Last week, the license for Ripon College radio station WRPN 90.1 FM in Ripon, Wisconsin was cancelled. In a letter dated September 11, the Ripon College Board of Trustees wrote, “The college has made the decision to cancel the license and the station will officially go off-air at 5:00pm on Monday, September 15, 2014. We are requesting that the FCC cancel the license and delete the callsign.”
I reached out to WRPN’s Program Director/Station Manager (and Ripon College sophomore) Mason Sanchez to find out what led to the decision to turn back the college’s FM license. He told me over email,
The decision to cease our FM broadcasting happened over the the summer by our General Manager Anthony Tausig. The Executive Staff of WRPN had been talking about switching from FM to online for a couple of years now, but were so busy and understaffed that we were not able to go through with it until this year. WRPN is a student-run organization. In the past year we only had four Executive Staff members and we were fortunate enough this year to have had more people interested in the workings of WRPN. This year we have nine, which allows us to do a lot more than previous years. It was the Executive Staff decision to switch from FM broadcasting to online streaming, with the help of our faculty adviser.”
In a follow-up phone conversation today, Sanchez told me that WRPN ran on automation over the summer and that only a handful of live shows were broadcast this fall before the FM signal was turned off on September 15. He also explained that a lot of the equipment at the station was in bad shape, including outdated computers and a sound board from the 1970s that has been deemed a “fire hazard.” By cancelling the FM license and an affiliated industry membership in the Wisconsin Broadcasting Association, Sanchez said that WRPN was able to actually give some money back to the school’s Student Senate.
WRPN to Begin Streaming this Fall
WRPN is in the process of planning for its future streaming radio station (it streamed previously, but using a process that piggybacked onto the FM broadcast) and has already ordered a new sound board. Sanchez said that the station is in good shape, with more people involved with the station than in recent years. Currently there are around 25 people affiliated with the station. When I asked him how alumni felt about the loss of the license, Sanchez told me that they are, “sad to see that we’re done with FM broadcasting,” but that at the same time they are “supportive” and “excited” to see what the future holds. He said that it is hoped that the station will begin streaming in late October or early November.
DJ Noelle Korzeniewski was one of the show hosts who got on the air at WRPN before the shut-down this year. She co-hosts a talk show,”The Allie and Noelle Show,” with a good friend and told me, “Allison and I just started the show and we fell in love with it.” Despite having to take a break from her show, Korzeniewski said that she is optimistic about the station post-FM. She explained that, “When we do go to online streaming I definitely feel our show will blossom and that it will be a big benefit for the station because a lot of what people listen/watch/do is online [nowadays]. Not many people have an actual radio unless [it’s] in their cars or on their phones.”
This Marks the End of 53 Years of FM Broadcasting at Ripon College
This apparently ends a long history of terrestrial radio at the small (less than 1,000 students) liberal arts-focused Ripon College. AM carrier current campus-only transmissions began at Ripon College in 1956 and WRPN’s FM license was issued in 1961. According to a 2001 article about the history of WRPN in Ripon Magazine,
WRPN began as a group of determined students doing ‘bootleg broadcasting’ out of the basement of the former Tracy House, at the corner of Thorne and Ransom Streets. The college radio station’s maiden AM broadcast in fall of 1956 didn’t even wield enough force to pump into all of the buildings of Ripon’s campus. At the time, WRPN was located at 570 on the AM dial, but not everyone could tap into it.
Bill Drake ’63 describes what was known as a ‘closed carrier circuit system,’ where sound traveled more or less on phone lines.
‘It went into dormitories on phone lines and (students) could pick it up on their radios,’ Drake says. ‘People in the community couldn’t get it on their radios.’
In those days, telephones didn’t even have rotary dials, let alone push buttons. Callers picked up a phone and told an operator what number they wanted to call. To reach WRPN in Tracy House, callers had to say ‘Black 186’ to the operator. Early station manager Bill Breen ’59 describes WRPN’s earlier years as ‘a couple people fooling around with technology.’ ‘Every once in a while, we would get a memo that we had done something to disrupt a transformer, or we would get a call from someone in Omaha where apparently the signal was going a lot farther than we ever imagined it to be going,’ former station manager Bill Jochimsen ’61 says.
But by spring of 1957, technical difficulties left the station bedraggled. In addition, several students resigned due to their inability to keep their grades up, according to a report written by then faculty advisor Robert Smith.”
After obtaining its FM license, WRPN began broadcasting over FM in 1961. By 2001, the station had a pretty full schedule of programming and was doing live remote broadcasts from a variety of events, including sports competitions. The 2001 Ripon Magazine account of the station’s history explains, “Now the station broadcasts from 7:30 a.m. to midnight weekdays and 9 a.m. to midnight on weekends. A core of around 60 student hosts, plus an assortment of drop-in guests, work shifts ranging from one to three hours.”
I’ll continue to follow this story and hope to have more updates when WRPN resumes online broadcasts.