Last fall during the Trustees' meetings in October, a session of the External Affairs Committee took a comprehensive look at the University's Radio Station WXPN-FM, then headed by Mark Fuerst, described by one member of the WXPN Board as "the most creative mind in public broadcasting today." Mr. Fuerst has since become a consultant to the 35 top noncommercial FM stations in the country (a group which includes WXPN) and a search will be announced shortly for his successor. In the meantime Vincent Curren, the station's director of development, is serving as acting general manager.

At the Committee session October 19, 1995, the first speaker was Anthony Minisi, W'48, L'52, a trustee since 1973. He was introduced by Leonard Lauder, W'54, who has chaired the External Affairs Committee since 1977.

A Report to the Trustees External Affairs Committee

Mr. Minisi: A Short History

Thank you for this opportunity to address the External Affairs Committee on a subject that has been very important to me for almost twenty years, the growth and development of our radio station, WXPN-FM.

WXPN began operation in 1945 and continued through the 1950's as a completely student operation. In those early years, we broadcast on an AM frequency primarily to the campus community. In 1957, we acquired our first FM license, which expanded the reach of our signal, but the station continued to be student-run and campus-centered. WXPN continued to operate this way until 1978, when the trustees, in response to complaints filed with the FCC, decide to reorganize the station's management.

A University committee appointed by President Meyerson and chaired by Professor Curtis Reitz concluded that WXPN should be organized along more professional lines. They recommended that WXPN aim its programming on the external community--that is, on an audience beyond the campus boundaries. And the committee recommended that the University seek to have WXPN become affiliated with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which provides annual operating support to noncommercial stations that meet certain professional standards.

It took seven years to realize those initial recommendations. Much of the credit for taking the needed steps goes to Michael Eleey, who will speak to you in a moment. Under his leadership, a newly constituted WXPN Policy Board secured the financial and organizational resources needed to meet the CPB standards, and hired new management in 1986.

That year, 1986, marks the turning point in WXPN's recent development. That year, we hired General Manager Mark Fuerst, who put together many of the activities that you will hear described today. Mark initially set to work securing a broadcast power increase, which was eventually granted by the FCC in 1989. Once that power increase was implemented--in the fall of 1990--WXPN became a regional station, which could be heard throughout the Delaware Valley. Under Mark's supervision the new staff developed financial plans and programming objectives that were endorsed by the Policy Board in 1988. Those objectives can be summarized as follows:

  1. WXPN is a professional radio station, broadcasting to the greater Delaware Valley, and beyond.

  2. The station's primary audience is educated adults, age 25 to 49, who are seeking quality arts and entertainment programming that cannot be found on commercial radio.

  3. The station encourages student involvement through professional internships, work study opportunities, and broadcast of men's and women's athletics.

  4. The station should become financially self-sufficient.

Those plans were assisted by the Trustees, who approved a $500,000 line of credit to fund station expansion activities. And, I should add, we met these ambitious financial objectives. Direct University support has been reduced to a minimum, and 90% of the station's operating budget now comes from non-University sources. These accomplishments brought WXPN to the front ranks of public radio in the United States.

A Shower of Awards: In 1994, Philadelphia Magazine named WXPN "The Best Radio Station in Philadelphia," and that same year one of the major radio trade magazines nominated WXPN for "Station of the Year." Perhaps our greatest honor came just a few months ago, in July, when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting selected WXPN for its "Gold Award" for Overall Station Development. That award, which appropriately summarizes the last decade of station growth, is a credit to the staff of WXPN, the staff of the University that managed the station, and to the Trustees who endorsed the policies which have brought the University such honor and recognition.

[Mr. Lauder calls on George Koval, the former Deputy Vice Provost for University Life who now chairs the WXPN Policy Board.]

Mr. Koval: Organization and Management

As Mr. Minisi mentioned, since the mid-1980's WXPN has been a professional radio station aimed at the off-campus community.

Currently, it employs twenty-two full-time professional staff who create the programs and raise money for the stations operations. It also provides training or employment for 15 students. The staff report to the General Manager, who in turn reports to the Vice Provost for University Life.

