Friday, April 02, 2010

The Monkeys of WBRU

This is obscure and highly arcane. I can't corroborate the story anywhere but it's too strange to just file away. The story involves a college radio station, and monkeys. Rather than re-hash the limited information I'll just quote The Encyclopedia Brunoniana.
"In 1971, after WBRU-FM increased its power to 50,000 watts and moved its transmitting equipment to the roof of the Sciences Library, some interference was created with electronic equipment in the Barus-Holley Building and Prince Engineering Laboratory, but the most unusual development was that monkeys who had electrodes implanted for reading their brain waves were tuned into WBRU."
It would be easy to confirm that WBRU increased power in 1971. The Monkeys are a different story. Not every school building has monkeys in it. But a power increase can be confirmed. And it didn't happen. In fact WBRU runs at 18,500 watts today. But there's more to the story.

Let me back up to the 1960s. In 1962, WBRU-AM incorporated as the Brown Broadcasting Service (BBS.) This made them a separate legal entity from the University. WBRU receives no funding from Brown University, but is staffed by students. In 1963 Sherm Strickhauser led the charge to get an FM stick. They applied for a signal on 93.3. it didn't happen.

In 1965, the Outlet Company, the owner of WJAR-AM and WJAR-TV donated 20,000 watt 95.5 WPFM to BBS. (Some sources say they paid $30,00 for it) The calls were changed and thus WBRU-FM was born February 21, 1966. Bare in mind at this point WBRU-AM is still a carrier current station. More here.

So fast forward to 1971. That primate accident was a failed attempt to increase their power to 50,000 watts. The interference it caused to "sensitive scientific equipment" i.e. monkey brains , nixed the plan to increase power at that location. They needed to find a new location. I found a reference in 2008 about a plan to move to the WPRO tower and increase power to 50,000 watts. Could that be the long delayed CP from 1971? Not exactly. If you fast forward to today, you can see that it's on the WPMZ tower.. and that they're still under 20,000 watts.
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But there is no way an electrode could demodulate an FM signal. It's just not possible. If this had been an AM signal I might have gone along with it for the entertainment value. But it's bunk. It may have caused interference, but no test monkey ever heard WBRU through the events described in the legend. None of this stopped WBRU from marketing T-shirts based on the monkey legend.