In the spring of 1948, radio waves rose out of the Cullowhee valley for the first time ever. Today they reach farther than any other radio station in western North Carolina.
The year prior, three students had approached Carl Killian and William Harrill wishing to build a radio station. Building a radio station from the ground up is no easy feat. It requires expertise, a vast array of equipment, and substantial financial backing. This never troubled the students, however. They began work with an allotment of just $25.
Using military surplus audio equipment and epic ingenuity, they would realize their goal just months later. The station, broadcast at 550 WCCA, provided Jackson County residents with their first-ever local broadcasting.
Seventy-five years later, WCU’s student-run radio station continues to fill the skies of western North Carolina with music, news, sports, and everything in between. Though the call number and location have changed, the station still provides the same programming that listeners have counted on for so many years.
95.3 WWCU FM held a 75th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Oct. 28. Alumni returned for a reunion where they told stories and recalled fond memories of working at the station. The station held an open house during that time, where doors were opened to the public.
WWCU FM celebrates its storied history, but also looks toward the future. Numerous improvements have been made in the last few years allowing the station to navigate the complexities of the digital age.
Station advisor and professor of communication Donald Connelly explains that as the entire radio landscape changes, so must WWCU.
“Virtually every piece of analog equipment in the station from the control boards to the remote broadcast equipment is being replaced with current digital equipment…This is all new to everybody,” Connelly said.
“This is like going from flying a DC-3 in the 1950s to flying a stealth bomber– it’s that big of a jump… If you were here in the 1980s, if you walked into our digital control room today, you’re not going to understand anything that’s there,” he said.
Connelly says the station improvements will provide higher quality programming while also giving students the opportunity to learn on the most up-to-date equipment. The new equipment that students will use daily can be found in some of the biggest radio markets in the United States.
“Now, you’ll see the same equipment in our studio as you’ll find in stations in California or Florida,” Connelly said.
For more than 20 years, Connelly has provided valuable knowledge and resources to students. “I was hired in 1999. They asked me if I wanted to join the radio station as an advisor… I said sure– and I never looked back.”
The station has evolved from a small club to a professional laboratory where students can learn about the industry. “We’ve gone from serving the Sylva–Webster–Waynesville area to serving north through Cherokee, to southern Tennessee, south through Franklin and into north Georgia,” Connelly said.
Early this year the station returned to the air after a two-year hiatus. “Covid threw everybody for a loop. We have all our equipment in, it’s a matter of getting it all installed at this point. It takes time,” Connelly said.
The station is still in the process of installing equipment and is not yet open to all students. Connelly expects it to be fully operational by the spring semester.