All of the station's financial and personnel activities are supervised by the University Life Division. In the past, the Division has supplied a portion of WXPN's operating budget. As Mr. Minisi pointed out, the station has achieved a high degree of financial self- sufficiency, so the Division now is primarily responsible for providing some of the space, utilities and support services.

Because of station broadcasts to the external community, the station also reports to a Policy Board, which was created in 1979. The University President appoints all 16 members of the Policy Board, although some nominations come from specific campus constituencies.

The Trustees have a direct representative--Mr. Minisi. The Faculty Senate nominates two members. Undergraduate students and graduate students also have representatives. Several University divisions have representation on the Board, including the Athletic Department, Alumni Affairs, and University Life.

Eight members of the Board are selected from the community at large. These members are nominated by the Board's Executive Committee and appointed by the President.

Overall, this system of governance has worked well. It provides the President and the Trustees with a strong and appropriate role in guiding the station's policies. It provides WXPN with a strong connection important on- and off-campus constituencies.

The most important indication of how this system works can be seen in the results it produced, and I will ask former Policy Board Chairman Michael Eleey, to tell you more about the growth and development of WXPN since the creation of the current Policy Board structure.

Mr. Eleey: Change and Growth

Two things changed WXPN in the late 1980's and early '90's. First, the signal expansion granted by the FCC in 1989 made WXPN's programming available to many more listeners. Second, the program changes, made possible by the investment from CPB, made our programming much more attractive to our intended audience.

Together, these changes had a dramatic influence on how people listen to WXPN and how many people choose to contribute to its operation. Here's a look [below] at the change in local listenership, beginning with a weekly audience of about 40,000 in 1987. By 1992, WXPN was reaching an audience of more than 200,000. Recently, our Philadelphia audience has stabilized at around 220,000 listeners each week.

Signal Expansion: Even as the local audience has started to plateau, more people are listening to WXPN programming in other parts of the region. In 1994, we signed a rebroadcast agreement with WKHS, a station in Worton, Maryland, which brings WXPN programming--about 12 hours a day--to the Eastern shore of Maryland and into the city of Baltimore. Just last month, we started a new, full-time station in Harrisburg, which retransmits WXPN's programming 24 hours a day. We also have a repeater in Allentown, which went on the air last fall. By connecting these new stations, WXPN has created a regional network capable of reaching 5.2 million potential listeners.

As our audience has increased by expanding our signal coverage, we also added new listeners through program syndication.

In 1991, we began distribution of a two-hour daily music program, World Cafe, originally funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That program now reaches 90 affiliates across the country [see map, on the cover]. A second syndicated program, titled "The Difference," began distribution in January of this year. It now reaches 54 commercial stations, including stations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Together, our regional network and syndicated programming attract an audience of 1.5 million people each week--quite an expansion from the 40,000 listeners we served in 1986.

As our audience has grown, so have our financial resources. Direct support from listeners expanded from $100,000 in 1987 to just over $1 million last year.

Business support has grown from only $5,000 in 1987, to more than $400,000 today.

This influx of membership and business support has allowed WXPN to expand its programming, its staff, and its facilities, while reducing its reliance on University support [see below].

Information Goals: Expanding audience and financial resources, however impressive, is not the goal of WXPN or any public radio station. Ultimately, public stations are judged by the quality of their programming. And in that regard, our achievements have been equally impressive.

Although our music programming draws the most listeners, our information programs are among the best in the country.

Kid's Corner, our daily children's call-in show, received the George Foster Peabody Award in 1991, and the Major Armstrong Award in 1993. Twice, it received the CPB National Program Award. And in 1992, selected as the best educational program at the New York International Radio Festival.

Our producers have covered the most pressing issues of the day, in a way that has been both informative and effective: We have been recognized for programming on Homelessness, Integration, and perhaps the most important public policy question of the last decade: the War in the Gulf. [For a fuller list of honors, see the cover.--Ed.]

