Penn State student broadcasting marks its 105th year

When visiting Penn State at the start of this fall semester, we sat in on The LION 90.7fm’s first all-staff meeting of the academic year. Ross Michael, the station’s president and general manager, mentioned that they would be celebrating the station’s 23rd birthday sometime in October, as the present incarnation of the larger Penn State student broadcasting experience. We can now share that the birthday celebration will be happening October 29th from 1-3pm in the HUB-Robeson Center, and will probably be streamed live by the station.

There’s a historical marker in The LION 90.7fm’s facilities called the “Penn State Student Broadcasting Story,” which covers the 100+ years of this Penn State tradition. Here’s its coverage of The LION 90.7fm (WKPS)’s era:

WKPS

Determined to restore that voice and resurrect a unique and powerful Penn State tradition, students in the early 1990s once again championed the cause of student broadcasting. The Board of Trustees petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a new license, to be operated independently by and for the students, and on October 31, 1995 the airwaves welcomed WKPS and the rebirth of student radio.

Located in Downtown State College, this third generation station experienced its share of growing pains, learning to excel not through an academic department or college, but for the first time as an independent student organization. Eventually WKPS found an identity in “The LION” and, in 2003, a home in the HUB-Robeson Center. Creating a station both innovative and well-programmed, students restored many of their earliest traditions, including Nittany Lion athletics broadcasts, coverage and fundraising for the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, and service as a platform and voice for a growing student body. Diverse programs such as the Jazz Spectrum,  Jam 91, State Your Face, Latin Mix, and Radio Free Penn State echoed earlier incarnations from the WDFM era.

Students continued to narrate the stories of their time, notably during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, during which Mike Walsh covered the attacks through John Raynar, who was working one block from the World Trade Center. “We were the only media outlet in State College who had someone on the scene that day,” recalled Walsh. “That was the high point of our professionalism.”

While breaking new technical ground, student broadcasters also learned to redefine their value in light of a more connected culture, pioneering internet streaming ahead of peer stations, establishing an automated broadcast schedule, partnering with Movin’ On and The State Theatre to welcome acts large and small, and connecting major industry labels to independent and avant garde artists. In a tangible way, student broadcasters created a home for peers, professors, townspeople, and friends to put into practice the ideal of “a liberal and practical education,” embodying the principles of a free society through concern for speech in all its forms, as well as artistic and musical expression, and a cross-generational experience of a community in time which valued sense of place.

Forging their own identity in the context of the larger history of student broadcasting, students fused an often fierce commitment to principle with an evergreen mission of enhancing university and community life.

This is the history and spirit that will be celebrated later this month as Penn State student broadcasting celebrates its 105th year and as The LION 90.7fm marks its 23rd year as present standard bearer of that tradition.

Fall 2018 All-Staff meeting and visit

The LION 90.7fm’s first All-Staff meeting of the Fall 2018 semester took place on August 27th. Ross Michael, President/General Manager of The LION 90.7fm, spoke along with other student leadership for about an hour on plans for the year and semester, ambitions, and struggles.

Phil Schwarz, an alum and former “Wake Up Call” morning show host from 2007-09, paid a visit to the station. He is back at Penn State to complete an MBA program, and this was his first visit in nearly a decade.

Russ Rockwell, station adviser, trained a faculty broadcaster in some of the station’s new equipment afterwards.

The LION 90.7fm’s facilities are located in the HUB-Robeson Center, but only a short walk away the calming atmosphere of University House and the Hintz Family Alumni Center grounds are a place for inspiration and respite.

Bob Hanna’s WDFM reminiscences

Bob Hanna recently shared his memories from Penn State and WDFM in the late 1960s:

I arrived at University Park as a freshman for fall term 1967, already knowing that I wanted to get involved with WDFM. I was trained on the equipment and began doing “board ops” for some shows where the announcers didn’t do their own. I also volunteered to handle the remote setup for the weekly recording of the religious service in Schwab Auditorium. Basically, I said I would do just about anything to get the hands-on experience so it meant doing a lot of the shifts no one else wanted. In addition, I handled hourly newscast announcing duties occasionally.

In my sophomore year, I was named Co-Production Director (along with Mike Berger) and was responsible for training everyone on the equipment and scheduling board-ops. Before being allowed to run solo on the air, everyone had to pass a test confirming their familiarity with the equipment. Mike and I designed a killer test…lots of false-cues on reel-to-reel tapes, miscued tape cartridges, unplugged mics! In hindsight, it was probably more severe than it needed to be.

