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Notes from underground

On the air for 60 years and still going strong, WPRK is one of American college radio's oldest stations. Despite an FCC hiccup last month, it looks like the station will continue to buck the trend

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WPRK's 60th Anniversary Celebration Concert

noon-10 p.m. Saturday, April 7
with the London Souls, Hundred Waters, Beebs and Her Money Makers, SKIP, Saskatchewan, Yip-Yip, K.G. Omulo, Savi Fernandez Band, Laney Jones, Run for Cover and more TBA
Mills Lawn, Rollins College
1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park

WPRK Screen Printing T-Shirt Party

7-9 p.m. Friday, April 6
WPRK studio
1000 Holt Ave., #2745,
Winter Park
free / bring your own T-shirt to print on


10 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday, April 5
with WPRK DJs ThinkDifferent, Oam, Chrono, Kokopelli, DJ Cub, Ian West and DJ Mo
The Peacock Room
1321 N. Mills Ave.
donations at door go to WPRK

When radio silence hit the 91.5 frequency on the FM dial on March 7, there was a sense of alarm. Some of the WPRK regulars, volunteer community DJs and ambitious students alike, took to Facebook to explain that their aural flights of fancy would be suspended indefinitely: There was a problem with the transmitter (nothing new for a station perpetually low on funds), but little specific information was forthcoming. As the hours of dead air stretched into days, conspiracy theories weren't far off, nor were they unexpected.

The station that calls itself the “best in basement radio” – broadcasting from the Rollins College campus since 1952 – has seen its share of controversy over the years, most notably in 2000, when local public radio outlet WMFE-FM 90.7 made summer-semester overtures to Rollins administration with the intention of taking over the college radio playhouse. Though that deal was never finalized, this most recent moment of silence immediately gave rise to whispers that WMFE – fresh off the collapse of its deal with Daystar Television, a Christian outlet that had made an offer to buy its public television operations – was creeping again.

The timing couldn't have been worse. WPRK was already microphone-deep in planning this week's celebration of the station's 60th anniversary, something the audible vulnerability of not broadcasting at all would surely tarnish. Add to that the fact that across the country, the student-run radio station, home of free-form “alternative” tastemaking, is apparently a dying breed – according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, three universities made multimillion-dollar deals in recent years by selling off their FCC licenses to outside sources that immediately flipped formats back to classical music.

In fact, all the anxiety proved unwarranted. According to an email sent out by station manager Clark Sprinkel on March 15, the silence had a qualified justification, albeit a confusing one.

“The FCC licenses radio stations at a specific latitude and longitude, [and] our license says we are broadcasting about 8/10 of a mile to the northeast of where we are located,” he wrote. “The WPRK transmitter has been located in the same location since 1952. It has never moved. Our best guess is that when WPRK made the initial application to the FCC back in the 1950s, there was some sort of mix-up that recorded our latitude and longitude incorrectly.”

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