On a Friday evening in October, I traveled to Temple University in Philadelphia to see college radio station WHIP (pronounced W-H-I-P). As I approached its TECH Center building home, buses in the area were idling nearby, collecting passengers for a Temple football game that night. When I arrived at the station, WHIP’s General Manager Ed LeFurge and Program Director Eric White greeted me and welcomed me for a tour and chat.
LeFurge and White are passionate spokespeople for WHIP and enthusiastically shared with me some recent successes. A student-run station with around 100 participants and 18 student staff, WHIP has a long tradition of sports programming, although we spoke quite a bit about the growth of its news department and the diversity of its music shows. I was there on October 21, just a few weeks prior to the presidential election and was told about the station’s plans for election night coverage from a campus bar. In the preceding months, numerous station personnel had received press credentials for various political events, including debates. Additionally, WHIP had gotten interviews with both national and local officials, sometimes even before major news outlets.
WHIP has also made an effort to connect with both radio industry professionals and college radio peers. One of the first things that we talked about was the Temple University Radio Networking Summit (T.U.R.N.S.) that had been held six months prior to my visit. WHIP organized the event, inviting guest speakers and students from around 20 local colleges for a day of panels and networking. LeFurge and White told me that after the election they would begin planning for the April, 2017 event. As it turns out, the next T.U.R.N.S. will take place this Thursday, April 27 at Temple University. In speaking of last year’s event, LeFurge recounted, “It was a really nice event that brought people together to network, to meet people and learn a little bit more about the radio business.”
An internet-only, student-run radio station today, WHIP originally launched over campus-only FM in 2000. Student radio has existed on campus much longer, however, with campus-only AM carrier current radio station WRTI (the call letters refer to its educational leanings and stood for Radio Technical Institute) emerging in 1948 (read about its early history here) and continuing until 1968. According to a timeline on the WRTI website, WRTI got an FM license in 1953. The new WRTI-FM went all jazz in 1969 and shifted to a jazz/classical format in 1997.
WRTI-AM was student-run from 1948 to 1968 and it was interesting to learn from a WRTI history website that WRTI collaborated with other local college radio stations in a “collegiate network.” I’ve been working on digging up the history of Haverford College’s radio station and had come across evidence of another similar network in the Philadelphia area in the 1940s. According to the WRTI history website, “On February 21, 1949, WRTI joined ‘The Philadelphia Inquirer Collegiate Network.’ This local hook-up connected the campus stations of Temple University, Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania (WRTI, WXPN and WSRN). At that time, WRTI broadcast from 12 noon until 11 pm with WRTI programs airing from noon ’til 6 and then network programming from Swarthmore and Penn.”
Today, WRTI-FM is a professionally-run public radio station with little interaction with student-run WHIP. According to LeFurge, the stations are very different. He explained, “They’re a specific platform. They play classical, jazz music. We do everything.” It had been decades since there had been a true college radio station on campus, so the creation of WHIP created more opportunities for students. White surmised, “I just think…It was a really kind of a sad thing when RTI stopped with student workers…or at least…slowed that down… And when we got brought back… I think that we really kind of just brought that sense of life back into…radio.”
According to the Temple News, WHIP was first conceived in 1997 and originally broadcast to the campus over FM in 2000 using low power transmitters. Not heard much beyond the Student Center, WHIP had dreams of wiring the campus so that more could hear the station. By 2005, WHIP was making plans to move to a new location and transition to an online-only station. A 2005 piece in the Temple News reported on plans to get the station online by 2006, stating, “WHIP was previously broadcast only in the Student Center via radio. Programs will no longer be heard on the radio channel, 91.3 FM, but through their Web site. [WHIP President Akin B.] Ware said he wants WHIP to be the best online broadcast in the country.” The build out of the new, online-only station was slow going, and a fall 2006 article anticipated WHIP’s imminent relaunch in 2007.