In my junior year, I was named Station Manager. Si Sidle was Program Director and Paul Heimbach was Chief Engineer. These were the only paid positions on the staff. I remember the University paid each of us $125 for the entire academic year as compensation for our services. Dr. Nelson once told me it had something to do with the fact that because the University held the license to the station, they needed to be able to show the FCC that we were “employees”. Given the hours each of us put in, the hourly rate was probably a penny or so. We worked hard that year to improve the news and sports reporting and had two very capable people in charge of those departments. Al Dunning was News Director and Barry Jones was Sports Director. With Vietnam War protests coming to even Happy Valley, there was a lot to report that year.

As a senior, I stepped back a bit to give the new management team space to implement their own vision. Plus, I was working each evening at one of the local stations so my free time was severely limited.

Looking back at the time I spent with WDFM, it was one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities it gave me.

Luke Garrett thanks Alumni for Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship

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10/12/17

I am writing to express my enormous gratitude at receiving the Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship. I already feel incredibly rewarded being involved with The LION 90.7fm, and this news is more of a blessing than I could ever dream of.

I am currently a freshman enrolled in the Electrical Engineering program—after working in the HVAC/Electrical trade after high school, I wanted to learn how to design and apply concepts revolving around electronics and power. I am learning a lot from people I’m meeting here at the station, and hopefully I will get to learn more about engineering applications in communications. Because I live off campus, I have had a difficult time meeting other students and getting involved with normal campus activities—but hosting a show on The LION makes everything easier, and has allowed me to meet people from all corners of Penn State’s academic life.

Although I am committed to engineering, I am primarily involved with The LION because I love music more than anything else. I am a huge fan of classic rock—the hits, and all the songs surrounding the hits—and I want to contribute to the student body of Penn State by bringing to light the amazing music that has been forgotten over the past few decades. I know that this scholarship will help immensely in my academic life, and will allow me to continue to help spread the music of the vinyl era. In the future, I look forward to helping The LION grow and spread across Happy Valley—I strongly believe in the power of student radio, and I feel like I can be a part of the effect to strengthen the station. I hope to recruit more DJs, work to help as an officer, and make The LION everything that it can be.

Thank you so much!

Luke Garrett
70 Orchard Road
Port Matilda, PA 16870

 

Reaching The LION 90.7fm’s 2017 goal

By Tom Shakely

I wrote earlier this year soliciting audio, memories, items, etc. from Penn State’s student broadcasting alumni for a growing permanent archive, and more recently on the news of Penn State’s “Student Broadcasting” historical marker placed in from of Pattee/Paterno Library just before the start of the fall semester. I also visited the old WDFM headquarters in Sparks Building and made a short video of the Student Broadcasting marker for those who can’t visit it in person.

Why do I think Penn State student broadcasting still matters in a world where content can be created and consumed instantaneously? Why does The LION 90.7fm—the heir to WPSC, WDFM, and WPSU—still matter for Penn State students?

For the reason I shared with Penn State News earlier this year: “While it’s a fact that student broadcasting has always been made possible by technology, its true power has always been in empowering the human voice.”

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What The LION 90.7fm does, and what its predecessors we honor did in years past, is provide a specific place where young people and community members can come together and truly learn from each other. It provides a place where the human voice can be fine tuned, where a Penn Stater can learn how to speak in a way that’s compelling and to earn the attention of a potentially indifferent audience. It provides an extracurricular sort of classroom for learning about how to be a positive public citizen along with a few dozen other Penn Staters. And it provides a place for students to share great music, the news and life of the community, and the spirit of each class with anyone who might want to hear. It’s a place that reminds us that what we say, and the things we create, matter to a whole community and can change lives, careers, and influence others in all sorts of unexpected and unplanned, positive ways.

We’ve wanted to support Penn State student broadcasters for a long time. It always amazed me that, despite a history dating to the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 that enabled the first student radio experiments, there has never been a formal scholarship to support students involved with student broadcasting.

That changed when Mike Walsh, an alumnus of The LION 90.7fm, came to me not long ago and committed $25,000 toward a necessary $50,000 to create the first permanent annual scholarship for Penn State student broadcasters. Thanks to Mike’s gift, I signed the paperwork committing the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group to raise that remaining $25,000 no later than June 30, 2019. I’ve been confident that alumni will step up with contributions of all sizes to help us reach this goal, and I’m writing now to ask if you’ll be one who steps up and makes a gift before the end of this year.

