WMPG Free Since ’73 – WMPG celebrates 50 years on the air! Born August 31st, 1973

WMPG turns 50!

WMPG Free Since ’73! On August 31, 1973 WMPG was born! Well kinda, there’s more to the story than that but that’s when we officially began broadcasting as a FCC licensed radio station.

This year we celebrate 50 years of broadcasting alternative, non-commercial sounds to the people of southern Maine! Real people, free to play what they want, say what they want! (well no swearing but you get what we mean).

Right now we are planning out celebrations for the year, including a big party in the fall at the new USM CSSC building (currently under construction). Stay tuned for more details about this celebration.  It will be a reunion of past and present DJs, along with friends, supporters and listeners, gathering for music, food, fun and even a slide show of WMPG’s history. Let’s gather to celebrate WMPG!

We are working with USM Digital Commons to digitize WMPG’s history for the slide show from 1973 to today and could use your help!  If you are a past DJ we want to hear from you!

Send an email to stationmanager@wmpg.org and send us photos, news features, recordings from past shows –anything related to WMPG and your experience at the station. We’ll also keep you updated about 50th year celebration events. WMPG Free Since ’73!

Now back to 1973 for a recollection of how it all began from Howard Allen. Howard was the University of Southern Maine student who setup a pirate radio station in his dorm room in the Gorham campus and the rest is history!

Howard Allen

It was August, 1970, The Vietnam war was fueling antiwar protests at every
major college and university campus across the country. Organizations like
the SDS were taking over campus buildings as part of student’s protesting
the war and the draft and the presence of military projects on campus. ROTC
programs were under attack as flag burning and draft card burnings took
place over and over again. Hippies, yippies, LSD, and pot were on the scene,
people were attending love-ins, living together in communes, and getting back
to nature. Detroit was building cars with engines with more horsepower than
cubic inches and gas mileage as low as their 0-60 acceleration times. Jimi
Hendrix, The Stones, Blind Faith, the break-up of the Beatles, and Bob Dylan
were all at the center of the current music scene. On the Gorham campus of the
University of Maine at Portland-Gorham the arrival of the class of 1974 was
marked by large numbers of cars carrying kids wearing green beanies and their
parents wondering where Anderson Dorm was.

In those days the choice of radio stations playing rock was pretty straight
forward, you either listened to WLOB or WBZ, at least, until around sunset,
when the lights came on across campus and the AM rockers had to drop down to 10%
of their daytime power, so all you got was static, unless you happened to have
a really good FM tuner and could get WTOS, the only FM rocker in the state of
Maine! After all, FM was what they played that long-hair classical stuff on,
or the elevator music of WGAN FM.

It was in this environment that the seeds of WMPG were sown.
Sometime in the late fall of 1970 I acquired a used Garrard automatic
turntable from a professor on campus. I shared it with my roomate, Ed Lincoln
and together we started buying records, stuff by such famous artists as Rare
Earth, Smokey Robinson, Steppenwolf and the like. By the spring of 1971 we
had amassed a record library of about 14 or 15 discs. One day during this same
spring I was in the Radio Shack at the Pinetree Shopping Center with my good
friend, Peter Dalton, who actually owned a car, when I saw a little FM
microphone module on the bargain table for a dollar. Not being able to resist
a bargain, it was marked down from $2.99, I bought it and took it back to the
dorm to try it out with a microphone I had for my taperecorder. I was surprised
at how far it would broadcast which sent me to thinking about using it to broadcast
music so people would have something to listen to at night.

I connected my turntable to the input of the transmitter and put on a record,
turned on my Airline FM portable radio and heard, well, music! From that
night onward, from about 6pm to 10pm I would put a stack of records on the
table and let it play through them all, then flip it over. A little later
I decided to build a switch box so that I could switch between the table and
a microphone, this way I could play DJ if I wanted to. This is when “WGOR”
was born, operating on 107 Mhz.

At about this time a fellow by the name of Hal Bergerson, “hamburger” to his
friends, who worked in the University Audio Visual department (Media Center
as I believe it is called now), announced a meeting for anyone interested
in forming a student radio station. I attended this first meeting along with
about 20-30 other students, and we listened to his plans for a student run
radio station that would broadcast closed circuit to the campus through its
power lines on the AM frequency. He also mentioned another possiblity,
an FM educational station. At the close of the meeting he asked for a vote
of which type of station we would like to pursue. The FM idea was given the
go ahead.

