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An Early History of UF's Radio Station, WRUF

Pam Hawley Marlin  April 2021

Author's note: As a Gainesville native, I spent many years listening to WRUF. In particular, the Gator football games, "Dial-a-score" (WRUF's post football game show), and morning shows with Otis Boggs. Though not featured in this post, Boggs was announcer for WRUF broadcasts for 40 years.


"The Voice of Florida"

The small Tudor style building that once housed the University of Florida's (UF) Radio Station, and then UF's Police Station, is now gone. Located at the corner of Museum Road and Newell Drive on the University of Florida campus, the historic structure was recently removed to allow for construction of a new, contemporary style building to complement UF's ever growing landscape. Undoubtedly, every effort was made to keep the historic building, however, that doesn't take away the disappointment of seeing a part of UF's history disappear from campus. Constructed in 1928, the building was on the National Register of Historic Places.

An early view of the radio station with its 200 foot steel towers. UF Digital Collections

In 1926, a radio station with the call sign WHBN was operating from a Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. This was a period of rapid progress in radio technology and in an effort to contribute to the growth of communication in the state, the Florida legislature purchased the station and appropriated funds for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a new building to house the station. The University of Florida campus was selected as the new site for the radio station in part because a group of citizens wanted to bring radio to central and north Florida, and because UF felt it would give Engineering students experience. The station was moved north to UF campus where it began operating under the supervision of the College of Engineering. 1, 2, 3, 4

In March 1928, the local college newspaper, The Florida Alligator reported that the new radio station would open soon, "WHBN, as the local station will be called, will be five times as big as the average college radio station. The University of New Mexico is the only college with a station of the same size. Eventually WHBN will outclass any station in the south." Shortly before the station's opening, the call sign was changed from WHBN to WRUF to indicate the origin of the signal. 3

"Florida's New Radio Station To Open Soon" from The Florida Alligator March 31, 1928. UF Digital Collections (full story on page 1).

The new radio station building, constructed in the English Tutor Revival Style, was designed by architect Rudolph Weaver who designed many of UF's buildings in the early 20th Century. This building was the sole representative of the Tudor style on UF's campus. Located in a former cow pasture, the new station was reached from main campus via a dirt road. Two 200 foot steel towers were erected to boost the station's operating power. A General Electric transmitter had an output of 5,000 watts, significant at the time. The station's new slogan was, "The Voice of Florida." 4

Once construction was complete, "The first floor of the station had a reception room, office, a transmissions room, and three studios. The studios had interior windows, soundproofing, and were each a different size. The attic area consisted of a record library, a small studio, and a script editing room. The steeply pitched roof made it difficult to utilize the attic space to any great degree. The original interior walls were exposed brick." 4

UF Digital Collections

Exterior photos of the building. P Marlin August 2020

National Register of Historic Places sign on exterior entrance. P Marlin August 2020

The original mission of the station was to become a publicity tool for Florida and a statewide medium to provide information on weather, agricultural conditions, government, and educational activities. "The College of Engineering was heavily involved in the technical aspects of the station and student engineers gained practice and experience in operating and maintaining the equipment. The College of Agriculture and the Agricultural Extension Division broadcast farm news and lectures by faculty on agricultural research topics. The Teacher's College beamed programs to public schools and extension programs to teachers. WRUF broadcast sports events, broadening the support of loyal fans of the University's athletic teams." 4

A letter dated September 27, 1928 lists the broadcast schedule for WRUF starting October 1, 1928. Special and Area Study Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries.


A list of radio programs for the first month of operation, October 1928. Full list from The Florida Alligator


Garland Powell, Director of WRUF Radio Station

In 1929, Major Garland W. Powell was appointed the new WRUF radio station director by UF President, John Tigert. Powell, who was a lawyer, a flyer in World War I, and broadcaster, was active in the radio industry. Tigert had met Powell while serving as US Commissioner of Education in Washington D.C. It was not long before Powell experienced a financial setback at WRUF as the onset of the Great Depression reduced state funds to a trickle. In addition, the station's signal was limited to the north central region of Florida, limiting its audience and advertising ability. In the 1930s, Powell negotiated a contract with Columbia Broadcasting System to add WRUF to its network, thus boosting the station's range and advertising ability. The need for financing potentially forced the station toward commercialism, effectively removing its "just a college station" status. 4

Major Garland W. Powell (love the WRUF microphone). UF Digital Collections

"The Voice of Florida" postcard. UF Digital Collections

"Columbia To Add WRUF to Network" THe Florida Alligator, October 31, 1931. UF Digital Collections


Walter "Red" Barber, WRUF Announcer

An undergraduate student by the name of Walter "Red" Barber began his broadcast career as a student announcer for WRUF. His first day as broadcaster at UF was March 4, 1930, a day Barber remembered well,"That fall, 61 years ago, the Gators dedicated Florida Field with a game against mighty Alabama. Barber was a UF junior and a nervous neophyte of a play-by-play commentator." Barber says, "I would be terribly victimized and embarrassed that day, but it was also the day I became a broadcaster, never to allow myself to be inadequately prepared, and never again to even think of showing favoritism to any team or individual." Barber worked at WRUF for four years before leaving Gainesville to work with the Cincinnati Reds. He furthered his career by working with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Yankees. 5, 6

