How to make a bumper sticker in the 1980s

I’ve written many times about my experience in college at the campus radio station, WMHD. I’d always loved radio and was thrilled to be on the air.

The station went on the air in 1981, and off the air for good in 2013. Who could have foreseen how radio would be come less and less vital? Fewer and fewer students wanted to be on the air, and finally the school threw in the towel.

A small group of students shifted the station to online streaming and still operate it that way. You can listen here. Over the summer, the current station manager found some of my old blog posts about WMHD and emailed me to ask about the old days. She described a small but vibrant group that keeps WMHD streaming, but also involved in providing live music at campus events. It’s exciting to see.

I was looking through some old files the other day when I came upon these two WMHD bumper stickers from around 1987. I designed them myself.

It’s crazy to imagine it now, but in 1987 computers were primitive compared to what we have today and they lacked the tools to design such things. I used paper and pencil to design this sticker. I used a straightedge to draw the WMHD logo. If I recall correctly, I traced some curved object to get the D right.

I used rub-on letters for “Rose-Hulman 90.5FM.” These were sheets with lots of letters on them. You could get them in a bunch of different fonts, but I chose this typewriter font because it looked clean. I drew a faint line and then, letter by letter, put the sheet down onto the paper letter side down, lined up the letter on the line and next to the adjacent letter, and used a pencil to scribble across each letter to transfer it from the sheet to the paper. It was exacting work.

Then I sent the finished artwork off to a bumper-sticker company with written instructions to make the background black, the WMHD and 90.5FM letters yellow, and Rose-Hulman white. I forget how many we ordered, probably 1,000. They came back perfect.

After I graduated I put one on my new car. Looking at it now, I see that it is a slightly different design. We must have run out of the original stickers and lost the original artwork. I would have had to recreate the artwork for a second sticker run!

This wasn’t the only time or way I rendered the WMHD logo. The school let me and some buddies paint the hallway in the dormitory our station was in. We chose this red-stripe-on-white scheme to replace a drab beige. I painted our logo on the wall next to the broadcast-studio door. Because I always did our logo by hand, they came out a little different every time. We painted these walls in 1988 and they stayed this way for nearly three decades. My son made this photo of me next to the logo in 2012.

Me at WMHD

I loved my time on WMHD. It gave me pleasure and joy as I ground my way through engineering school. I used to do the morning show (story here), and I was on the air when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded (story here).

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7 responses to “How to make a bumper sticker in the 1980s”

  1. J P Avatar

    How cool! I love imaginative word art, and the way you linked those letters together was fabulous. I also love how long it stayed around at the school.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A student before me actually designed our logo, I just recreated it as best I could. I wish I had an image of the previous logo, on which the logo you see here was based. It was probably technically a better design.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Love the reference to “rub on letters” (i.e. Letraset and other cheaper brands). Used a ton of them myself. One of the downtown art stores in Milwaukee tried to get into selling Macs a year or so after they came out, simply because they lost so much agency and media business with people stopping the purchase of rub-on letters! Eventually they went under…

    Of course it was many, many years before Mac type could actually be “kerned” correctly. My art director buddies claimed they could walk down a grocery store isle and immediately pick out labels that had been done on Macs; and many still bought type laid out from type houses until the computer type programs allowed kerning.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t see bad kerning until I worked in publishing briefly and got schooled. Then I couldn’t not see it. So frustrating!

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Computers have certainly made everything so much easier. Just the other day I was attempting to explain the process of how we edited audio tape back in my radio days…with a grease pencil, razor blade and Scotch tape.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Digital editing is sooooooo much easier than that!

      I remember in my radio days recording phone calls to play back on the air. I could ostensibly edit them with razor blade and tape but I didn’t have time.

      I got a tour of a station about 10 years ago that did it all digitally, and on a screen right in front of you, you could edit a call to be just what you wanted it to be in a couple seconds. Amazing.

  4. Sam Avatar

    Cool post!

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