After this first meeting we organized the group and Hal arranged several
field trips to other student run FM stations in the State. We visited
Nasson College, Bowdoin College, and Farmington’s new station. We also
visited WCSH in Portland who was interested in donating equipment to the
effort, Herb Crosby, then station manager was very supportive and encouraging
to the group. This early group sent out letters to all the major radio
stations in New England asking for donation of equipment. By the end of the
term we had dozens of replies politely turning us down and not much else, on
top of which Hal had decided to leave the University, so we were to be without
a faculty sponsor.

With the beginning of the new term I decided to carry on what Hal had
begun. Toward that end I decided to use WGOR to spark interest and give
the group something to focus on while we moved in the direction of a “real”
radio station. I went to the dorm house parents and got permission to use
the fifth floor lounge in Anderson for a studio as it was not being used.
I also got permission from University Facilities to put an antenna on top
of the dorm, as long as we did it ourselves and they approved the installation.
Keep in mind that we were a totally unofficial organization – not even the
University knew we existed!

My friend, Peter Dalton, and I jumped into his Volkswagen and went down to
the Gorham Dump in search of something we could use for a tower to mount our
Radio Shack fm car antenna. We found a 12′ pole, the top of a utility
pole someone had cut up, and our first brodacst console, the control panel
and enclosure from a Frigidaire dryer. Problem was, the pole wouldn’t
fit in the Volkswagen! Fortunately a Gorham municipal truck came by and Pete
asked them to drop the pole off behind Anderson, which they did, with me riding
on the back keeping it from falling off.

We attached the antenna to the pole and mounted the pole to the side of one
of the elevator shafts by wrapping some steel cable we had also found at the
dump around the pole. We then ran the antenna feed down the roof through the
window into the lounge. I then installed some jacks on the dryer
control panel for the microphone, turntables, and tape recorder and connected
them to the switches so we could select the sound source. I think “damp dry”
was the microphone.

We held several organizational meetings and began broadcasting with about 12
DJ’s about 6 hours a day in the evening. Range of this set-up was pretty good,
in fact I rode my bike down to the intersection in Gorham and was still able to
pick the station up. The only trouble we had was when you switched to the
microphone from the music source the frequency changed a little, so if you had a
cheap radio, you didn’t hear the announcer very well, which was probably just as

The campus newpaper, University Free Press, was given information about the
broadcasts and they came down and did several interviews, keeping abreast of all
the latest developments. At the same time somebody suggested that we could get
free records from the record companies if we wrote to them, so we wrote letters
to all the companies we could think of, letting them know we were a student
station. Oddly enough we got immediate responses from several companies, with
records, “promos” beginning almost right away. We realized that we would have
to publish some kind of playlist in order to keep them coming so we made some
up on the copier at the library, using only record titles that were sent by the
companies, which, as you can imagine, resulted in some very strange playlists!
Things were going along pretty well until the famous Westbrook “American
Journal” interview.

I got a phone call from the “Journal” at Anderson, they wanted to interview
me about “the student radio station at Gorham”. I never did find out how
they discovered us. At any rate they came up took pictures and interviewed
myself and a couple others. The day after they published the article I got
a message from the Dean of Student Affairs saying that he wanted to see
me. Apparently the President had read the article and wanted to know more
about UMPG’s “student station”. Of course no one in the administration could
tell him about it because we didn’t officially exist. Dr. Bigelow was very
surprised to hear we were very well established, having gotten help from
Facilities, the dorm houseparents, and the AV center, all without the
administration knowing about it! Ah, things were easy then. At any rate, after
I explained what we were, he politely hinted that we should let them know what
we were doing and that we should pursue official recognition as a student
organization with the Student Senate. I would like to state for the record that
without Dr.Bigelow’s enthusiastic support of our efforts, along with others in
the administration, the station probably wouldn’t have become a reality. A true
debt of gratitude is owed to him.

