Ann Arbor's WCBN triples broadcast range with long-delayed installment of new transmitter

After nearly a decade of roadblocks, Ann Arbor's WCBN-FM 88.3 has a new transmitter, increasing its output from from 200 to 1,400 watts and nearly tripling its transmission radius.


Zach Gurian, director of publicity for the University of Michigan's student-run community radio station, says the station has been trying to upgrade since 2009. The transmitter was in bad shape and, after repairing it in 2009, the station applied for Federal Communications Commission permissions to increase output to 3,000 watts.


In 2011, the more powerful transmitter was installed on top of what was then the Dennison Building, now Weiser Hall, at 500 Church St. in Ann Arbor. However, the higher wattage interfered with electronics in some of the labs in the area, so in 2014 university officials told the radio station the transmitter had to move.


After searching for a few years, WCBN staff found the ideal transmitter location on a microwave tower on north campus, and received final approvals from the FCC in late 2016. From then until spring of 2018, the radio station has been working on getting the new 1,400-watt transmitter installed in its new location, as well as assessing whether operating at higher power would interfere with other local radio stations.


Gurian says a high school in southeast Michigan is also operating at the 88.3 frequency. WCBN staff settled on broadcasting at 1,400 watts to make sure they weren't interfering with the high school station's signal.


He notes that only about one percent of the station's budget comes from underwriting by local businesses, so most of the permitting and transmitter costs were paid for by listener contributions.


Gurian says that increasing the transmitter's power means not only increasing its range, but hopefully also increasing the audience for its unique and eclectic programming.


"WCBN is unique because it's freeform and nobody is telling you what to play," Gurian says. "You can tune in and hear something you wouldn't hear anywhere else."


He notes that a DJ could decide to play one hour of jazz followed by an hour of spoken word performances followed by playing old-time radio shows.


"There are so many kinds of shows and different kinds of music. This kind of radio is an artform, and just like if you were writing poetry, it's always great to expand and increase your listenership," Gurian says.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of WCBN.