When Louisville’s civic leadership founded 89.3 WFPL more than 60 years ago, they launched a tradition of innovation, entrepreneurship and uncommon public service. Inspired to meet the evolving needs of our community, Mayor Charles Farnsley and Clarence “Skip” Graham, the director of the Louisville Free Public Library, createdLouisville’s first public radio station. Both leaders fully understood the value of information, education and culture in the development ofLouisvilleand its citizenry. They saw the need for innovative ways to provide access to learning and recognized that a public radio service could, as they expressed at the time, “become a vital community agency for social cultivation and strength.”
Louisville’s vision for 89.3 WFPL predated NPR’s first broadcast by 20 years, and the Public Broadcasting Act by 17 years. In 1993 Louisville made public radio history when the community’s three public radio stations were brought under one umbrella organization. The partnership maximized efficiencies in station management and content and removed duplication in programming with station-specific formats. In 2008, the name of the organization was changed to Louisville Public Media to better reflect the organization’s commitment to the new, interactive media platforms. In 2009 WFPK launched the Internet-driven The Weekly Feed that is now syndicated nationally. In 2010 Public Radio Exchange selected Louisville Public Media to be the first station partner for Story Exchange – a “crowd-funded” project supported by the Knight Foundation.
What began in 1950 as a single 10-watt radio station has evolved in tandem with the community to become a three-station, multi-platform public service.
From 10 Watts to Global Connection
“F.C.C. Approves 10-Watt FM Station Here; Unit to Be Only One of Kind In Nation” — Courier-Journal headline, Feb. 6, 1949
89.3 WFPL began service to the community on February 17, 1950. The station was developed with the idea that the disbursement of information and entertainment should not be limited by tradition. The station was soon “broadcasting 13 hours daily with school programs dominating the 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. interval; the remaining hours were devoted to programs of drama, serious music and historical significance.
Statements by library director Clarence Graham illustrate elements of a vision that are just as relevant today.
“Some of the old ways of imparting knowledge are too slow. That is why the Louisville Free Public Library is proud to add new means of building mass information and disseminating it to the public by new and even untried methods.”
“The policy makers of the library are well aware that these are innovations in programming unheard of on regular commercial broadcasting…”
The nation took notice. In no time at all, Louisville Free Public Library’s WFPL received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in recognition of outstanding public service.
While public radio in Louisvillewas growing, commercial efforts on FM were failing. As a result, WAVE generously donated the equipment and transmission tower from its WRXE to the library. This enabled WFPL to expand its reach from 250 to 3,000 watts and, ultimately, to launch a second station, 91.9 WFPK.
“In other words, Louisville will have a two-in-one FM station, free of the whims of commercial sponsors –something that not even New York City has any more.” –From a newspaper clipping (unidentified in station scrapbook).
WFPK debuts with broadcasts of classical music programs. Louisville Free Public Library becomes the first library in the nation with 2 FCC licenses.
Seventeen years after the founding of WFPL, the Public Broadcasting Act was passed.
Twenty years after the founding of WFPL, National Public Radio made its debut.
After a pause during which time a new transmitter was put in place at the library, WFPL returned to the air on October 10, 1971 as a member of NPR, the National Public radio network of non-commercial radio stations. In the newspaper, NPR was described as “a new concept in radio programming which goes directly to its member stations, of which there are presently 94 located in 34 states, for live materials. ….WFPL-FM will continue to carry the programming for theJeffersonCountySchools,University ofLouisville’s Music History’s required listening programs, and French in the Air, a language study course, which began in 1955.”
The Record (Aug. 18) announced a new director for WFPL, Michael W. Schaefer and programming changes. “[A] whole programming format has been changed and many new programs have been added.” A 90-minute nightly news program is being broadcast live [“All Things Considered”] and the station is moving toward the production of local programming.
In December, the University of Louisville launched WUOL,Louisville’s second classical FM station. In the previous year, WHAS classical commercial station went off the air and Mary and Barry Bingham made a gift of the equipment to the university. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare provided funds for equipment acquisition and operating budget.
WUOL becomes the first public radio station to broadcast 24 hours a day. WFPK followed in 1989.
“Radio stations seek to cut financial ties to library” — Courier-Journal, March 8, 1987
This year marks a change of approach resulting from the library’s $50,000 cut to the station budgets. Manager Gerry Weston initiated new efforts to diversify funding sources. At the time the Corporation for Public Broadcasting supplied 20% of the budget. Individual donations accounted for about 5% of income.
- A development director was hired to raise money from corporations and grants.
- A Board of Advocates was formed. The newspaper states:
“The board will act as a management-consultant entity for Weston and the other 16 fulltime staff members and will develop a program to increase public awareness of the stations’ value to the community. The board also will work to strengthen the stations’ finances, first seeking outside funds to replace the $50,000 library cutback and then drawing up a long-range fiscal blueprint, perhaps forming a foundation that would build up endowments to provide an operating cushion for the stations.”
