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WBRU is a commercial modern rock radio station in Providence, Rhode Island that broadcasts on 95.5 FM. Its transmitter is located in Providence. The station is owned and operated by Brown Broadcasting Services, an independent non-profit organization, and is primarily staffed by students from Brown University.[1]

WBRULogo - StandardColoredForLightBG.png
City Providence, Rhode Island
Broadcast area Southern New England
Slogan Your Alternative
Frequency 95.5 MHz/Channel 238
First air date Frequency: May 10, 1948 (as WJAR-FM/95.5)
Format Alternative rock, Jazz, Hip hop
ERP 18,500 watts
HAAT 139 meters
Class B
Facility ID 7313
Callsign meaning BRown University
Former callsigns WJAR-FM (original 1948 callsign), WPFM (circa 1958)
Owner Brown Broadcasting Service, Inc.
Webcast WBRU Webstream




WBRU traces its origin to "The Brown Network", a low-power carrier current station that broadcast at 570 kHz on the AM band, and whose signal was limited to the Brown campus. (At this time, the two National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio networks were known as the "Red Network" and the "Blue Network".) This first-ever carrier current station[2] was established 1936 by George Abraham[3] and David W. Borst.[4] Abraham had originally installed an intercom system between his and Borst's dormitory rooms. The intercom links were first expanded to additional locations, and then replaced by distributed low-powered radio transmitters, which fed their signals into various buildings' electrical wires, allowing nearby radio receivers to receive the transmissions.[5] Abraham 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 in order to connect to a number of buildings, assigning students in individual dormitories to act as "section managers" who would receive the signal and retransmit it throughout the rest of their building. After being recognized as an extra-curricular activity, The Brown Network was assigned a studio and control room located in the Faunce House student union building.

The New England Hurricane of 1938 destroyed most of the distribution wires, and Borst and Abraham were forced to move the wires into the steam tunnels beneath the campus. On November 3, 1939, David Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corporation of America (whose son attended Brown) made a broadcast over The Brown Network. On February 17-18, 1940 an organizing convention for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) was held at Brown, attended by representatives from twelve colleges with existing or proposed carrier current stations. Abraham was elected the IBS Chairman, and Borst the Technical Manager. IBS's role was defined as a medium for the exchange of ideas and programs, in addition to working to attract national advertising contracts for the member stations. The first IBS intercollegiate broadcasts began on May 9, 1940, with a five-part series that was carried by stations located throughout New England at Brown, Harvard, Williams, and Wesleyan universities, in addition to the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island.[6]

The '60s and '70sEdit

In 1962, the Brown Broadcasting Service (BBS) was established as a separate entity from the University and in 1965, the BBS purchased a commercial FM license (WPFM) from a company that was "bankrupt".[7] BBS 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. By the mid-'60s WBRU was considered an alternative station in that much of the music was folk and rock. Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Joan Baez had a home on this station and were not yet on mainstream radio. After 1966 much of the music format was not mainstream. The station was considered an "Underground Rock Music Station" similar to Boston's WBCN. It was home to Frank Zappa, The Fugs, Pearls Before Swine and other alternative rock groups not played on mainstream radio. Phil Ochs, Country Joe & the Fish and other anti-Vietnam War musicians received many hours of playing time at this station.

During the 1970s, WBRU broadcast at 20,000 watts on 95.5 FM and established itself as the principal progressive rock (aka, album-oriented rock or AOR) station in Rhode Island and southern New England. 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 could not be done until 2009 because public TV station WSBE-TV'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 antenna tower in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Switch to alternative formatEdit

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

logo used from the early 2000s until late 2009

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 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.[citation needed] It was among the first radio stations in the United States 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), 1980s and 1990s 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.

WBRU aired its first voicetracked break at 5:17 PM on November 15, 2010, during the Afternoon BRU with Corey and Cato.

World premieresEdit

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-FM 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.[8]

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.[9]

In 2013, WBRU was the first station to play Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" as reported by Billboard Magazine.[10]

Brown Student Radio (BSR)Edit

In 1997, WBRU's carrier-current AM station split off and became Brown Student Radio (BSR), broadcasting initially on WELH/88.1, under a license owned by The Wheeler School and online [1]. In 2003, BSR added a community radio element to its mission, incorporating community members as programmers and volunteers alongside students. In August 2011 BSR lost their air time on WELH and became an internet-only station.[11] In January 2015, BSR was granted an FCC license for an LPFM station WPVD-LP on 101.1FM in Providence, in conjunction with Providence Community Radio and AS220.[12]


88 Benevolent St., the building from which WBRU broadcasts and is headquartered

WBRU is operated and run on a commercial basis. Its current Program Director is Wendell Clough, who has been at the station for over a decade and is known by the on-air name "Wendell Gee", after the R.E.M. song of the same name.[13] Its General Sales Manager is Jim Corwin, the former Vice President/Market Manager of Clear Channel Communications.

