premiered the Smashing Pumpkins new single "Tarantula" only 15 minutes after KROQ world premiered it, becoming only the second station in the country to play it and the first to play it twice when they played it a second time immediately afterwards.

In 2008, WBRU was the first station in the country to air "I Will Possess Your Heart" by Death Cab For Cutie, which it did at approximately 1:30 p.m. on March 18, 2008.

In 2009, WBRU was the first station to debut Say Anything's new single "Hate Everyone." The single premiered at approximately 3:30 p.m. on August 17, 2009. The band's lead singer Max Bemis also premiered the song "Crush'd," playing acoustic in studio.


WBRU-FM is one of the few college radio stations that operates on a commercial basis. WBRU receives no funding from Brown University, while still being staffed by Brown students. There are several professional staff members who work with the students, but the station is jointly governed by a body called the Station Membership, which consists only of student members, and a Board of Directors, chiefly made up of station alumni along with the student General Manager.

Programming and formats

Today, WBRU is known for playing alternative rock, hip-hop and jazz music. Jazz is played during the early hours of weekday mornings with the exception of Tuesday mornings which is traditionally blues. Hip-hop, soul, gospel, funk, and other genres related is played all Sunday and branded as The 360 Black Experience. with reggae being played early Monday mornings, and the rest of the time is devoted to alternative rock, with a strong leaning towards indie rock and adult album alternative.

The Sunday 360 Black Experience gained national attention in late 2007 when they interviewed Kanye West's mother Donda in what would be her final interview before her death..

Buddy FM prank

On March 29, 2006, WBRU claimed to be sold to Initech (a reference to the 1999 film Office Space) and changed the format of the station from alternative rock to "Buddy FM" - a variety hits format similar to the Jack format that had emerged at stations around the country . WBRU "signed off" on 4:57PM March 31, 2008, cutting out 10 seconds before the end of what they proclaimed to the final song played by the station, Good Riddance " by Green Day and was replaced by dead air until 5:02PM, switching to "Buddy FM" with "The Sign" by Ace of Base. The hoax was complete with telling radio sweepers done in-studio. Some examples included: "Buddy FM: hits of the '70s '80s '90s and today... and the 1940s... and the 1850s...", and mentions that the station was "fun for the whole family" after which the station played "Me So Horny" by 2 Live Crew. Local network television affiliates WJARmarker and WLNEmarker reported that WBRU had been sold without gaining confirmation about the story.

It was later found out to be an April fools joke (Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel owner Rich Lupo, Motif Magazine, Mighty Mighty Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett, and the Providence band Zox were in on the hoax), and, as of noon on April 1, 2006, WBRU had "regained" control of their radio station and began playing their normal playlist once again. Later that day, they confirmed that they were back to being WBRU, and that Buddy FM was no longer functioning.

This is not the first time that this April Fools joke had been pulled at the station, but it was the first time it had been taken to this extent. Previous April Fools Days featured similar pranks by WBRU DJs, announcing that the station would be switching formats, but the joke was usually only kept up for a couple of hours.

Hear Buddy FM Audio.

Radio schedule

The station runs several different features on the station. Some of them include
  • 12 Cuts Above the Rest - 7:00PM, Fridays. The Top 12 songs on the station as voted by listeners
  • The List, 7:00PM, Monday through Thursday. A themed countdown of songs, such as Top 50 Warped Tour Bands or Top 95 One Hit Wonders.
  • The CD Scramble - 8:00AM. A contest to see if someone can identify a scrambled song.
  • Essential Albums 3:00PM, Monday through Thursday. An essential and important album to alternative rock.
  • Home BRU'd. 12:00 AM, Monday through Wednesdays. Features Six songs by bands from Rhode Islandmarker and the neighboring area.
  • The 95 Minute Retro Lunch. 12:00PM, Monday through Friday. Request hour of alternative rock of the 80's and 90's. Expanded to the five hour "Retro Brunch" on Saturday.
  • 9 o'clock News: 5 songs new to the station, where listeners can call in and vote on their favorite, which gets played again the next night (Monday through Thursday)
  • Three-way: 7:00am, Monday through Friday. Three songs are played and listeners must identify a common link or theme between them.

