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Michigan Radio celebrates 70 years on the air

This Thursday, Michigan Radio will mark seventy years on the air. The WUOM-FM signal in Ann Arbor began broadcasting for the first time on July 5, 1948. At the time, FM radio was extremely new. It was estimated that there were only eight other educational FM stations, and only about fifty FM stations of any kind, in operation across the country.

With a full time staff of five people, including Director of Broadcasting Waldo Abbott, the station began broadcasting from temporary studios in Angell Hall on the University of Michigan campus. Students used the space for classes from 8:00 am until 2:00 pm, and WUOM then went on the air from 2:30 pm until 8:00 pm. The station was off the air most Saturdays and broadcast for only two hours on Sundays.

Despite these modest beginnings, the station quickly expanded its coverage and importance. In 1949, the station aired the first play-by-play broadcast of University of Michigan football by sports director Bill Fleming. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was interviewed on the station in 1950 discussing the rise of Red China. And in 1960, the station broadcast Sen. John F. Kennedy’s speech, which sparked the creation of the Peace Corps, from the steps of the Michigan Union.

Credit Bentley Historic Library
WUOM Studios circa 1949

Michigan Radio also quickly and steadily increased its reach across southern Michigan. In 1952, a new tower and transmitter was added in Flint, and began broadcasting as WFUM-FM. In 1962, satellite station WVGR-FM joined the Michigan Radio fold, serving Grand Rapids and west Michigan.

The station has also played an important role in developing the public radio system. WUOM General Manager Ed Burrow, and former program director Jerrold Sandler were instrumental in having radio added to the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which became the financial foundation for public radio across the country. Michigan Radio was also one of the first member stations of NPR, and a flagship station to air “All Things Considered” when the program began in 1971. 

Over the years, the station has aired talk, public affairs, original radio dramas, sports, classical music, jazz and other types of programming. In 1996, Michigan Radio adopted a full-time news & information format, becoming one of the first radio stations in the country to broadcast this type of format on the FM band.

Now, Michigan Radio has the largest radio news staff in Michigan, with reporters in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids. The station delivers NPR and statewide news, information and original programming 24 hours a day, 7 days per week…over-the-air, online, on smartphones and smart speakers, and via podcast.  With a weekly over-the-air audience of over 500,000 people, plus an additional 130,000 online listeners per month, Michigan Radio is one of the most listened to public radio news services in America.

You can view a timeline of significant events over the past seventy years at Michigan Radio here.

Michigan Radio broadcasts at 91.7 FM in Detroit and southeastern Michigan, 91.1 FM in Flint, 104.1 FM in West Michigan, and online at michiganradio.org. Michigan Radio is licensed to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Steve is Michigan Public's Marketing Director. His job involves coordinating the station’s marketing, communication and public relations efforts, special events, car donation program and community & media partnerships.
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