|City||New York, New York|
|Broadcast area||New York college|
|Branding||The Original FM 89.9
WKCR 89.9FM NY
|Frequency||89.9 MHz (also on HD Radio)|
|First air date||February 24, 1941|
|Format||FM/HD1: College radio
HD2: Classical (WWFM simulcast)
|Callsign meaning||W King's Crown Radio (Columbia Univ.)|
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What is now known as WKCR-FM originated in the early part of the twentieth century as the Columbia University Radio Club (CURC). An exact date of origin is not known, but documentation of the CURC as an ongoing organization exists as early as 1908. The club was not a radio station as we know it, but rather an organization concerned with the technology of radio communications. The group shared a prestigious association with Major Edwin Armstrong (E '13), the man who invented FM broadcast technology. This association accounts for the marginally accurate phrase, "The Original FM," that one will often hear alongside the WKCR call letters.
In 1939, Major Armstrong turned his attentions towards commercial broadcasting. This spurred the CURC to shift from a club concerned with radio technology to a de facto radio station that provided broadcasts to the campus. The FCC granted the station its license on October 10, 1941.
For the next three decades, the entirely student-run organization operated two stations. The largely popular-music AM station broadcast only on-campus through a carrier current system, while WKCR-FM was heard throughout the New York City area through conventional FM broadcasting as an intellectual radio station (The AM station was allowed to die off in the 1970s). Programming was largely Columbia sports, classroom events, classical music, and broadcasts from the United Nations, including many interviews with representatives of foreign nations. When Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4, 1957 staff members of WKCR recorded its signal during the satellite's first pass over the United States, and became the first North American radio station to rebroadcast this signal. The next morning the FBI took the tape, which has never been returned or paid for.
Subsequent to the student uprising of 1968, the format changed in the early 1970s. The station shifted its emphasis from being an illustration of the university to presenting commercially inviable programming to the New York metropolitan area. Jazz became the core of this broadcast approach, which is neatly summarized in the slogan, "The Alternative." The descriptions of individual departments contain information about WKCR's concept of alternative programming. Around this time the station changed its policy from being entirely run by Columbia undergraduates as an extracurricular activity to employing graduates and then others unassociated with the university.
The rise of jazz on WKCR also led to the accelerated activity of live performance in the station's studios, and eventually to records released from those recordings. Sessions booked by former student DJ David Reitman led to many of the jazz and blues hosts bringing in musicians such as Gunter Hampel, Karl Berger, Tyrone Washington, Charles Walker (Blues from the Apple), and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
In the late 70s, under the direction of Tim Page, the station presented the radio premieres of several leading minimalist compositions, including Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach and Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. It was the first station in the country to pay attention to this important and eventually popular form of avant-garde music. Page also produced a benefit concert for the station at Carnegie Hall, with appearances by Reich, Glass, John Cale, and David Bowie, among many others.
In 1977, the station became the first radio (or television) station to transmit from the antenna at the top of the World Trade Center, having previously broadcast from the old Channel 5 antenna on the DuMont Building, a 42-story structure at 515 Madison Avenue.
WKCR was home to the groundbreaking underground Hip-Hop Show The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito García Show from 1990-1998. The show provided early exposure for what became some of the biggest names in hip-hop, Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G. among them. A 2015 documentary, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, explored the influence of the radio show on hip hop music.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, the station underwent a difficult period. Broadcasting from its backup transmitter atop Carman Hall, the station finally secured a new antenna at 4 Times Square in 2003.
In late December 2015, WKCR announced on its website that effective January 1, it would be ending its online broadcast while it reconsidered its ability to stream online and continued to broadcast on the FM band. On July 1, 2016, the station announced its return to online streaming following technical and logistical improvements.
- "Call Letter Origins". Radio History on the Web.
- "WKCR-FM Facility Record". United States Federal Communications Commission, audio division.
- "Wireless Club at Columbia". The Sun. November 25, 1908. p. 2. ISSN 1940-7831. Retrieved March 17, 2017.
- "WKCR and Oblivion The Oblivion Records Blog
- "Gunter Hampel > Spirits" Kathleen Loves Music
- "Recording 'Blues from the Apple'" The Oblivion Records Blog
- "Prepping 'Live in New York for LP" The Oblivion Records Blog
- Fraser, C. Gerald."WKCR Will Be the First Station To Transmit From Trade Center", The New York Times, July 30, 1977. Accessed September 27, 2008.
- "Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives". October 2015. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
- The WKCR Board (December 26, 2015). "Important Update about Online Streaming". WKCR. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
- The WKCR Board (July 1, 2016). "We're Back Online!". WKCR. Retrieved August 9, 2016.