We’ve already raised ~$7,500 of the remaining $25,000, and we’re aiming to raise a final ~$2,000 by December 31st. Next year, we’re aiming to raise ~$8,500. That would leave ~$7,500 to raise in 2019 and ensure we reach our $50,000 goal to make this scholarship permanent.

Even better, Penn State will double match the annual scholarship available to members of The LION 90.7fm, which means that by helping us reach this $50,000 goal, an annual ~$7,200 in scholarship assistance will be available for Penn State student broadcasters going forward, every year.

I only write to appeal for gifts like this once per year, and now is that time for this year. Will you make a gift today (or later this month) to help us raise our remaining $2,000 goal before December 31st?

Make a one time, tax deductible gift here, or consider signing up as a recurring scholarship donor directly through Penn State.

As alums of WPSC, WDFM, WPSU, WKPS, or any of the old residence hall stations, I think we have some duty to the students of today who’ve followed in our footsteps to make life better for them than it was for us. To make Penn State just a little bit better by building up student broadcasters and making it better than we found it.

That’s ultimately what I’m asking you to consider, if you’re in a position to make a gift.

Paul Krow’s WDFM memories

WOW! Do I remember WDFM. I started out at 7:00 PM on Friday my first year and the following year, WMAJ asked to move my show, “Marquis Memories” to 8:00 PM for a simulcast on both stations. What an honor!

My scripts got better because now I was in the big time. I would go to WDFM in Sparks at midnight on Thursday and record the show, so I could edit out any mistakes.

One night I played “The Fantastics” because the Players were doing the show the following weekend. There is a song in there that is listed as NOT FOR AIR BROADCAST. But, I didn’t think very many people listened to my show, so I played it anyhow.

The lights on every phone lit up within seconds as Micky Bergstein and Steve (Forgot his name, program manager at WMAJ) called immediately to complain. But, I learned that I had at least two listeners. They later forgave me.

What fun we had at WDFM. There are at least four or five other funny stories, but I won’t bore you with them.

Paul Krow
Marquis Memories
Class of 1963

Frank Petrusic’s WDFM reminiscences

My time at WDFM was a growing experience in broadcasting. It was during a time of turmoil on the PSU campus in the late 60s and early 70s. Anti-war demonstrations, strained race relations, and dealing with the “culture shock” of leaving a H.S. graduating class of 250 to a full-size major college campus with more than 30,000 students at the time. I joined so I could get some experience in broadcasting above and beyond the classroom – and at that time, the radio/TV classroom options were somewhat weak and limited.

The station was located on the 3rd floor of Sparks building, and new people were “eased” into the lineup after an initial audition. As I mentioned previously, “Stereo 91.1” – as we were called, had a limited audience across campus, and we didn’t play much of the music that was geared toward students. We were closer to a Public Radio kind of station with classical music, light pop fare, and news, weather & sports reports. Our hours were limited, but all “on-air” people were required to get a 3rd Class Telecommunications license from the FCC, so we could operate the transmitter (turning it on and off). The studio was small, and we had a separate one for the “newsman” facing the on-air host. We had a rather large room of vinyl records, that reflected the more conservative taste we were required to play as part of the station’s license agreement with the FCC. No commercials, but we always tried to take some pride in reporting the news honestly. Had a constantly chattering AP teletype machine in a small room next door which furnished our news, sports & weather. I remember Dr. Harold Nelson as our faculty advisor, and Dr. Lillian Preston also contributed her industry knowledge to the staff.

We had opportunities to do “play by play” sports broadcasts of Penn State football and basketball. I remember the thrill of actually doing a football game from the press box at Beaver Stadium. Two of us took turns doing “play by play” and game analysis. My connections with the Penn State athletic department at the time (most specifically with Richie Lucas – former PSU All-American QB and Asst. AD), got me a job as the Public Address announcer for Penn State Basketball home games at Rec Hall during my junior year. It was a thrill being down on the floor, and introducing players on the few TV broadcasts we hosted in those days. I don’t remember many of the people with whom I worked – there was a great deal of turnover. But I was the Program Director of the station my senior year, and I remember working with Kevin Nelson, who spent a great deal of time at WRSC-AM radio in State College following his graduation.