This was actually the beginning of a serious effort at pursuing our license,
because Dr. Bigelow put us in touch with Ed Winchester, who was chief
engineer of MPBN. Ed was the one that guided us through the long process of
applying to the FCC for our license. During the process of getting recognized
I discovered that we would become eligible for funding (oh, is that what our
student activity money is for!?). You may well imagine the elation we all felt
when we received funding approval for next year of over $3000.00!

In the Fall of 1972 we identified equipment needs and talked with the
University about the location of the studios. I had been confirmed as Station
Manager by the Student Communications Board and was receiving a stipend (imagine
that, now they’re paying me for this!!!). The group of students involved in
the station was getting very large, well over 50. I ran training classes for
students interested in getting their 3rd class licenses and we ran down to
Boston to take exams, unfortunately few passed, but this wasn’t really a problem
as we discovered later. We began purchasing equipment at this time. We bought
an old RCA control board from a guy at Brunswick High School who was organizing
a student station there. A radio station in Westbrook which had switched from
Oldies but Goodies format to Country and Western offered us their entire
collection of 45’s (I don’t believe, to this day, that one of those records
were ever played on WGOR or WMPG!). On November 7, we received the telegram
from the FCC advising us that we could officially begin construction!
Things were really starting to roll. The Cafeteria people had reluctantly
agreed to give up a storage area downstairs off the student lounge for
WMPG’s studio. We were accumulating equipment to the point that we needed
to store it somewhere so we received permission to store it in Anderson
Hall in a small storeroom in the basement. Over Christmas break I built
the bases that the equipment would be mounted on for the studio. I made a
trip up to Brunswick to a local metal scrap yard and purchased an old 19″
rack mount scrapped out from a computer. We still didn’t have a transmitter
though and this was a concern because we didn’t want to exceed our budget.
We received a letter from UNH Durham advising us that they were accepting
bids on their old 10 Watt Gates transmitter as they had just gotten a new 1000
watt transmitter. We promptly put in a bid for $700.00, which was half the cost
of a new one, and held our breath. Weeks went by until we finally were informed
that we were the successful bidder. Needless to say we were very excited when
we finally had the transmitter in our hands.

As part of the application process to the FCC we had to decide what we wanted
for call letters. Naturally as far as we were concerned there was no question
as to what they would be. We did a search and could find no indication that
the call letters “WGOR” were being used by anyone and so proceeded with the
application for those letters. This was not to be however. I walked into
Anderson Hall, where I was living and was told that there was a message for me.
It seemed that the President of UMPG wanted to see me. This rather worried me,
especially after the incident with the Dean, so I went up to my room, changed
into my only suit, checked my breath, and walked over at the appointed time.
It seemed that he was concerned that the call letters, WGOR, would cause hard
feelings among some factions of the University community which were not happy
with the “unification” of the two campuses. He rather pointedly suggested
that the call letters WMPG would represent a more unifying approach. I told
him that the designation WGOR reflected that point of origin of the signal,
not an attempt to further aggravate an unfortunate situation. He appreciated
that view, but nevertheless insisted that we use something less controversial.
In retrospect, I probably should have used “WUSM” as there was talk about
changing the name of UMPG but it was too hard to say and my other choice,
“WHSA”, would have been somewhat immodest! I informed the crew of the situation
and we reluctantly agreed. On January 8, 1973, the FCC assigned the call
letters WMPG to our station.

We started spending money at this point like it was going out of style. We
were assigned our frequency and purchased the antenna system. I sat down with
the facilities people and Ed Winchester and outlined my plans to mount the
antenna tower on the side of Bailey Hall. We built a wooden cabinet to
securely house the transmitter and purchased the audio limiter for it. We
contacted Ma Bell and contracted for open pairs between the studio and
transmitter for audio and control signals after working to convince them that
we knew what we were doing (we didn’t) with the control signal. We reviewed
our equipment needs and determined that we needed a good quality reel to reel
tapedeck and decided to spend the money on a new Revox A-77. We sat down and
designed a floorplan for the studio that included an on-air facility and a
recording studio with sound proof doors on both. By the end of the Spring ’73
semester we had enough equipment to set up a training studio in an Anderson
Hall store room.