Each of these programs was produced by our professional staff, but all of them were created with the assistance and support of students, who now work in virtually every aspect of the station's operation. To tell you about this part of WXPN, let me introduce our Membership Director Quyen Ho, who graduated in the class of 1993, and immediately joined the WXPN full-time staff after three years as a student intern.

Ms. Ho: A World of Difference

Let me first tell you a bit about myself, and my experience at WXPN. An award-winning program, "World Of Difference," was my start. I was the subject of one of the features in the series, when the producer, Rusanne Bucci, interviewed me about my life in Philadelphia. Having come here as a refugee from Vietnam ten years ago, I was still in high school at the time, preparing to go to the University of Pennsylvania. At the end of the interview, Rusanne suggested that I get involved at WXPN. And I did.

I started as a receptionist at the beginning of my freshman year. I continued working at XPN, as I completed my undergraduate work. Over the years, I moved into different positions at the station--working in promotion, helping with ticket give-aways, and, later, working as an assistant to the Membership Director, Ellie Hidalgo, who was also a Penn graduate.

I had a very special experience at WXPN. People at the station did not treat me like a "lowly student." There was room to learn and a tremendous amount of opportunity. Whenever I had an idea, Ellie and the other professional staff always encouraged me.

To Outside Careers: At WXPN I became close friends with other Penn students who also benefited from their experience here. Ben Hudgins, C'93, was a gifted computer programmer. About the time that I joined the professional staff, Ben took over the management of our membership data base. Last year he left WXPN to work with a computer consulting company. Jennifer LeBeau, who started with me as a receptionist, later worked with the program staff of World Cafe. Because there were so many national-level artists, Jen made some important industry connections, leading to a summer job at MTV and then to a permanent position at Sony Music in New York, where she works now.

Students are involved in virtually every aspect of WXPN's operation from production to sales. The largest group of students at WXPN is the sports staff. Each fall we broadcast all of the Quaker football games, and each winter we air some of the men's and women's basketball games. This part of the student training program has produced the most broadcast professionals in the last few years. Scott Graham, who is now the play-by-play announcer for Quaker football, got his start on WXPN and then moved on to WGMP, here in Philadelphia. Susan Webner, one of the few women in the sports broadcast program, got a job with the Phillies. Several students were hired by ESPN, others have moved on to local sports and news operations.

Let me end my comments by addressing a question that always comes up when we talk about student involvement at WXPN: namely, what happens to students who just want to get on the air and play records, the ones that want to be DJ's. Well, those students can do that--at WQHS, the student-run station heard in most of the campus dorms. I was a DJ at QHS. That opportunity is there, anytime, for anyone who wants it.

But I wanted to learn the business side of broadcasting. And what I found at WXPN was a chance to work with a professional staff in real business situations. What I learned from those people and those situations enabled me to move into a professional broadcasting career just one month after I graduated.

I'm just glad that I stumbled on XPN. Or I should say, I'm glad XPN sought me out for that interview.

Mr. Fuerst: Summary of Success Factors

Ed. Note: Mark Fuerst, then General Manager of WXPN, gave an informal presentation, in which he foresaw no changes in basic programming in the next few years, "but program innovation can continue within the current schedule, as it has been doing.

"Our major challenge will come from just maintaining a good radio station," he went on. "New areas of expansion will probably require the same combination of factors that brought us to this point of success: good ideas that make sense in the context of radio broadcasting; University support, serious organizational and financial support; and collaboration with others in the field, especially WHYY and CPB.

"We have done best when internal University investments leveraged outside support, and there are three places where this can occur:

"Collaboration with WHYY (and, if possible, with WRTI) in developing a regional alliance;

"Development of health-oriented talk and news programming, such as a 'wellness network'; and

"Collaboration with stations around the region and throughout the country in projects from the CPB Future Fund."

A New Record

At presstime, WXPN's Acting General Manager Vinnie Curran reported that the station's most recent fund-raiser has brought in $284,000 in six days--a record rate of response for the listener-support campaign. The previous high was two years ago, when $250,000 was raised in seven days.

Growth in WXPN Audience and Support


March 5, 1996
Volume 42 Number 23

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