LeFurge told me, “We had a lot of great people that helped get this station founded. You know our advisor John DiCarlo. He’s the Director of Student Media…He’s been here for 15 years and you know John’s seen a lot of changes and he’s been a huge, huge influence on getting us up and running…” In addition to its online stream, WHIP is also one of the college radio stations featured on iHeartRadio. LeFurge extolled the benefits of that partnership, saying, “it’s awesome for us,” adding that when people ask them what their frequency is, they can say, “Well, we don’t have a frequency, we’re on iHeartRadio. You can listen to us worldwide online.” He continued, saying, “And it’s cool because…my family in Jersey can sit and listen to it and…people from all over the place can tune in and listen to us, so…it’s really been a blessing for us to be on iHeartRadio.” LeFurge added, “I think being on iHeart gives us just as much legitimacy as it does having an FM frequency, because…an FM frequency if they’re only FM and they’re not online, I’m not hearing them outside of a certain jurisdiction…that’s one of the benefits to it.”
Since its earliest days, the WHIP call letters have stood for “We Have Infinite Potential” and reflect the overall optimism of the station. Live programming generally runs from around 11am to midnight on Sundays through Thursdays (and was expected to extend to 9am soon after my visit), from around 11am to 7pm on Fridays and from 10am to 7pm on Saturdays. With around 100 hours of live broadcasting every week, WHIP airs a wide range of shows, including live sports, sports talk, news, and music programming. During my visit, they were preparing for a broadcast of that night’s Temple football game.
As far as music, DJs play digital music across a range of genres. White told me, “We play everything from country to hip hop to reggae, jazz, metal…anything you have an idea for, we pretty much cover it.” He does a reggae show and told me that he’s after an indie show and just before a punk show. He added, “it’s definitely an anything goes mentality as long as it’s clean.” Even though WHIP is online-only and not bound by FCC regulations, the station opts to stay clear of music with profanities.
I was super impressed by the wisdom and professionalism of LeFurge and White. Both seniors (and volunteers), they take great pride in the station and in supporting newer participants. LeFurge explained, “The one thing that the station was missing was the lack of professionalism,” adding, “I’m a very policy-oriented guy.” He ended up setting some rules and created a station manual so that people know what is expected of them. Additionally, LeFurge said, “I wanted to take WHIP to the next level.” I was amazed to hear that he instituted a “48 hour email policy,” with members of the station expected to answer their emails within 48 hours. He explained, “communication…is key…without communication we cannot be successful.” He also meets with staff weekly and tries to not only be a boss, but a friend, telling me that, “I’ve learned…having a support system is how people are successful in life…they all have my phone number…I’m a phone call away.” White concurred, saying, “It’s all about relying on other people.”
White talked about the negative stereotypes that are often associated with college students and with his generation and said that it’s important for WHIP to focus on being a radio station first. He explained:
Our biggest thing is getting ourselves out there and letting people know that we’re not a college radio station, we’re a radio station…Take the word ‘college’ out…yeah, we’re all college students that run it, but because of the culture of professionalism we’ve established here and…basically how the word college means immaturity sometimes to people, I think that really emphasizes that we put together some great stuff and we really do want to be legitimate…A lot of us work our asses off…outside of the station…we still put our time in and that ultimately is a mark of excellence.”
LeFurge agreed, saying that it’s unfortunate that sometimes college radio is equated with “amateur” or “immature.” He explained that at WHIP, they hold themselves to a professional standard and because of that, they have had some great opportunities, including big interviews and partnerships. The station is self-supporting, receiving no money from the university, so it largely survives on advertising earnings and payments from DJ gigs. LeFurge told me that WHIP provides DJs for a regular Friday night event put on by Student Activities and said that the station is regularly DJing events for various departments on campus. A particularly high profile hosting opportunity was for a large campus concert (Owlchella) featuring the likes of French Montana.
In addition to WHIP’s deep involvement with Temple University culture and events, it also strives to connect with the broader local music scene. White pointed out that he feels like it’s part of his duty at the station’s Program Director to “bring to light the awesomeness of the local scene.” He explained that Philadelphia is rich with live music, including bar shows, house shows, and “dope hip hop shows.” As I wrapped up my visit, White led me on a quick tour through WHIP’s studios, showing me the broadcast studio, news room and production studio. Preparations were underway for the night’s football broadcast from Lincoln Financial Field, so station volunteers were largely focused on ensuring that all was squared away for that.
Thanks so much to Ed LeFurge and Eric White for a wonderful visit to WHIP. This is my 134th radio station field trip report. Still to come are recaps of two more visits to radio stations in Philadelphia as well as a couple in New York, and a few in California. My most recent field trips can be found on Radio Survivor and a full list of all my station tour reports is compiled on Spinning Indie.