On September 8th, Harvard University turns 380! So it is rather fitting that such a venerable institution would also have 8 decades of broadcasting under its belt. In 1940, the Harvard Crimson Network, WHCN, was one of America’s first college radio stations. In 1943 there was a change of call letters to, WHRV (Harvard Radio Voice). Then, on February 1st of 1951, WHRB was born. But it was not until 1957 that the Harvard Radio Broadcasting Company Incorporated acquired a commercial FM license at 107.1 (which was moved over to 95.3 a few years later).
With such a long history, it is no surprise that WHRB has some historic programs. Hillbilly at Harvard is a country music show that started all the way back in 1948!
Then there is, Sunday Night at the Opera, which has been on the airwaves for over 50 years now. And it sure shows when you see the size of the station’s classical music collection; truly extensive and probably one of the largest of its kind among college radio stations.
Since 1994 WHRB has been in the basement of Pennypacker Hall, just a minute walk from the heart of Harvard Square. The hall was built in 1927 and Harvard acquired it in 1958. My guess is that the station has one of the most unusual lay outs in all of college radio. There is a small maze of corners to turn and short hallways to walk down, leading to unlabeled doorways. Behind most of these doors are rooms containing the separate parts of WHRB’s music library.
WHRB publishes its schedule three times a year, and it has to be the most densely packed and well detailed program guide of any college radio station in the nation. We are talking the really fine print. Plus, each Winter and Spring feature “orgies” in which concentrated blocks of air time are devoted to a whole host of composers, artists, genres, subjects, concepts etc. It’s a tradition that is the stuff of legend. Back in 1943, as the story goes, an undergrad was so happy to have passed some rather difficult exams, he went ahead and played all 9 of Beethoven’s symphonies in a row. So, as a nod to this legend, the “orgy periods” are timed to coincide with major exams because the station actually gets short staffed with all the students out taking tests. Because, I have to guess, that graduating from Harvard is even harder than getting into Harvard.
Many thanks to Robby Erikson for showing me around the station.