Last Tuesday, Bowdoin’s student-run radio station, WBOR, reached a major milestone: 30,000 days—just over 82 years—on the air. Although much has changed in the decades since its inception, love for radio on campus remains strong with around 200 student DJs and fierce competition for show times each semester.
With the support of then-President Kenneth C. M. Sills, Bowdoin made its first official radio broadcast on December 4, 1941 at the WGAN station in Portland. Following the success of the program, which included a performance by the Meddiebempsters, WBOR’s predecessor BOTA (Bowdoin On The Air) began taking steps to install an AM radio station on campus.
Mason Daugherty ’25, one of WBOR’s station managers, reflected on what has changed in the radio world since the station’s first broadcast.
“The world is a very, very different place [than it was] 30,000 days ago. I think radio then carried far greater importance, arguably, than it does now,” Daugherty said. “Despite the fact that the way we consume music and spoken content—like podcasts, for example—has changed, I still think there’s an intrinsic value to free-form, community-organized student-led radio.”
Over the last 80 years, WBOR has helped broadcast some of the most important events in Bowdoin history, putting the voices of some of the nation’s most important activists and musicians on the air in Maine.
“In the ’60s, we recorded a Pete Seeger concert on campus … that was really an astounding thing at the time because [he] was at the peak of his career and a known communist, with Bowdoin being a somewhat conservative, all-male New England school,” Daugherty said. “Then a few years later, we recorded Martin Luther King when he came to Brunswick.”
But the station’s history has also included its share of gaffes, gimmicks and stunts.
Nathan Zietlow ’87, a student DJ and former WBOR station manager, remembered trying to convince bands visiting campus to record promos for the station.
“Erik [Jorgenson ’87] went over to see [The Ramones] while they were doing sound check or something like that and got them to record a promo, and he took a case of what must have been Budweiser as an offering,” Zietlow wrote in an email to the Orient.
“There’s these kind of goofy and radical things scattered throughout [our history]. There was a time in the ’80s when a DJ spent his entire day in the Coles Tower elevator and broadcasted interviews with people as they got in the elevator,” Daugherty said.
Mike Halmo and Bill Audette, two Brunswick community DJs who’ve been involved with the station since the early 2000s and have dealt with generations of students, underscored their appreciation for WBOR.
“It’s a station that’s important not only to the campus but to the [local] community,” Audette said.
“We’ve had great student managers,” Halmo said. “I’ve been impressed in the last couple of years with the job they’ve done of getting the word out about the station, because now everybody wants a show—it’s fantastic.”
But they both remembered some challenging moments in WBOR history—such as when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) almost shut the station down in 2006.
“It was a cumulative thing. I think there was some inappropriate stuff said on the radio…and they weren’t keeping records. So the FCC came in to do their inspection and said ‘There’s nothing here,’” Halmo said.
“That was big time. I mean, the alumni came to bat and called in [favors] with senators and representatives and said ‘Hey, you can’t [shut WBOR down],’” Audette added.
From the start, WBOR has relied on key contributions—from students, local DJs and alumni alike—to keep the station on air and make it through difficult moments.
“For example, there’s one student who spent his winter break here in the 1950s—he’s responsible for the FM license we’re still using today,” Daugherty said.
Last spring, an alum from the Class of 1972 made a donation that allowed for a complete rewiring and technological upgrade of the station that led to a vast improvement in sound quality.
Although recent investments have strengthened the station, WBOR faces an impending move in the coming years from its beloved location in Dudley Coe basement. The current iteration of the campus master plan calls for Dudley Coe’s demolition next year.
“I think what draws most people [to WBOR] is the space itself,” Megan Stretch ’24, a student DJ and member of WBOR management, said. “But I do think we’re gonna do our best to carry on as much as we can. We’ll encourage students to keep writing on the walls and keep adding touches to make the [new] space their own.”
Looking forward, Daugherty and Stretch both expressed hope that the new WBOR space would create the same kind of comfortable and creative atmosphere that the current location has.
“We want to encourage people to stay open-minded,” Daugherty said. “And we want to attract the kind of people [to WBOR] who are ready and willing to make wherever we move just as much of a home as the current station is.”