From the archives: Making waves
From its 1922 experimental radio course, to the first on-campus radio transmission in 1946, to 40 years of WSOE broadcasting over the airwaves, radio has been an important part of Elon’s history.
By Sarah Collins ’18
Long before student-run radio station WSOE 89.3 played over the airwaves, there was an eagerness at Elon to interact with this new communication medium. As early as 1920, beloved physics professor A.L. Hook and his students built a crystal receiving set, which allowed them to hear the first broadcast from KDKA in Pittsburgh.
Twenty-six years later, Elon partnered with local station WBBB in Burlington to transmit broadcasts from campus. A line installed from Whitley Auditorium to the station provided the link for the first broadcast from campus on Nov. 13, 1946, featuring the sound of music faculty pianist Amelia Jane Thiele performing a 15-minute version of Ravel’s “Sonatine.” The station continued with Elon programming, including two regular shows from campus: a music program on Sundays and a religious program on Wednesdays.
Elon alumnus George Ramseur ’48 was one of the first students to assist with Elon’s radio programming. As an assistant to Hook, Ramseur was asked to help with the technical side of each broadcast in Whitley. “My job was to go up there on Sunday afternoons, and I’d turn on the switch,” he says. “At the right time I would get a signal from the station in Burlington, and then we would start the program.”
Ramseur recalls that a microphone was dropped from the center of the auditorium’s domed ceiling. The microphone was then connected to a small black box in the auditorium’s control room. Ramseur, who studied physics at Elon, also recalls learning about radio in his science classes. “The curriculum was a bit different in those days,” says Ramseur, who has spent his career teaching at Sewanee, the University of the South. “I remember in one class called ‘Electricity and Magnetism,’ our project was to buy and assemble an FM radio kit.”
This year Elon’s radio station WSOE 89.3 is celebrating its 40th anniversary on air. The station has experienced several moves during its decades-long history—from Harper Center to Moseley Center—before settling into its new home in McEwen Building in 2016. The variety of programming on WSOE, which stands for Wonderful Sounds of Elon, has increased dramatically since the early days of only two programs. Today all students, faculty and staff members have the option to host their own radio shows featuring the programming of their choice.
WSOE general manager Katherine Wolter ’18, a marketing major, is thankful for Elon’s historic efforts to integrate radio into campus life. “It’s crazy to think it’s been 40 years since Elon established its own radio station,” Wolter says, adding that having a frequency, 89.3 FM, is special. “A lot of college stations only operate online now, which is still cool in its own way, but having an actual frequency creates more learning opportunities.”
She looks forward to seeing how radio will continue to play a role at Elon. “I can’t wait to see how we continue to meld with the School of Communications,” she says. “I think it makes WSOE more accessible for students, and also it will hopefully gain a more prominent presence in the school.”