WBHM 90.3 FM Public Radio, 1976-


Immediate Predecessor:

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Immediate Successor:

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Reporting Hierarchy:

1976-1980: WBHM, Vice President for Administration, President;
1980-1988: WBHM, Vice President for Research and Institutional Advancement, President;
1989-1990: WBHM, Vice President for University Affairs, President;
1991-1993: WBHM, Vice President for Research and University Affairs, President;
1993-1995: WBHM, Executive Vice President, President;
1995-1998: WBHM, Vice President for University Advancement, President;
1998-2016: WBHM, Vice President for Development, Alumni and External Relations, President;
2016- : WBHM, Chief Communications Officer, President

General Managers:

Charles W. Holmes, 2017-
Scott E. Hanley, 2012-2016
(Interim) Kristi Lamont Ellis, 2011-2012
Michael L. Morgan, 1992-2011
(Acting) Richard W. Deason, 1991-1992
Robert N. Eastman, 1982-1991
(Interim) Richard W. Deason, 1982-1982
Florence M. Monroe, 1976-1981

History:

"WBHM is a listener-supported service of the University of Alabama at Birmingham."  It is licensed to UAB and "is governed by the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama."  The station is "Your NPR News Station" and is the "home to the Alabama Radio Reading Service, a resource for the blind and print-impaired."  The radio station's "main purpose is to provide noncommercial public broadcasting and educational telecommunication services throughout Alabama.  WBHM began broadcasting in December 1976 and was the first full-service public radio station in north central Alabama" [WBHM website, 2015].

Planning for a non-commercial radio station to be located at UAB began in the early 1970s and on November 29, 1974, the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System, on behalf of UAB, filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate a station at UAB for broadcast to the Birmingham metropolitan region.  Dr. John Dunbar, Vice President for Administration, was charged with establishing the new station at UAB.  FCC approval for the station was received by late winter of 1976 and WBHM became the second NPR member station in Alabama -- the first being WLRH in Huntsville -- and the new station at UAB became the 200th station affiliated with National Public Radio (NPR).  NPR President Lee Frischknecht was particularly pleased to have a 200th affiliated station during the celebrations of the country's 200th birthday.

Dr. Florence Monroe came to UAB in June of 1976 as the station's first General Manager.  Dr. Monroe, with a PhD in Communications and over 30 years of broadcasting experience, was responsible for setting up the new station and for hiring the staff.  During the late summer/early fall, Monroe hired a staff and organized the broadcast schedule.  At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 5, 1976, WBHM 90.3 FM officially began service with a live broadcast of Amerigo Marino conducting the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the Star Spangled Banner.  WBHM's first programming schedule had the station operating 7-days and broadcasting between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 6:00 a.m. until midnight on the weekends.  An assortment of NPR programming aired during the day with classical, folk, and contemporary music chiefly filing the evenings and weekends.  To celebrate the university's new public radio station, UAB hosted an open house on February 10, 1977, allowing the public to see the station's new home on the western end of campus in the old Mathematics Department building at 7th Avenue and 11th Street.  WBHM has remained in the same facility since it first went on the air in 1976.

The first Fundfest, held May 15-19, 1977, raised over $17,000 for the station and had the suggested giving level of $15 per year for subscriber membership.  Guest announcers during the inaugural fund drive included tennis star Billie Jean King, opera singer Rachel Mathes, and Amerigo Marino, conductor of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  The first issue of the station's monthly newsletter, The Listener, debuted in January 1977 and was made available to the station's new member subscribers.

By the 1980s, WBHM was funded by three chief entities, one-third by UAB, one-third by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and one-third by fund raising efforts including member subscribers and corporate underwriters.  In April 1984 NPR reported that WBHM was in the top 50 affiliates in listenership.  On March 2, 1987, WBHM began broadcasting 24-hours per day, seven-days per week.  In 1988 the station received its first national award when "Treacherous Island," an on-air drama written by staff member Dick Deason was honored by San Francisco State University.  Another national award followed in 1990 when the International Radio Festival of New York presented a bronze medal for the three-part drama "The Gold Disc of Coosa," written by WBHM staff members Betty Pewitt and Jean Pierce.

In 1993 WBHM was the sponsoring station for a live local broadcast of the popular American Radio Company, Garrison Keillor's radio variety show that was broadcast live on NPR each Saturday evening.  Keillor and the show's production crew had arrived in Birmingham a few days prior to the scheduled broadcast on March 13.  Spring was in full force in central Alabama and Saturday's show was a sell-out in the 2,200-seat Alabama Theatre.  But on Friday a rare snow began to fall and by Saturday Birmingham -- like much of the rest of the eastern US and Canada -- was in the midst of the Blizzard of 1993, also known as the "Storm of the Century."  As officially recorded at the airport, the City of Birmingham received 13 inches of snow with parts of the metropolitan area receiving 17 inches.  This was a record snow fall for the city and was more snow than had ever been recorded during an entire winter season in Birmingham.  Travel was nonexistent in central Alabama, but Keillor's show had to go on as planned although only a few hundred ticket holders were able to attend the show's performance from the Alabama Theatre.  The blizzard featured prominently in that night's broadcast.  Keillor did return to Birmingham later in the year to accommodate the original ticket holders for the blizzard show.

By the start of the new century, WBHM 90.3 FM had little local programming of music but it was a member of the Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN).  This allowed the station to broadcast a range of classical music without the need for an extensive in-house music library.  When CPRN ceased operations in 2008, WBHM switched programming to become a mostly news/discussion format for daytime hours with jazz and classical music programmed for the later evening and overnight hours.  In 2012 UAB launched a major technology and infrastructure upgrade for the station.

Administratively at UAB, WBHM originally fell within the marketing, public relations, and advancement areas within the university, and the station's General Manager traditionally had reporting lines to those various university offices.  When the station was first established in 1976, the General Manager reported directly to the Vice President for Administration.  In the 1980s, the General Manager began reporting to someone at the assistant or associate vice presidential level within public relations and/or marketing, with that person reporting directly to the appropriate Vice President.  Despite numerous title changes and staff changes, this reporting structure remained fairly consistent for the ensuing decades.  This changed, however, in 2016 when the General Manager of WBHM began reporting directly to the new Chief Communications Officer, a high-level administrative position that reports directly to the President of UAB.

By Tim L. Pennycuff

Records Series

P46.1, WBHM Photographs, 1976-2005, 0.50 cubic foot
46.2, WBHM Scrapbooks, 1974-1979, 2 cubic feet
46.3, WBHM Newspaper Clippings, 1984-2005, 0.10 cubic foot
46.4, WBHM Memorabilia and Ephemera, 1980s- , 3 cubic feet
46.5, Alabama Radio Reading Service Scrapbooks, 1978-1994, 1.33 cubic feet
P46.5, Alabama Radio Reading Service Photographs, 1977-1994, 0.33 cubic foot
46.6, Alabama Radio Reading Service Administrative Records, 1978-2001, 0.33 cubic foot
46.7, WBHM General Managers' Administrative Records, 1970-2016, 2 cubic feet
P46.8, WBHM Photographs and Slides, 1977-1993, 0.33 cubic foot
P46.9, WBHM Staff Photographs and Slides, 1985-1992, 0.10 cubic foot
P46.10, Eppes-Durr Memorial Garden Dedication Photographs, 2000, 0.10 cubic foot
46.11, The Listener [newsletter], 1977-2017, 1 cubic foot

Related Series

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This page created 2018

Copyright: The University of Alabama Board of Trustees.