Dartmouth College


January 22, 2023

Dartmouth College Radio: An Experiment in Student-Run Commercial Broadcasting

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One of the less known stories in American higher education is Dartmouth College’s unique, long-running experiment in broadcasting. Campus-limited broadcasting began in 1941, but in 1958 the college obtained a license for a full power commercial radio station and turned the station over to students to run, lock, stock and barrel. The college kept an eye on things to make sure legal requirements were fulfilled, but students were given full control over all aspects of the station—management, programming, sales, marketing, newsgathering, even technical operations. Everything from filling air slots to selling advertising and meeting the budget was up to them. Each group of student managers chose its own successors based on merit, a kind of self-perpetuating (and constantly changing) leadership. No one was paid, no academic credit was given; the reward was simply doing a good job. It was an unusual opportunity for students to run a real business, and a substantial, federally-licensed one at that, while still in their college years. It was believed to be the only commercial station of its kind in the U.S. run entirely by students.

College Radio Days: 70 Years of Student Broadcasting at Dartmouth College is about the history of the station, how this unusual experiment worked over the years, and the young men and women who made it work. The origin of the book is a monograph I wrote while at Dartmouth, and a member of station management myself, many years ago.

By one measure at least, the experiment worked quite well. Full power commercial broadcasting at Dartmouth celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in 2018. The “laboratory” has turned out scores of successful leaders of business and government—broadcasting executives, educators, entrepreneurs—and many credit their years at WDCR and WFRD as having given them invaluable real world training that no classroom could match. By other measures, however, the road has been rocky. The station had its ups and downs, and in later years intense competition in the radio business, which is increasingly controlled by a small number of huge corporations, forced the ceding of some functions to a professional staff and increased oversight by the college. The station manager and senior leaders were still students, however. There are no broadcasting courses at Dartmouth. In this case at least, the teacher was practical experience.

Despite the success of Dartmouth Broadcasting as a real-world learning lab for generations of students, in 2021 the college administration announced they were pulling the plug on commercial broadcasting and sold the remaining (FM) license to private interests. Students were told they could use the studios to stream on the Internet as WebDCR.

I would like to hear from alumni who were active at the station. Tell me about your experiences, and what you learned that was of value in your later career. I can be reached at tim@timbrooks.net. Get the book at Amazon.com or other booksellers.

For a brief history of Dartmouth radio click here.

For a list of station managers since 1941 and their careers click here.

This page was last modified on January 22nd, 2023.
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