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WMBR boosts signal and airs new programs

By Adnan H. Lawai

WMBR, MIT's student-run radio station has increased its transmitting power from 200 to 360 watts, according to Shawn Mamros G, a member of the station's technical staff. The move was necessary in order "to protect the station's signal," he said.

A large number of local high school and college stations had begun broadcasting at and around 88.1 FM, the frequency used by WMBR. This threatened the station's signal, which become more difficult to pick up. WMBR also wanted to expand its listening range, though this was not the primary reason for the change, Mamros said.

The transmitter currently used by the station was installed in 1979 and has a peak transmitting power of 500 watts. Increasing transmitting power to 360 watts was therefore "no problem" and only required approval from the Federal Communication Commission. WMBR submitted an application with the FCC for the change last year and was granted permission last November, Mamros said.

The station has also been upgrading its equipment during the past year. This was a result of increased listener contributions, Mamros remarked. Two new control consoles have been installed and extensive sound-proofing and renovation work has been carried out in the studios.

The new equipment has made it possible for the station to transmit live music from the studio, something that the station has "wanted to do for a long time," Mamros said. The result is a program called "Pipeline," in which different bands perform live every Thursday. Other novelties introduced this term include an early morning show.

WMBR began in 1946 as a campus-only AM station which could be picked up around the Institute and in the dormitories with special antennas. At that time it was not regulated by the FCC, Mamros explained. In the 1950s interest grew in starting a student-run station that could reach the fraternities across the Charles and the residences of faculty in the Boston-Cambridge area.

An application for a radio station was submitted with the FCC in 1960 and was granted in late 1961. A 10 watt FM station started transmitting from the basement of Walker Memorial which could be heard throughout Cambridge, downtown Boston and Boston's innermost suburbs. In 1971 the transmitting antenna was moved to the top of Eastgate, where the height advantage gave the station a bigger transmitting range, Mamros remarked.

At this point the station decided to increase its transmitting power and submitted another application with the FCC. This application, however was not granted until 1978, Mamros said. The reason was competition for the same frequency with a high school station. The problem was finally resolved with MIT sharing the frequency with the high school station, Mamros said.

The transmitter that is currently in use was installed in 1979. FCC restricted WMBR to 200 watts so that competing stations at adjacent frequencies would not be crowded out, disc jockey Charles L. McKay '90 said.

Although the latest increase in transmitting power would increase WMBR's listening range, it is still much smaller than local commercial stations, which typically transmit in the 10,000 watt range. However, Mamros remarked that the "scale is not linear" and a factor of 20 difference in transmitting power "does not mean that they have 20 times our range." He was optimistic about the station's future and remarked that "the last two years have been really good for us."