WKPS (known as "The LION 90.7fm") is a college radio station owned by Penn State University. The station runs on a full-time, multi-format schedule featuring a wide variety of programming. "The LION 90.7fm" transmits to a potential audience of over 125,000 from its studio in the Hetzel Union Building (HUB)-Robeson Center. The station also has a live webcast, which is capable of streaming live to hundreds of listeners. WKPS is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with the primary goal being to serve the campus and local community and secondary goals being the training, education and instruction of students in broadcast radio and station management. The station is run entirely by Penn State undergraduates, and maintains its tradition of public service by allowing student broadcasters from any academic major and community broadcasters local to the area. It also retains its programmatic independence by remaining unaffiliated with any academic college.
WPSC, Penn State's original student station, emerged from the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912. Initially an experimental shortwave installation, it represented “the first licensed club in the nation" and possessed "one of the first experimental licenses" granted by the government. By 1921 WPSC was broadcasting on the AM dial at 500 watts and was one of the earliest college radio stations in the nation. Due to a combination of the Great Depression and increasing costs of regulatory compliance, the station ceased operations in 1932. Today, the WPSC call letters are assigned to William Paterson University.
In an effort to reestablish the tradition of student radio at Penn State, WDFM went on the air on December 6, 1953 as a result of the Senior Gift of the Class of 1951. Headquarters in 304 Sparks on the University Park campus, WDFM served its student audience for more than three decades. It changed its call letters to WPSU-FM in 1985. From the 1980s onward, student programming was progressively cut back. Later in the decade, more NPR programming was added to the schedule. By 1992, WPSU had become a full-fledged NPR affiliate with very few student ties and very little student programming. Despite the fact that the "new" radio station's mission and goals were dissimlar to those of early WDFM, the university allowed WPSU to exist in spite of its changes.
Founded in the 1960s, WHR was the first of three stations at Penn State specific to University Park residence halls. WHR, which stood for West Halls Radio, rebroadcast the WDFM signal and also produced and broadcast original content to its area residence halls.
On the AM dial, there also existed WEHR, a radio station in Penn State's East Residence Halls ("EHR" stands for "East Halls Radio"). At one time, three of Penn State's five residence areas possessed their own stations. WEHR was a typical freeform radio station; its playlist depended on the deejay.
Founded in 1972, WEHR originally broadcast from 10 Geary Hall, moving to 104 Johnston Commons sometime in the early 1980s. The station was set up to broadcast through the electric system in the dormitories of East Halls, via a carrier current, a system that failed miserably, so the station's main broadcast was through speakers into Johnston and Findlay commons. At some point, the station lost its ability to transmit over the radio dial and was forced to accept being heard infrequently on Penn State University's House and Food Services (HFS) Channel 21 on the on-campus cable television system.
The last broadcast schedule was posted on the station's website in 2005. Since that time, with limited resources, finances and student interest, WEHR ceased to function. The last staff to operate East Halls radio was Evan Raffel as General Manager, Alex Kozak and Programming Director, Jack Greening as deejay, Michael Boyson as Treasurer and James Peters as Business Manager. East Halls radio facility was said to house potentially the largest student archive of vinyl on-campus. From 1995 until 2005, Penn State had two student-run radio stations. By 2005, only WKPS remained.
Founded in the same year as WEHR, South Halls Radio was similarly inspired by WHR. Like its sister stations serving residence halls, it existed alongside WDFM, WHR, and WEHR to serve its student audience.
A growing number of students in the early 1990s, having become aware of the lack of student broadcasting options on WPSU and disillusioned with their options, decided to give student radio another try. A small group, led by Jeff Ecker, asked the university to provide funding to begin a brand-new student-run radio station in the tradition of WDFM prior to its professionalization. The new station would seek to serve the listening community by providing alternative and cultural programming not found in local commercial radio. WKPS went on the air on Halloween on Tuesday, October 31, 1995. The first song ever played on its airwaves was "Please Play This Song on the Radio" by NOFX.
WKPS was chartered as a student club under Penn State's Office of Student Affairs in order to avoid a fate similar to that of WDFM, which had been created as a subsidiary of the College of Communications. Though this move would prove problematic for the radio station in the future, it was ultimately heralded as the decision which would keep the station firmly within the students' grasp. Lacking in any professional oversight, the early radio station relied heavily on the staff of WPSU-FM 91.5 FM, with whom they shared the University-rented James building (also shared by The Daily Collegian). Any oversight and support were extremely short-lived, however: WPSU relocated in May 1998.
As per its FCC licensure, WKPS tweaked the original goals of WDFM, citing primarily the need to provide for the State College community and Penn State students with public service; secondarily, the need to provide a hands-on, co-curricular learning environment for students of any academic major interested in broadcast media; and finally, to provide a recreational extracurricular activity for students. Therefore, WKPS was open to students of all majors, not specifically those in the College of Communications for broadcast media. The station offered opportunities that the previous student radio stations hadn't seen including, in 1999, the start of students broadcasting Penn State football, and in 2001, the start of internet web-streaming of the station.
Incidentally, "WKPS" was the fictitious student radio station featured in the 1990 film "Pump Up The Volume" starring Christian Slater.