Walter "Red" Barber standing at the WRUF microphone with the Orange Grove String Band. The Orange Grove String Band was one of the popular programs. UF Digital Collections

University of Florida students Walter "Red" Barber and Jimmy Butsch at the WRUF microphone. UF Digital Collections

Red Barber, Claude Murphree and musicians at the University of Florida WRUF studio. UF Digital Collections

WRUF program log for February 19, 1934 listing the day's programs. Included are the initials and signatures of the announcers. This particular page indicates that WB (Walter Barber) was announcing "Florida Celery Week" and the "Orange Grove String Band." Special and Area Study Collections George A. Smathers Libraries.

WRUF program log for November 14, 1938 listing the day's programs. Included are the initials and signatures of the announcers. Special and Area Study Collections George A. Smathers Libraries.


Claude L. Murphree, UF and WRUF Organist

Claude Murphree, a nephew of UF's second president, Alfred A. Murphree, entered UF as a student in September 1924. In 1925, while still a student, Murphree was named University of Florida's Official Organist. As UF's organist, Murphree played for UF commencement and speaker events and gave regular concerts at the University Auditorium. He was also a regular feature on WRUF with programs such as, "Dinner organ recital" and "Slumbertime Organ." These organ performances were often recorded at the University Auditorium as Murphree played the Andrew Anderson Memorial Pipe Organ.

Claude L. Murphree, University of Florida organist. UF Digital Collections

In April 1927, "Murphree and The Andrew Anderson Memorial Pipe Organ were featured in the first radio program ever broadcast from a Gainesville station. This broadcast, on April 14,1927, was recorded in the University Auditorium and included works of Handel and Rachmaninov performed by Murphree. WHBM, the temporary station created the temporary station created, was set up for a four-dayperiod, during which four concerts were transmitted up to 200 miles."7 This event was reported in The Florida Alligator on April 16, 1927. Though the call sign is incorrectly listed as WHMB in the article, this event was possibly the first broadcast of the future WRUF station.

Murphree was considered a leading student musician in the south. He often traveled throughout Florida and his home state of Alabama giving performances. In the summer of 1930, he traveled to Europe and studied with Marcel Dupre, a noted organist and composer. Murphree carefully recorded his life events via newspaper clippings stored in five scrapbooks held at UF's Special and Area Study Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries. Select pages from Murphree's scrapbooks can be seen HERE.

When the Carillon bells were installed in the Century Tower in the 1950's, Murphree inaugurated the bells by playing a series of concerts. Sadly, Murphree died in a tragic accident in 1958.

From the scrapbook of Claude L. Murphree, University of Florida organist. Special and Area Study Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries. Select pages from Murphree's scrapbooks can be seen HERE.

From the scrapbook of Claude L. Murphree, University of Florida organist. Special and Area Study Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries. Select pages from Murphree's scrapbooks can be seen HERE.

From the scrapbook of Claude L. Murphree, University of Florida organist. Special and Area Study Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries. Select pages from Murphree's scrapbooks can be seen HERE.

WRUF program log for March 30, 1931 listing the day's programs. Included are the initials and signatures of the announcers. This particular program lists Claude Murphree, assisted by Jimmie Busch, singing announcer, performing from the University Auditorium. Special and Area Study Collections at George A. Smathers Libraries.


Signing Off

By the 1950's the station building was in need of repair. Though the technical facilities had been maintained and kept up to date, the building was leaking and the air conditioner was malfunctioning to the point that the noise interfered with radio broadcasts. In 1955, the station director, Garland Powell, retired and it was decided that WRUF would move to a new facility on campus. The building was renovated, and became the new home of the UF Police Department.

By 2018, the building continued to have issues with mold, asbestos, humidity and weak flooring. One day, as a police officer was walking into the building, his foot went through the floor nearly to his knee. It was decided that the building should be vacated and the police department moved to different facilites. 8 In 2021, the building was removed.

"While the history of WRUF is important to the University, the Old WRUF Radio Station building is not. Ultimately, the decision to demolish the building is based on its small size in a significant location that does not meet the needs of the University’s future. Additionally, the University does not feel that the building is significant enough to warrant the expenditure of significant funds to relocate and restore the building." 4

Site of the former WRUF Radio Station and UF Police Station building. P Marlin April 2021

Construction sign showing the future building. P Marlin April 2021



1 Central Florida Radio

2 UF Voice over 33 Years old; One of First Four in State. The Florida Alligator. March 9, 1962. UF Digital Collections

3 Florida's New Radio Station to Open Soon. The Florida Alligator. March 21, 1928. UF Digital Collections

4 UF Facilities Report

5 For Barber, it began at Florida Field

6 Red Barber Wikipedia

7 The Andrew Anderson Memorial Pipe Organ:A History of the University of Florida’s Monumental Instrument

8 UPD to move into portables amid building safety concerns

9 Special & Studies Collection George A. Smathers Libraries