Overall, for four years, it was a fun and learning experience. When I look at the new opportunities offered by the recent generous alumni gifts to upgrade the Radio/TV/Film program at Penn State, I wish I could have gone thru the program now. Still, with the classroom work, it got me into the business I wanted to work and spent more than 24 years working at WJAC-TV in Johnstown, PA before I made a mid-life career change into another field. Still remember rattling on the air about “Stereo 91.1” and giving the current “Penn State temperature” more times than I can count.

—Frank Petrusic
Penn State 1973, Speech Communications/Broadcasting Option

Penn State News on ‘Student Broadcasting’ historical marker

Penn State News has an official feature up on the marker’s placement, along with a short video overview of student broadcasting’s 1912-present history:

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New historical marker celebrates ‘Student Broadcasting’
John Patishnock
August 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK — For more than a century, Penn State has pioneered broadcasting college radio, and now there’s a new historical marker to share that story with the many visitors, students, faculty and staff on the University Park campus.

Located outside of Sparks Building along Pattee Mall, the newly installed “Student Broadcasting” historical marker touts that “Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the Class Gift of 1912 enabled early national experiments.”

Originally called WPSC, the University’s on-campus student radio station has changed names several times, with generations of students making an impact. Currently, The LION 90.7 FM (WKPS) is headquartered inside the HUB-Robeson Center and boasts new studio space that was part of the building’s expansion a few years ago.

The Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group — one of more than 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups — spearheaded having the marker installed and plans to follow up with a ceremony during Homecoming on Nov. 11.

“It’s an honor that fresh generations of Penn Staters will be able to encounter the spirit of past times through this historical marker,” said Tom Shakely, president of the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group. “Penn Staters were broadcasting experimentally before the world wars that defined the 20th century, and they were covering Nittany Lion football games as early as the Hugo Bezdek years.

“Later, Penn Staters broadcast Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 speech in Rec Hall. On Sept. 11, 2001, Penn Staters broadcast live from Ground Zero. These are just a few vignettes from an incredible history. While it’s a fact that student broadcasting has always been made possible by technology, its true power has always been in empowering the human voice.”

Thomas Doorley’s WDFM memories

Thomas Doorley shares his WDFM memories:

As a freshman and sophomore in 1962-64 I was a DJ, newscaster, sportscaster, and generally jack-of-most trades at WDFM. I enjoyed it. My music was jazz, rock and folk.

I arrived on campus as an engineering major but with a career in broadcasting as a preferred choice. In high school I was the sportscaster for the morning announcement broadcasts. I had a TV (black and while) in my room at home and I’d turn off the sound and call the play X play for football and baseball games. Loved it! Once at Penn State I jumped at the chance to join WDFM. Since we had to be our own ‘control room” I got my FCC engineers’ license and I was good to go.

WDFM seemed very professional to me. Having access to an extensive library of albums was a surprise and a thrill. What a delight, to prowl through those albums! My first gig was as a DJ. I then I picked up newscasting and did time as Penn State’s baseball one man team. Live from Beaver Field! The big deal about doing the evening news was that the 9PM news was simulcast on the AM station, WMAJ. Now that was big time, reaching all of Centre County!

(My sister was a Penn State grad working in New York City in advertising, and she created a band for me should I continue on as a newscaster. Rather than being simply Tom Doorley, she suggested the more elegant…”Tonight from New York the nightly news with T. Lawerence Doorley!” It sounded good to me.)

I felt honored to have the trust of the leaders of WDFM to handle the entire production on my own. The only sharp comment I ever got was to “tone down” some of my music during drive time. The preferred jazz at the time was Sinatra, not the more up-tempo or “out there” folks like Miles Davis. They were probably right. But I still managed to slip a bit of Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal into the mix. In retrospect this was a leadership experience that has helped shape my life and career.

After two full and exciting years at WDFM I was offered the role as night manager. I pondered it and realized that the time it would take away for my studies and my income-generating activity was just too much. I came to the realization that I was not likely to pursue broadcasting as my career. And, while that has turned out to be true, I have continued to keep my hand in the skills I developed at WDFM. I’ve appeared on radio and TV talking about my books and delivering insights about strategy and governance. Because of WDFM I am confident. I know what’s going on and how to handle the camera and microphone.

Thank you, WDFM.