On November 25, 1946, MIT’s first student radio station came on the air. WMIT, as it was called, was broadcast out of the Senior House dormitory and could only be picked up on campus. In the mid 1950s, hoping to extend their reach into the fraternities across the Charles River, the radio station went on the hunt for an FCC license for an FM station. After a name change to WTBS (for “Technology Broadcast Service”), they jumped when a license became available and started broadcasting as non-commercial 88.1
Working at WTBS was possible for anyone, whether or not they were a student at MIT. The station was popular with community members, many of whom served as station engineers and on-the-air personalities. As a result, it gained a large following among Cambridge residents. And because WTBS was a non-commercial station prohibited from selling ads and instead supported by listener donations and a sometimes reluctant MIT, it didn’t have to worry about ratings or advertisers. Station members could take more musical risks and appeal to dozens of different audiences with a variety of shows that ran the musical gamut from classical to calypso and everything in between.
One of these programs was The Ghetto. Named after the Donny Hathaway song of the same name, the program was started in 1969 by Waayl Ahmad Salih (Class of 1972, SM/EAA ‘73) and James “JC” Clark (class of 1974, SM ‘81) in 1969. Sponsored by MIT’s Black Student Union, it provided Black students and community members with the opportunity to be on the radio (either as on-air personalities or technical personnel), and it filled a need for late-night radio options for the Black community.
Listen to a promo for The Ghetto, courtesy of the MIT Black History Project: