WWL, the first licensed radio station in the Gulf South, broadcast from a physics-lab-turned-studio in Marquette Hall.
Loyola University New Orleans has long prepared students for careers in mass communication. Its academic program grew out of an experimental radio station operated by the physics department before World War I. That station became WWL, the first licensed radio station in the Gulf South, when it began broadcasting from a physics-lab-turned studio in Marquette Hall in 1922. That success was quickly followed by the first edition of Loyola’s student newspaper, The Maroon, in 1923. From WWL’s earliest years, staff members taught courses in radio announcing, script writing, acting, directing and programming in the English and speech departments. Many continued to teach at Loyola when the Department of Communications was established in 1953.
Loyola broadened its communication offerings in 1931 with journalism courses taught in the English department. In 1937, the department was renamed the Department of English and Journalism. For historical purposes, 1937 is seen as the birth of what would eventually become the School of Mass Communication making the unit more than 75 years old.
In 1952, a separate Department of Journalism was created with a curriculum that included news writing and reporting, news editing, advanced editing, feature writing, sports writing, editorial writing, photography and the history of journalism. Things were happening with WWL too. On September 7, 1957, WWL expanded to television. Until 1960, WWL had operated as a department of the university. Loyola’s board established a broadcasting committee to oversee the station.
In 1961, the Department of Communications added public relations and advertising courses. The Department of Communications and the Department of Journalism merged in 1977 into the Department of Communications/Journalism (renamed the Department of Communications the following year). The department offered degrees in journalism, radio, television and film. In 1981, the faculty created formal sequences of study in journalism, public relations, advertising, broadcast journalism, broadcast production and communications studies. A sequence in photojournalism was added in 1988. A graduate program offering a master’s degree in mass communication was established in 1989. That same year, Loyola’s board of directors decided it was unwise to allow the university to be so financially dependent on a single investment, and Loyola sold its media holdings.
Communications Music Complex
The department’s classroom and laboratories were scattered in three university buildings until 1985, when the Communications/Music Complex opened. The top two floors were specifically designed for the teaching of mass communication courses. As the department responded to changes in the communications industries, the building proved remarkably adaptable to teaching new technologies.
In 1996, the Shawn M. Donnelley Center for Nonprofit Communications was created in the School of Mass Communication to help nonprofits in the New Orleans’ area with communication projects. Since its beginning, Loyola students have completed more than 350 projects for nonprofit clients. Also in 1996, the Loyola University Center for Environmental Communication was established. It is one of the few such centers in the United States that specializes in training communicators in covering environmental issues. The mission is to spread the word about the environmental issues facing Louisiana and beyond.
The School of Mass Communication Emerges
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused terrible destruction across much of New Orleans. The university was relatively unscathed physically, but enrollment declined, and given the uncertainties of the future, the administration responded with a major reorganization. Along with other programs across the university, the broadcast journalism, broadcast production, communication studies and film studies sequences and the graduate program were eliminated. The Department of Communications, however, was upgraded and renamed the School of Mass Communication. At that time, the faculty offered sequences of study in advertising, public relations and journalism, including photojournalism and was weaving digital communication through each of them. The faculty later added media studies as a sequence. However, in 2009, the faculty decided to seek ACEJMC accreditation and with that, later revised its curriculum to offer only two sequences: journalism for multiple platforms and strategic communications with separate tracks in advertising and public relations.