Timeline of notable events

  • 1936 - First broadcast of the Brown Network
  • 1940 - The newly-formed Intercollegiate Broadcasting System holds its first meeting at Brown
  • 1948 - WJAR-FM signs on (May 10th)
  • 1950 - According to the 1950 Broadcasting Yearbook, WJAR-FM broadcasts at 20 kW
  • 1950s- 95.5Mc. is home to WPFM, a classical music station
  • 1962 - Brown Broadcasting Service (BBS) is established as a corporation independent from Brown Universitymarker
  • 1963 - The first BBS/WBRU constitution is written
  • 1966 - Brown University buys WPFM & signs on WBRU (February 21)
  • 1969 - WBRU is the first progressive rock station in the market
  • 1971 - Attempts to broadcast at 50,000 watts failed due to interference with sensitive scientific equipment
  • 1974 - WBRU is granted tax-exempt status
  • 1975 - First paid professionals are hired
  • 1976 - Station receives first Gold Record for airplay of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
  • 1979 - WBRU moves its studio from Faunce House to 88 Benevolent Street, its current location
  • 1981 - (October) Competitor WHJYmarker signs on
  • 1982 - Due to low ratings, WBRU abandons its free-form format and hires the consulting firm of Burkhart, Abrams, Michaels, Douglas to institute a tight playlist of approved songs that "test well" with the station's intended demographic.
  • 1984 - Elvis Costello stops by with a box of records and plays DJ for an hour
  • 1988 - WBRU adopts a modern-rock format, called "The Cutting Edge of Rock"
  • 1992 - Student station members reverse a decision which would turn WBRU into an NPR affiliate
  • 1993 - WBRU wins first place in the Rolling Stone Readers' Poll for best medium-sized market
  • 1994 - WBRU wins first place again in the Rolling Stone Readers' Poll
  • 1995 - (June) WDGE signs on and becomes a direct competitor with WBRU
  • 1995 - WBRU wins first place again in the Rolling Stone Readers' Poll
  • 1999 - WDGE officially signs off (due to WBRU's dominance in the market) and is replaced by WHKK
  • 1999 - Station members vote unanimously against a joint sales agreement with Capstar Broadcasting Company
  • 2000 - WFNX, a Bostonmarker station, extends into Providence to compete with WBRU
  • 2002 - Competitor WKKB signs on in Middletown, RI
  • 2004 - WFNX signs off in Providence
  • 2004 - WKKB becomes a Spanish station
  • 2006 - As a three-day April Fools' Day hoax, WBRU pretends to be bought-out by "Initech" who change the station's format to "Buddy FM"
  • 2006 - On June 15, WBRU begins to stream live on the web
  • 2006 - The station plays its entire catalog from A-Z
  • 2007 - As its annual April Fools' Joke, the station was stuck in a time warp - 1995; and all music played was recorded before the date.
  • 2008 - Station plays its entire catalog from A-Z again.
  • 2008 - Red Sox games air live on WBRU when WEEI broadcasts Boston Celtics playoff games instead

Concert Promotion

WBRU Annual Rock Hunt

Every year, the radio station holds a battle of the bands, the WBRU Annual Rock Hunt, which begin around 1980 and was held every year until 1998, and was revived in 2001.

Past Winners of the WBRU Annual Rock Hunt

  • 1980 The DC Tenz
  • 1981: The Mundanes (featuring band member John Linnell, later of They Might Be Giants)
  • 1982: The Schemers
  • 1983: Critical Few
  • 1984: MX
  • 1985: The Dames (featuring band member Gail Greenwood, later of Belly and L7)
  • 1986: unknown
  • 1987: Coat of Arms
  • 1988: That'll Learn Ya
  • 1989: Bop Harvey
  • 1990: Superbug
  • 1991: unknown
  • 1992: The Phobics
  • 1993: Angry Salad
  • 1994: John Monopoly
  • 1995: Blairs Carriage
  • 1996: unknown
  • 1997: unknown
  • 1998: The L.U.V.'s
  • 1999: no competition
  • 2000: no competition
  • 2001: M-80
  • 2002: Monty Are I
  • 2003: Zox
  • 2004: The Lingo
  • 2005: Sasquatch & The Sick-A-Billys
  • 2006: The Sleazies
  • 2007: Triangle Forest
  • 2008: It Was The Best Of Times
  • 2009: Fairhaven

WBRU Summer Concert Series

Every summer the station puts on the WBRU concert series. The shows usually feature a popular band and a few local acts opening up. Initially, there were about 10 shows per year which were free to the public and paid for by sponsor booths, but in recent years the station has started charging for these concerts and has reduced the number of shows to 3 per year. Past concert series include:

WBRU Birthday Bash

The station also has their Birthday Bash concerts in November to celebrate the stations anniversary. In 2007, the Birthday Bash was split from one concert to multiple concerts throughout November. Previously, the only time it was split was in 2001 where two concerts were held. Past Birthday bashes include :

News department

WBRU also has a full news department, with sports news and entertainment news divisions. For 2007 they won the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Associated Press awards in the college division for Best Web Site, Best Investigative Reporting, Best Breaking News, Best Feature Reporting, Best Continuing Coverage, Best Sports Program, and Best Use of Sound, and the award for News Station of the Year..

Notable alumni

WBRU staff members have gone on to excel in a variety of areas. They include:


  1. Mitchell, Martha. (2003). " WBRU." Encyclopedia Brunoniana.
  2. Schwartzapfel, Beth. (January/February 2006). " Radio Heads." Brown Alumni Magazine.


  5. Associated Press announces broadcast awards for 2007 -
  6. AR2006120700580.html

External links

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