The Boston Radio Dial: WBUR-FM

Who, What, Where

Community: Boston
Frequency: 90.9 MHz
Class: B
Ownership: The Executive Committee of Trustees of the Boston University
Studio: 890 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215-1205
Transmitter: ATC Newton (FM-128)
1165 Chestnut St.
Newton, MA 02464-1308
Phones:
Receptionist +1 617 353 0909
Pledge & merchandise 800 909 9287
Format: Public radio: news and information
Networks: National Public Radio
Public Radio International

Technical Parameters

WBUR-FM transmits from the FM-128 tower, using a directional antenna side-mounted at the top of the actual tower, below the master antenna used by other stations at the site. WBUR-FM uses 7200 watts from 1000 feet above average terrain. Two earlier transmitter sites can still be seen as well; one atop the old studio site in the College of Communications building at 630 Commonwealth Avenue, and a later tower atop the Boston University School of Law across the street.

WBUR-FM transmits a digital signal using iBiquity Digital Corp.'s “HD Radio” system.

Station History

WBUR began its broadcast career on March 1, 1950, one of many small noncommercial FMs appearing at colleges, universities, and even high schools in the years after World War II. WBUR's first home was at 84 Exeter Street in downtown Boston, with a 400-watt transmitter operating from the top of the building.

Throughout the next few decades, WBUR was a typical college station, operating with a staff of students and community volunteers. In the late fifties, the station moved from downtown to the new BU campus along Commonwealth Avenue, taking up residence on the top floor of the College of Communications building, a space it would occupy for nearly forty years.

By the early seventies, WBUR was becoming increasingly professional, with enough full-time staff to qualify for CPB funding. The station's schedule remained varied, though, with all kinds of music represented, along with quirky talk shows like Tom and Ray Magliozzi's auto-repair program, which of course would later go national as “Car Talk”.

Jane Christo became WBUR's general manager in 1979. In the years that followed, WBUR became a more straightforward public-radio station, with an emphasis on news and talk. In 1981, Tony Cennamo's mornig jazz program was replaced by Morning Edition. Later, “Talk of the Nation” and other NPR talk offerings replaced most of the daytime classical music.

By the mid-nineties, the last of WBUR's English-language music programs (James Isaacs' weekend shows and Cennamo's jazz show, by then relegated to overnights) were gone, supplanted by a variety of public-radio talk and news programming, including WBUR's own offerings to the nation. The last vestige of the “old days” remaining on WBUR's air was, and is, the Saturday night “Con Salsa” show.

With a move to new state-of-the-art studios at 890 Commonwealth Avenue in 1996, WBUR was able to originate “The Connection”, a daily talk show with Christopher Lydon, and “Hear and Now”, a noon-hour news program, both offered to public radio stations regionally and nationwide.

WBUR was also engaged in its own regional expansion in the nineties. In 1992, WBUR began simulcasting on WCCT-FM (90.3 Harwich) when that station was not being programmed by Cape Cod Technical College. The next year, WSDH (91.5 Sandwich) at Sandwich High School and WKKL (90.7 West Barnstable) at Cape Cod Community College joined the simulcast.

In 1997, WBUR found a new spot on the AM dial on Cape Cod, with the donation of WUOK (1240 West Yarmouth) by Boch Broadcasting. On March 17, 1997, WBUR(FM) became WBUR-FM and WUOK became WBUR(AM). With the AM station serving WBUR's needs in Hyannis, nearby WKKL left the network. The next year, WBUR acquired WRCP (1290 Providence), turning the station into Rhode Island's first local public radio outlet as WRNI. Service to southern Rhode Island followed on January 1, 1999, when WERI (1230 Westerly) became WXNI, a simulcast of WRNI.

Lost in the transition, of course, was a student voice for Boston University, an omission rectified by carrier-current WTBU. After decades of operation at 640 kHz, WTBU added a low-power FM signal at 89.3 in the late nineties. When WBUR moved to its new studios in 1996, WTBU was able to move out of its old facility in a basement on Bay State Road and into the former WBUR location at 630 Commonwealth Avenue.

In 2004, the station became embroiled in a controversy surrounding the possible sale of the Rhode Island stations, which led to investigations by the Attorneys-General of both states and ultimately to the departure of general manager Christo. The B.U. board has expressed a desire to reintegrate the station into the university, after many years as a quasi-independent operation under Christo.

In 2006, longtime WCVB general manager Paul LaCamera was hired to run WBUR. While presiding over some cuts to WBUR's budget and national programming (including the cancellation of “The Connection”, by then hosted by former CBC host Dick Gordon, who moved on to create a new talk show at WUNC in North Carolina), LaCamera also promised the restoration of stability at the troubled broadcaster.

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This station profile was written by the editors of The Archives @ BostonRadio.org. We have no relationship with the station; please send any comments or questions about their programming directly to the station. Network connectivity courtesy of MIT CSAIL.

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