The Man Who Made WUWM: Former GM Ruane Hill Reflects On The Station's Rich History

Sep 9, 2019

A lot of things happened in 1964. In the United States, the landmark Civil Rights Act was signed into law. The U.K. exported Beatlemania to the world, and established the world's first pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. And across the world, another radio station came on the air: WUWM. 

On Sep. 9, 1964, WUWM began broadcasting with Dr. Ruane Hill at the helm as the station's first general manager. The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin system had tasked Hill with creating the station.

READ: Public Radio Is Still 'A Beacon' For WUWM's Bob Bach

Bonnie North speaking with Dr. Ruane Hill in 2019.
Credit Lauri Jones

"The Regents had decided Milwaukee is big enough, and brawly enough, and troublesome enough [that] it ought to have its own radio station, WUWM. They were amazed at Milwaukee and wondered, 'Where do we start?' " Hill explains.

He says he was asked to do three jobs with one salary: "A third of me was to be director of radio and TV, and to put a radio station on the air as soon as possible." Another third of him was to teach two courses at the university, and the last third would be creating programming for the burgeoning, statewide TV network. 

"I try to be modest about it, but I'm just so proud. It's just great ... I knew our goal was solid — to be a community service."
A telegraph congratulating WUWM on its first birthday.
Credit Courtesy of Dr. Ruane Hill

A year after his hiring, WUWM was on the air. What had started as a student lab quickly evolved into a full-fledged radio station, growing alongside a nationwide movement to create a national public radio service. At the time, the radio waves were ruled by commercial radio and many had started to switch their focus to rock music. 

"There was a place for serious talk and serious questioning and serious discussion, and we could provide it," Hill says.

He continued to run the station as the general manager until 1976. And although he left his post more than four decades ago, he says he continues to listen to the station, "starting at 4:30 in the morning, and during the day to find out what really happened, and at night when I check out." 

Hill remains a super-fan of the station he helped create, 55 years later. 

"I try to be modest about it, but I’m just so proud. It’s just great ... I knew our goal was solid — to be a community service," he says.