The 2000-2001 academic year was busy for WKPS. Officers of the station, including Michael D. Walsh, began restructuring the station's image and unveiled the "new" station as "The LION 90.7fm." This academic year, however, would prove to be a difficult one for the radio station. Members on the original Student Organization Budgeting Committee (SOBC) had graduated and, though WKPS had been given generous funding in the past, the funding began to decrease in amount each year as student board members began to graduate. By 2000, students in the University Park Allocations Committee (which replaced the SOBC) were not so inclined to give the station money. UPAC cut funding for The Lion 90.7FM by 80 percent during the 2000-2001 academic year, a decrease which nearly crippled the station. Student General Manager Mike Walsh secured funding from the office of Student Affairs, with its Vice President Bill Asbury allegedly promising to provide funding support for an additional five years. The exact terms of this verbal contract are contested—when Vicky Triponey became the Vice President of Student Affairs, the University claimed Asbury only promised three years.
In order to secure more professional oversight for the station, The LION 90.7fm attempted the following year to create a mutually beneficial partnership with Penn State's College of Communications. The University agreed to create such a relationship, and the office of Student Affairs and the College of Communications each offered to pay half of the salary for a faculty adviser, which the new station had lacked since its inception. The relationship deteriorated rapidly. Jeff Brown, the faculty adviser, quickly moved to promote the agenda of the College of Communications - to create an exclusively co-curricular experience - without regard to the station's stated goals or charter as an extracurricular club in Student Affairs.
The rocky relationship continued and reached a boiling point when the College wired its student news studio into the station's sound board without proper communication or permission, leading to an incident known locally as "The LION Riot". It was at this time that faculty members of the College of Communications entered the WKPS studios while students were broadcasting live, proceeding to reprimand student broadcasters on-air for a perceived failure to broadcast a curricular-focused campus news segment. The LION 90.7fm still references this incident from time to time through audio imaging on the station. An article and partial transcript of the incident was published by a local independent newspaper, and complete audio of the incident continues to exist online.
Student staffers had only begun to get settled, however, when in 2004, newly installed Vice President of Student Affairs Vicky Triponey cut all funding to the radio station. Though she allegedly cited WKPS's flagship talk show Radio Free Penn State as the cause, she denied that its administratively-critical tack led to her decision. Instead, she claimed that The Lion 90.7FM was only promised three years of support by Asbury, a charge Asbury himself did not contest. The station managed to stay afloat, and with charitable contributions from listeners and alumni and help from UPAC, The Lion 90.7FM maintained its position in the Penn State Community.
In late 2005, student General Manager Brandon W. Peach assumed the responsibility for putting the station back on the right financial track. While the problems with the administration would continue to grow, the radio station has been able to procure aid from alternate sources and continue to provide an outlet for multi-format student radio. In 2006, the Alumni Interest Group renewed the station's FCC License, held by the Penn State Board of Trustees for another eight-year term.
Faculty adviser Robert Zimmerman died on Monday, January 15, 2007, due to an allergic reaction to medication. He was 73 years old. The LION 90.7fm continued to operate, but was financially jeopardized due to high operating expenses and limited income sources.
By the summer of 2002, the relationship with the College of Communications had dissolved entirely, and Student Affairs were no longer willing to pay half of the adviser's salary. Recent graduate and former WKPS officer Christopher Buchignani was hired for substantially less to replace Jeff Brown for one year. In the summer of 2003, the College of Communications, who leased the space in the James Building, forced The LION 90.7fm to evict. Dr. Stanley Latta, Director of Unions & Student Activities under Penn State's office of Student Affairs, authorized the station's move to the Hetzel Union Building. Room 9, right next to the HUB's large aquarium, was designated the main studio, with additional offices (one of which would become The Lion's production room) allotted to the station on floor three. On October 1, 2003, the station went live from Room 9.
Though the new station was smaller than the station to which the staff had become accustomed, it allowed for The LION 90.7fm to be physically independent. Live webcasts, added to the station's website the previous year, were launched for student and community audience of both State College residents and distant alumni. The webcasts continue to be popular, nearly reaching their listener capacity limit each time The LION 90.7fm broadcasts a Penn State football game.
In 2008, then-President & General Manager Tom Shakely began working with alumni to resuscitate the Penn State Student Radio Alumni Interest Group, an affiliate non-profit organization of the Penn State Alumni Association. The Alumni Interest Group had been founded in 2005 by then-faculty adviser Robert K. Zimmerman, but had become inactive after his death in 2007. Mike Gogel, a former President & General Manager of WKPS, became president of the Alumni Interest Group in 2009. During his two-year tenure the group created The Robert K. Zimmerman Endowment for Student Broadcasting at Penn State, the first endowed fund benefiting WKPS to support the perpetual financial needs of student broadcasting.
In 2011, another former President & General Manager, Brandon W. Peach, was elected to head the Alumni Interest Group. During his tenure the name of the group changed to the Penn State Media Association, while its mission expanded beyond traditional broadcasting to foster "relationships across the Penn State community for the purpose of connecting students, alumni, professors, and friends passionate about creating and promoting a more robust cultural environment through media." Specifically, the Penn State Media Association re-imagined its role in order to "support a diversity of student media endeavors, and relatedly, to promote a holistic approach to supporting student media that recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary media."
In 2014 the Penn State Media Association launched its second capital campaign, this time to create the "Penn State Media Association Trustee Scholarship for Student Broadcasters." The capital campaign seeks to endow this scholarship to benefit WKPS students with demonstrated financial need, and once realized will produce more than $10,000 annually in available scholarship assistance to student broadcasters.