Over the summer of ’73 the Transmitter and Antenna were installed according
to plan. The studio was begun but not completed due to some concern over
dividing the room, but the soundproof doors were put in place in the entrance
so we were satisfied. That summer I worked in Kennebunk for a plastic molding
company on second shift, earning the money for my first car. After I bought
it (a ’69 Plymouth Valiant with only 48000 miles on it for $1400.00) I started
going back and forth to the campus so I could begin wiring the Studio. We had
ordered a new 7 channel board from Maze Electronics but it hadn’t shown up so
I decided to wire the studio for a home-made portable board we bought from
Brunswick High School. I got the studio finished finally on the 24th of August
when I got a call from the Mail center about a very large UPS delivery. Sure
enough, the new board had arrived! I quickly picked it up and installed it.
It was great! The first thing I did was to check the monitor system out with
some Rolling Stones. I immediately discovered that the monitor amplifier had
an intermittent problem that caused it to quit once in a while unless you banged
on the console. I never did find out what caused that. The next day I wired
the studio into the PA system down in the student center so that we could
provide music to the center during Freshmen Orientation. Unknown to me at
the time, my future wife and her parents paid us a visit as she was a freshman
that year.

The transmitter had been fired up and checked out prior to this, but the first
official broadcast of WMPG FM began on August 31, 1973 at around noon. Our
broadcast schedule at first ran from about 5 to midnight seven days a week,
but gradually expanded with new personel coming on line. Some of the other
people involved at the time were; Wes Reilly, Bruce Childs, Dave Cedrone,
Terry Turner, Charles Despres, Peggy Smith, Janet Pikul, Connie Labbe.
Sue Gosselin, Paul Doughty, Robin Lamb, Larry Jacobs, Corrine Seekins,
Alan Freedman, Phineas Martin, and Arnold Putnam. There were many others but I
can’t remember them all. I do remember that we got a post card from New
Brunswick, Canada saying that they had heard us – not bad for 10 watts!
We started out with just music and news (we got a good deal on a wire service)
and broadcasting of UMPG basket ball games. We also attempted to broadcast
a couple of Gorham town meetings but judged our audience to have little interest
in this so dropped it. As time went on we expanded our brodcast hours so that
we were on the air from morning till after midnight daily. I did not regularly
have a shift but was on call as a fill-in for those (many) last minute absences
of dj’s. This was particularly a problem with Friday and Saturday nights when
I would get the call from the station informing me that the last two people
hadn’t showed up and, “I’m going to shut the transmitter off in ten minutes if
no one comes to relieve me!”.

In those days the training was somewhat limited to watching someone else for
ten minutes and being shown where the log was. Often as not, if you listened
in those days, you would hear long blocks of music with no talking at all, and
when you did hear someone say something it was more like, “Uh…this is, Um,
WMPG……..FM, Gorham, Maine……….this is Tim Roberts SQUAK SQUEAL EEEEEE
OOOOEOEOE ‘oh shit!’ SQUAAAAAK”. Programming was relegated to getting dj’s
who played somewhat similar types of music to follow one another in sequence,
and to get the ones that played popular music into the dinner and after segments
as opposed to those who played “weird” music into the early and late slots. I
remember particularly one case where we had one guy, Peter White, I think his
name was, who loved blues and didn’t mind being up late. He started at midnight
and ran until he wanted to stop (usually about three in the morning). I taped
his show one night in order to listen to it the next day. I got through about
10 minutes and decided that if there was anyone listening at that time of night
they probably weren’t listening to our station. It was the only blues show we
had so we kept it.

And so things went at WMPG in its first year. We kept the studio output
connected to the cafeteria PA and thus were guaranteed an audience.
Which is not to say we didn’t have an audience, you could walk down the halls
and hear WMPG once in a while, but times had changed. A new radio station
had come on the air at about the same time we did called WBLM. They
provided that alternative that students were looking for and did it well. We
at WMPG made the decision that we were going to be a true alternative radio
station, although we weren’t sure at the time what that would ultimately be, I
believe that our successors have realized that goal and done it extremely well.
So I proudly salute WMPG’s present personnel. It is true that we started it,
but we are the past, the important thing is what you did with an idea, its
evolution to what we all know as the present WMPG, a significant alternative
to commercial radio, a significant sounding board for new ideas in music, and
The choice of people whose taste is not limited to what is commercially
successful or popular at the time.

Howard Allen