First in the Nation All-Women Radio Gets New Power of Speech
June 7, 2006
Mass. -- Back in 1942, Wellesley College students launched the
first all-women college radio station. Broadcast pioneers from
the Class of 1942 Ruth Nagel Jones and Rosamond Wilfley Neilson
were among those who gave Wellesley a new voice.
Known as WBS
in its infancy, the radio station has been a pivotal part of
Wellesley life ever since. Today, under the call letters
WZLY, the station can be found at 91.5 on the FM dial and heard
on the Web at www.wzly.net.
Like every venture that depends on technology, however, a radio
station demands upgrades and renovations. Over its 64-year history,
WZLY developed a long list of vital needs. The aging studio needed
an overhaul from infrastructure to equipment to furnishings.
During a recent
tour of the studios, Wellesley College senior and WZLY general
manager Kate Tetreault, 21, (above) of Wellesley, Mass.,
noted that the main control board is older than she is.
“The company that made it is out of business,” she
said. “Replacement parts are no longer being made. We’d
have to troll on eBay for them.” To hear their own broadcast,
announcers have to turn on a radio since studio monitors don’t
work. There is no air conditioning in the windowless studio.
Yet WZLY remains a popular
activity at Wellesley, with 50 to 60 students signing up for
broadcasting slots each year. In addition
to a wide variety of music programs rarely found on today’s
homogenized commercial radio, students produce a news program,
air student-directed plays, sponsor free events, partner with other
stations and offer internships. Fourteen students also serve on
the station’s executive board.
“It’s a big time commitment, and we run it like a
business,” Tetreault said. Like any licensed radio station,
WZLY must pay royalties for songs played on air and through the
Web. The staff must follow FCC rules and provide training for staff
and for the technical director, who fixes the myriad problems.
The college budgets money for these current operating expenses,
but there has been no capital budget for new equipment.
Tired of working with “shoestrings and bubble gum,” last
summer Tetreault began to write a funding proposal to address the
needs, from a long-awaited analog to digital technical revamp to
equipment including a digital control board, computer, CD players,
turntables, amplifiers and microphones.
Happily, this spring
Wellesley’s broadcasting voice has
grown stronger and steadier with a major donation from one of its
student pioneers: Ruth Nagel Jones, Class of 1942 and resident
of Los Angeles, has donated $50,000 to transform WZLY and infuse
new life into the college airwaves.
To celebrate – and to commemorate – Jones’ gift,
WZLY played parts of the college’s first radio broadcast
from April 20, 1942, including music from Gershwin’s “Porgy
and Bess” and toe-tapping songs from the Big Band and swing
era. The two-hour music extravaganza was dedicated to the memory
of Jones’ fellow student radio pioneer Rosamond Wilfley Neilson,
Class of ’42, who passed away May 8.
The radio renewal plans
came at just the right time to honor one of WZLY’s founders.
“This was an amazing coincidence,” Jones said, “considering
the passing of my friend Roz. It’s such a lovely way to be
able to remember her. I am glad I’m able to help it continue.
It is thrilling to realize the radio station is still going full
Also a generous supporter
of theater at Wellesley, Jones said these two passions came naturally
to her. Her father, Conrad Nagel,
was a successful theater, screen, television and radio actor for
many years. During Jones’ years at Wellesley, he hosted the
CBS Silver Theater radio show. Jones recalls that every Sunday
night, he would sign off with “Well, it’s time to say
good night,” a private code that sent sweet dreams to his
daughter at Wellesley.
Thanks to Jones, Wellesley broadcasting buffs will continue to
enjoy their radio dreams.
“It means so much to us,” Tetreault said, “because
WZLY has always been a do-it-yourself organization. Thanks to Ruth,
we’ll be able to keep up the longest-running, all-women radio
station in the country. We were joking that we should change the
name of the station to WRNJ (Ruth Nagel Jones). She’s an
incredible lady, and we really appreciate her help.”
Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an
excellent liberal-arts education for women who will make a difference
in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300
undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries. For
more information, go to www.wellesley.edu.