WRBC is currently ranked by the The Princeton Review as the 20th best college radio station in the United States and Canada, making it the top college radio in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
Originally started as an AM station, radio at Bates began with the efforts of rhetoric professor and debate coach Brooks Quimby. A radio enthusiast, he ran his own amateur station, and wrote the FCC in 1942 asking to build a 10-watt radio station on campus. Though his efforts to secure a license were unsuccessful, he did not give up. "Bates On The Air", a weekly program produced by his Radio Class from studios in Chase Hall, debuted in 1945 on WCOU in Lewiston. This program was also occasionally carried on stations in Portland and Augusta, and continued into the mid 1950s.
Despite its beginning, technical problems plagued the station in the 1950s. Because of these problems Bates College again applied to the FCC for a 10-watt station on the then relatively new FM band. The staff suggested several possible call signs for the new station to the FCC including WVBC, WBCR, WRBC, WVOB, and WRJR (after the first initials of staff members Ron Cook, Joan Williams Lepper, Ray Hendess, and Robert Kalisher). The FCC decided on the call letters WRJR. The new station took to the public airwaves at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 26, 1958, at 91.5 FM, from purpose-built studios in the basement of Pettigrew Hall.
Despite its technical superiority, FM radio had yet to come into mass acceptance. Since so few people owned FM-capable radios in 1958, FM-to-AM converters were initially installed at strategic locations around the Bates College campus to rebroadcast the signal at 800 AM. However, these converters soon either broke down, or were shut down due to issues with off-campus interference. As a result, WRJR found itself broadcasting to slim audiences, both on campus and off.
In 1982, WRBC increased its power output from 10 watts to the present 120 watts. This increased the station's listening area greatly. Previously the station could only be heard on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods of Lewiston. Although previously licensed to transmit at up to 10 watts, a measurement made in 1974 recorded only 3 watts of actual output from the antenna. After the upgrade the station could now be picked up for about a 10-15 mile radius around the bates campus. The station commenced 24-hour operation in the early 1980's. Students would work 3 hours shifts, and it was no problem finding people willing to do 3-6 am during the week. WRBC also featured news from the ABC radio network during this period, through an agreement with local station WLAM.
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