It all began in 1964 with two students who lived in the new all-male dorm called Binford Hall. They assembled a low-power carrier current radio station. They broadcasted the signal through electrical wiring on an AM frequency. This predecessor of WQFS could only be heard in Milner Hall and only when they had the station turned on. In 1965, those two students, and a few more, started a student organization called The Fine Student Broadcasting Society. This student organization had one goal, to establish a campus-wide 10-watt radio station within a year.
Jim Newlin was the Assistant Business Manager at the College during this time and had a personal interest in broadcasting. A 1973 Guilford graduate and former Operations Manager Kyd Brenner says, “It never would have happened without Jim’s assistance.” Jim handled the big stuff in the station start-up, like FCC and lawyers. He also kept up with the accreditation and licensing throughout the years. The Fine Student Broadcasting Society grew its membership and spent a lot of time researching what work went into establishing a radio station. All four original members of this group graduated before the station started.
Eventually, Guilford College student Bart Benton Cox took over the effort in 1968 and reset the goal of opening the 100-watt station in January 1969. The Guilfordian described the original format as easy listening, jazz, and classical. Students brought their own records to play. At first, they were explicit about excluding rock to not compete with other local stations. The students got donations and funding from other area stations and Guilford’s student council, then filed for an FCC license in late 1968. They also scaled the station back to 10 watts. A few months later, in early 1969, the FCC granted a construction permit for the station to begin work on building the initial studio in the basement of Duke Hall. The space in Duke had two rooms, an office, and a studio. The goal now was to get on air by the spring of 1969.
Initially, the students wanted the station to be called WQMB, which stood for the Quaker acronym. But a local station called WQMG filed an objection letter with the FCC citing the call letters were too close to theirs. So they resubmitted the FCC application with the call letters WQFS (“Quaker Fine Sound:) and got approval to operate at 90.7 FM (later re-assigned to 90.9). The station was finally finished by the fall of 1969, and an 18-foot transmission tower was placed on the roof of Duke Hall. There is some confusion over the actual first air date. Some say it was January 1970. But the Guilfordian says WQFS went on air in December 1969.
Musically speaking, they stuck to easy listening, jazz, and classical until the spring of 1970, when they made a bold leap to expand the format to include 10:00 pm-midnight rock segments. These rock segments were pretty tame for the time, and the station’s operating hours were only from 5:00 pm. to midnight. 7-8 students worked the station initially, and later that year, they stretched the hours from 1:00 pm to midnight. They started what they called the “Underground Radio,” which aired from 11:00 pm -to 1:00 am in the late-night slot. Among the shows in this late-night slot were “The Magical Mystery Tour” and “Uncle Henry’s Cake,” which introduced psychedelic rock to Guilford College and WQFS.
In 1971, a new group of managers took over the station. There had not been much enthusiasm amongst students for the musical formatting the station was offering. So in the fall of 1971, Dave Rhees and Danny Beard decided to change the format. They ended the easy listening and switched the whole station to prog rock, keeping only one of the classical shows. Danny Beard went on to start a record label in Atlanta and was the first person to sign the B52s before Capitol Records. The easy-listening era had finally ended, and WQFS was playing popular rock.
In the summer of 1972, the station renewed its license with the FCC and applied to put in a new tower, which would eventually enable an expansion of the signal from 10 watts to 100 watts. With this new equipment, the station could broadcast outside of the immediate campus area to the greater Greensboro area. That tower remains on top of Founders Hall.
In the fall of 1972, Mike McGraw became the General Manager, and Kyd Brenner took over as Operations Manager. These students decided to continue the move to the rock format. They only kept one segment from 5:00–7:00 pm for classical music and another for a Celtic music show. The new permits were approved. The station went off the air for a month to construct the new tower, which required testing to ensure they were not interfering with other signals and complete a change to stereo broadcasting. At this point, the students put a much more expanded schedule into place. In addition, new DJs were trained and obtained the (then) required FCC licenses to operate the station. Student DJ’s and manager numbers expanded from 10-to 24 when the station was reopened in the winter of 1973 with new hours of 7:00 am-2:00 am. In 1974, the programming continued to lean into the rock genre, and new manager positions were created. In 1975, WQFS found a permanent home in Founders Hall, Guilford College’s student commons, where it remains.