In 1996, Telecommunication and Film professor Keith Barze wrote an informal history of radio stations at the University of Alabama:
One of these days, I will try to find one or more of the histories I had written many moons ago, about the early days of UA Radio. Basically, just as there are two stations now, there were two stations back yonder, also.
BRN (Bama Radio Network) was started around 1940, plus or minus, and could be heard for several blocks around the old Union (Phifer) building…until some pseudo-engineer sneakily stuck an antenna on the little low power transmitter …and low and behold, the signal could be heard about half way to Birmingham! …Until the FCC Inspector came and took off the antenna…and slapped a few wrists. But BRN persisted… and stayed on for more years.
Around 1946 or 47, plus or minus, war-surplus twisted-pair cables designed for the battlefield were purchased, and strung all around the campus and two ancillary areas. Three 10-watt AM transmitters were purchased and put in the three areas on 550, 560, and 570 KHz … so they would not give interfering heterodynes where the signals overlapped.
The twisted pair was run from the transmitter to poles on the street, and jumpers were tacked on that ran into the top floor of each house it passed (fraternity, sorority, dorms, etc.) and hooked to the steam heating system which circulated the signal throughout the house.
The call letters WABP were chosen …by someone (I was still in the Army at the time) …and I’m not sure what, if anything, they were supposed to stand for …. (Maybe Alabama Broadcasting Program?) Who knows? Anyhow, it gave many students good practice … selling, too!
Now, I digress. In 1949, through the existing Radio Broadcast Services in Continuing Ed (which had been producing radio dramas, etc., for many years) headed at that time by Graydon Ausmus, the Univ. put on the SECOND FM non-commercial radio station in the nation. (Missed being #1 to a Texas station by about a month!) Anyway, that station was WUOA-FM. It had a three element (donut rings) antenna on top of an approx. 200 ft. self-supporting tower, which was located where the present tower is, and used a 3,000 watt transmitter, which with that antenna put out a 17,000 watt ERP signal (Effective Radiated Power, that is) . (Note: at that time, WBRC-TV was on Ch. 4, so there were no problems …until later when BRC switched to Ch. 6! but that’s another story.
And then one day around 1967, plus or minus, lightning hit the antenna, causing it to short out partially during rainy weather…which forced them to run the station at low power. Graydon went to the Cont. Ed. Dean and tried to get $ for a new antenna …. “Either the station is a good idea and you HAVE to find $ for a new antenna, or if it isn’t a good idea, then why don’t you just shut it down…. ” Well, the Dean jumped up and down and shouted, “Great, I can use that budget $ over here …. ”
And so it came to pass, WUOA went silent. (Bert Bank asked for permission to take the call letters for his FM station….etc.)
Meanwhile, WABP kept plowing along. And then the FCC came out with the 10 watt FM station that did not require an arm and a leg, and could be operated any hours or days you felt like, etc., and [department chair] Knox Hagood decided this would be better, even though they would not be able to sell spots … so he applied…. and in 1970, WUAL came on the air, taking the place of WABP. (As you are aware, we finally were able to get $ from sponsors even on the noncommercial station.)
Then, in 1974, I came back to campus, and immediately started working on [UA president] David Matthews, et al, for a new full power (100,000 watt) FM station for UA. Luckily, David was a big fan of mine–he liked my editorials–so I wound up riding in the limo with him on many occasions and was able to fill him full of why we should have the FM and our own TV station–having earlier given away ch. 7!
Of course, it really helped having Roger Sayers, too, as he is heavily oriented toward the media. Anyhow, we were making good headway on the FM…not so much on the TV…and [School of Communication Dean] Bill Melson came on board in 1976. This was the first thing we went round and round about. We wound up with him stating in no uncertain terms: “We’ll have FM radio here over my dead body!”
Thank goodness, he was not able to kill it, but had to go along with it…until 1981, when it was all set and about ready to go, and he took it over and said I wouldn’t have to work on it anymore …etc., but that too is another story.
Suffice it to say, when it came time to start the actual applications to the FCC, etc., we found that the FCC would now let you do a 100 watt station the same way you could a 10 watt. The 10 watter was on 91.7 [FM] and the only frequency left that would support a 100,000 watt station was 91.5. So, we had to move the 10 watter.
The FCC will not let you file two applications where one of them is contingent on the other… in other words, we couldn’t raise the power to 100 watts and change frequency …and apply for a new 100,000 on that frequency at the same time. So, we applied for a power increase and a freq. change on the 10 watter, and applied for a new 100 watter on 90.7. This way, we could go ahead and get our grants and get the FCC applications filed at the same time, etc.
Originally, we had planned to switch the call letters WUAL to the new 100 watter, and select new ones for the new 100,000 but, we couldn’t find any at that time that satisfied everyone except the WUAL call! So, we hunted for new call letters for the student station…and finally wound up with WVUA.
I think it was in 1980 or 81 we put WVUA on the air… and took off WUAL … which finally made it back on the air as a 100,000 watter in Jan. 1982.