In March 2017, the station's board of directors passed a resolution to begin seeking a buyer for the station, after 60 years of being owned and operated by the independent non-profit Brown Broadcasting Services organization.[1] The resolution does not guarantee that the station would be sold. Several alumni of the station have opposed the resolution.[1]

Programming and formatsEdit

Today, WBRU is known for playing alternative rock and hip-hop based programming with crossover artists on both formats (such as Lorde, Cee-Lo Green and Cypress Hill). The station's regular alternative format usually plays rap and urban contemporary on Sundays.

Buddy FM prankEdit

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.[14] WBRU "signed off" on 4:57PM March 31, 2006, cutting out 10 seconds before the end of what they proclaimed to the final song played by the station, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" 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 WJAR and WLNE-TV reported that WBRU had been sold without gaining confirmation about the story.

It was later found out to be an April fools joke, 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.

Timeline of notable eventsEdit

  • 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 10)
  • 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 University
  • 1963 - The first BBS/WBRU constitution is written
  • 1966 - Brown Broadcasting buys 95.5 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 WHJY 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 Boston station, extends into Providence to compete with WBRU
  • 2002 - WZRI becomes rock WKKB
  • 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
  • 2017 - Station board of directors passes a resolution to consider selling the station.

Concert PromotionEdit

WBRU Annual Rock HuntEdit

The radio station holds a battle of the bands, the WBRU Annual Rock Hunt, which began around 1980 and was held most years since:

Past Winners of the WBRU Annual Rock HuntEdit

  • 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: no competition
  • 1985: MX [15]
  • 1986: The Dames[15] (featuring band member Gail Greenwood, later of Belly and L7)
  • 1987: Coat of Arms
  • 1988: That'll Learn Ya
  • 1989: Bop Harvey
  • 1990: Jungle Dogs
  • 1991: Superbug
  • 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 and the Sick-A-Billys
  • 2006: The Sleazies
  • 2007: Triangle Forest
  • 2008: It Was The Best Of Times
  • 2009: Fairhaven
  • 2010: The Wandas
  • 2011: VulGarrity
  • 2012: Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes
  • 2013: Torn Shorts
  • 2014: The Rare Occasions
  • 2015: Public Alley
  • 2016: Le Roxy Pro
  • 2017: Call Security

WBRU Summer Concert SeriesEdit

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. In 2010, the station resumed free single artist Summer Concert Series concerts in addition to the multiple band for-pay concerts. Past concert series [16] include:

WBRU Birthday BashEdit

The station also has their Birthday Bash concerts in November to celebrate the station's anniversary. From 2007 to 2010, 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:[27]

News departmentEdit

WBRU 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.[35]

Notable alumniEdit

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.


  1. ^ a b c Smith, Andy. "WBRU radio station may be going up for sale soon". Retrieved 16 March 2017. 
  2. ^ Carrier current transmissions had been used since the late 1910s for electrical companies to transmit telemetry and telephony over their high-voltage distribution lines, but this appears to be the first time it was used to set up a broadcasting station.
  3. ^ "Dr. George Abraham, Ph.D" (
  4. ^ "David W. Borst" (
  5. ^ The Gas Pipe Networks: A History of College Radio 1936-1946 by Louis M. Bloch, Jr., 1980, pages 11-13.
  6. ^ Bloch (1980), pages 14-29.
  7. ^ Tannenwald, Peter. "WBRU Reunion June 24-25, 2005". 22:14 in. Retrieved 4 August 2017. 
  8. ^ "WBRU First to Play New Death Cab for Cutie Single". Archived from the original on 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Brown Student Radio Station BSR to Go Online-Only August 1". 
  12. ^ Ahlquist, Steve (November 13, 2015). "New low-power FM community radio station coming to Providence". Retrieved November 13, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Wendell | 95.5 WBRU". 95.5 WBRU. 
  14. ^ "WBRU back in its original groove". Retrieved 2008-04-03. 
  15. ^ a b Two Years of Rock Hunting. 95.5 WBRU/Big Bubble Records/Heartbreak Hits. c. 1986. p. back cover. 
  16. ^ "WBRU Concert Series Bands". Retrieved 2008-04-24. [dead link]
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ "SUMMER CONCERT SERIES LINEUP | 95.5 WBRU". 95.5 WBRU. Retrieved 21 May 2017. 
  27. ^ "WBRU Birthday Bash Bands". Archived from the original on 2008-02-03. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Associated Press announces broadcast awards for 2007". The Boston Globe. March 12, 2008. 
  36. ^ Ramirez, Erika (29 June 2015). "Rihanna Throws Money at BET's Stephen Hill at 2015 BET Awards". Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  37. ^ AR2006120700580.html

External linksEdit