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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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President & CEO, WMFE Public Media

“WPRK is college radio at its best. Run by students, programmed by students, and enjoyed by the entire community. Orlando wouldn't be the same without WPRK!”

Susan Cohn Lackman

Rollins College music professor; WPRK faculty adviser, 1982-2000

“What I remember most when I think of WPRK is Gordon Fraser, the general manager until 1990 or 1991. … He took me under his wing and trained me, just as he did Edwin Newman (NBC News) and Robert MacNeil (of PBS' “Newshour”). Gordon was a correspondent during World War II, assigned to various Army units as they trekked through Italy, traipsed alongside Patton in the mud in Germany, recorded the liberation of the concentration camps, and welcomed de Gaulle back to a jubilant Paris. What a gift it was to be with him and to learn from him!”


Phantom Third Channel, DJ, 2005-present

“I think that WPRK fills a gap for an audience that's looking for something outside of the larger controlled media. It definitely educates the community as far as different kinds of music and other things happening outside what the mainstream media reports on. Nationwide, at this point, to be on a freeform college radio station with no NPR affiliation is really rare.”


WPRK DJ, 1990-1993; peripatetic local DJ

“Every semester they would tell me that I wasn't going to get a show because they were supposed to staff with students, but I always got a show. It totally helped me fall in love with music.

“Sitting in that chair for the first time and talking into a mike, that really in my early 20s made me realize that there is a place for me in the employment world.”

Michael Donaldson (Q-Burns)

DJ, 1992-1996

“I do have a nostalgia for FM radio. I really don't know how people in their early 20s think about it now. I grew up in Louisiana, and I used to hang an antenna out of my window so I could pick up this college station in Houston. There were these DJs in Houston that basically changed my life.”


Student DJ, 1984-1988

“When I got there in 1984, the radio station was just classical and I thought that was a little strange … Students would come in, kind of like interns, to just play classical. It would turn off at 8 or 9 p.m. We petitioned to have a certain amount of hours. Then we got several hours. … What we did was revolutionary and extremely important.”

WPRK Timeline

May 1924: Rollins College physics professor Harry Pierce begins low-power, 50-watt broadcasting at 580 AM, with the call letters WDBO (“way down by Orlando”). This is commonly believed to be the first college radio station

in America.

Oct. 30, 1928: Pierce co-hosts a 30-minute variety show on a Wednesday evening, along with his students, presenting music, drama and comedy.

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