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Some 250,000 Greater Boston FM listeners may soon have the opportunity to find out whether or not their tastes are similar to those of Harvard undergraduates. While most students probably don't care very much one way or the other, at least one College organization is fervently hoping that some of these listeners will find the answer is "yes."
The organization, of course, is radio station WHRB which, pending FCC approval, plans to start FM broadcasts sometime early next spring. Superficially, this move will mean no basic change in the station's philosophy. As program director Gregory W. Harrison '57 explains it, "We've never tried to compete with the Boston popular music stations. What popular music we do play is usually jazz."
The station's president, Victor F. Andrew '57, goes one step further. "Even with FM," he says, "we'll still emphasize--and be geared to the tastes of--Harvard. We just hope the other 250,000 people who can listen to us will have Harvard tastes."
It was not mere whim nor proselytizing zeal which prodded the station into FM, however. Based on hard facts, the decision was made by the station's executives only when they became convinced that WHRB could best fulfill its purposes by serving considerably more people than those in the Harvard community.
Actually, WHRB has never been "broadcasting" at all, except inadvertently, since its founding--by the CRIMSON--in 1940. By using radio frequency lines, strung up throughout the University's steam tunnels, it has never transmitted programs through the air which, so far as the FCC is concerned, is the meaning of broadcasting.
Short Way Broadcasts
But the radio frequency lines are not infallible. A certain amount of what Andrew terms "spurious radiation" always exists. In the case of WHRB's system, this rarely extends more than 150 feet from the nearest line. Occasionally, however, it will be more--even considerably more.
Once, for instance, a studio technician listened to the station all the way back to Cambridge from a date out at Wellesley. Telephone lines, trolley tracks, and the like are unfortunately fine conductors of the signals.
Technically, it is virtually impossible to eliminate such spurious radiation from WHRB's present system. And the moment they occur the station, normally free from FCC control, automatically violates federal law by broadcasting without a license. So far, WHRB has managed to keep within the confines of the University well enough to satisfy the FCC. But there is always the chance that some day the Commission will make the station shut down, as it has already done with Wellesley's and a number of other college stations throughout the country.
Andrew readily admits that this radiation problem was one reason the station decided to add FM to its present system. Although it is the most publicized reason it is not the most important one, he insists. As he explains, "We decided to go into FM just because it's progress."
The main progress, Andrew says, will come in sound reproduction. "All the recent emphasis on long-playing records and high fidelity have made people come to expect high-quality reproduction," he says. And FM sound is better sound.
According to the station's own polls, about 40 percent of Harvard students have FM tuners at present. Andrew hopes the percentage will increase.
Progress will come along another line as well. With FM and the large potential audience, the station plans to increase its advertising rates 50 percent. The resulting greater financial stability will allow the programming of more elaborate and more challenging shows, such as live dramas and concerts. This policy has already started, but on a very limited scale.
In this respect, WHRB is in a most fortunate position. Virtually every building in the University is directly hooked up to the station through a complicated array of audio lines. Consequently it can broadcast programs direct from Sanders Theatre, New Lecture Hall, Burr Hall, and dozens of other buildings. Through the Lowell Institute, WGBH actually paid for the installation of the audio lines, but they were installed, and are still supervised and maintained, by WHRB.
Progress will come in still another vein. This concerns the sheer excitement and drama of broadcasting to such a large potential audience. Andrew feels this should help keep standards and morale high among the station's staff.
All of this progress--and, indeed, all of WHRB's hopes--are still contingent on FCC approval to construct and to operate an FM station. This approval should come in January or February. Andrew has already convinced the trustees and staff members of the station that the projected move is a good one, and he feels sure he can do the same with the FCC.
Already the station has made tentative contracts with various suppliers for the necessary transmitting equipment, when and if approval comes. The FCC apparently frowns upon any purchase of equipment before a license has been granted. It regards this as undue pressure, although it does not object to tentative contractual agreements. Yet within six months after the construction license has been granted, the FCC insists that the station be ready for operation. Otherwise it will not grant an operating license, normally a routine procedure.
WHRB's construction should take no longer than four to six weeks, Andrew says. The station would then be fully prepared to start its FM operations, since the actual technical knowledge required for transmission would be practically identical with that required now for the radio frequency line transmission.
Andrew has even had the station's charter changed already. When incorporated in 1952, the purposes of WHRB were stated this way: "To establish and maintain a radio communication system throughout Harvard University in the Common-wealth of Massachusetts, for the two-fold purpose of: 1) educating its members in the technical and commercial problems inherent in radio broadcasting and of 2) broadcasting, and otherwise providing for, the dissemination of music and educational information for students at said University."
The revised charter, just ratified last month, clearly indicates where WHRB is heading. It now starts off this way: "The principle purposes of the Corporation shall be to own and to operate facilities in the city of Cambridge in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in order to broadcast by radio, TV, or by any other mode of communication, which now or in the future may exist, musical, cultural, educational, informational, and other programs and materials for the entertainment and profit of the public, and for the education and training of its staff."
By itself, the revised statement would seem to indicate that WHRB has completely separated itself from Harvard. At present, however, all the members of the station are keenly aware that they are a Harvard station, and they want to keep it that way. Whether this same feeling will exist after lengthy exposure to the Greater Boston FM listeners remains to be seen. It should be an interesting wait
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