Courier-Journal, June 30: “Roy K. Cullinan, president of the Advocates, said Humana Foundation’s challenge grant signals the corporate community that businesses are vital to the station’s support. Board members of Advocates are contacting businesses and foundations for funds.”
Of relevance to the station’s programming history, the 1987 article noted that whereas programming in radio broadcasting was becoming increasingly packaged and delivered to local areas by satellite from big cities, the library stations were moving in the opposite direction: using more live announcers with local personality.
- By the 40th anniversary year, the stations were broadcasting 20 hours each day.
- WFPK began to broadcast 24 hours a day with a focus on the arts and a new slogan: “WFPK — Where the Arts Come Alive.” The Courier-Journal noted that the “realignment is part of a continuing campaign to make public radio stations more financially self-sufficient in the light of the disappearance of library support and declining government funds over the past few years.”
- Listeners and local corporate underwriters now account for half of the two stations’ $600,000 annual budget. Budget = one-third from listeners; one-third from corporations and city/county government and one-third from federal grants.
- The Advocates, a local group trying to get the stations on more solid footing, met its one-time, $150,000 goal over 18 months.
Louisville makes public radio history, becoming the first public broadcast entity in the U.S. to operate three radio stations under a single board of directors/professional management team. Gerry Weston is the founding president.
- In 1993, a committee formed to explore the idea of merging the two library stations with WUOL. In November, Kentucky Public Radio, Inc. d/b/a the Public Radio Partnership was formed as a 501(c)(3) community licensee.
- This structure provides better service to the community and financial savings by eliminating duplication of programming and consolidating administrative staff, including management, operations, technical, and development personnel.
- WUOL becomes the first Louisville-area radio to establish an internet presence: www.WUOL.org (other stations followed in 1998).
Public Radio Partnership introduces new formats:
- WFPL 89.3, the NPR affiliate, became a 24/7 News/Talk provider.
- WFPK 91.9 changed from classical to the emerging AAA (Adult Alternative Album) format, with the addition of jazz, blues, and bluegrass.
- WUOL 90.5 retained its classical music format.
Capital campaign: Not long after purchasing a building at 619 South Fourth Street for renovation to house the three stations under one roof, a fire broke out in the building. The city – private and public – rallied to meet the capital campaign’s goal of $5 million. Louisville Magazine detailed the funding stream in an article in June of 2002.
“The City ofLouisvilleresponded by contributing a $1.3 million insurance settlement that it collected for the charred shell, breathing life back into the Partnership’s fund-raising campaign — now pushed $800,000 higher to a total of $5.15 million due to the fire damage.
“Over the next couple of years, the money rolled in: $400,000 from listeners through a week-long on-air capital campaign drive and direct mail effort; $700,000 from corporate gifts; approximately $700,000 more from two different city administrations (one led by former Mayor Jerry Abramson, the other by current Mayor Dave Armstrong); $510,000 from High Speed Access Corp. co-founders David Gibbs and Kent Oyler to name the building the HSA Broadband Building; $400,000 from a Kresge Foundation matching grant; and $250,000 from Helen MacKinnon to name the building’s lobby after her late husband, Cyrus L. MacKinnon, former president of The Courier-Journal.”
- State of Affairs, a local, public affairs call-in program begins.
September 23, the Public Radio Partnership building opens at 619 S. Fourth Street with dedication of the lobby to Cyrus MacKinnon, former NPR trustee and president of the Courier-Journal and Louisville Times newspapers.
- April 15, Public Radio Partnership begins broadcasting from its new home.
- In July, WFPK offers the first Friday Live Lunch concert in the Performance Studio.
- In September, the first Trio Listener’s Guide is published.
- In January, WUOL inaugurates Lunchtime Classics following successful WFPK model.
- WFPK creates the first national convention for stations using the Triple-A format.
In the spring, all three stations offer online audio-streaming allowing worldwide access to programming in real time.
Public Radio Partnership leads a consortium of Kentucky Public Radio stations to hire its first full-time state capitol reporter.
In September, Donovan Reynolds succeeds founding president Gerry Weston.
Kentucky Public Radio, Inc. changes dba from Public Radio Partnership to Louisville Public Media — to better reflect our commitment to community service not only through traditional over-the-air broadcasting, but emerging media platforms as well. A New Media Initiative is developed. Reporters are hired to improve local news coverage, including local government, arts and humanities, and the environment.
Joe Ward’s article in Louisville Magazine details the transition:
…they have recently installed an executive director who says it’s time to jump outside the box again. In these particular action-packed times, many people want to get their knowledge off iPhones and other digital devices as well as via a radio signal. “Half of the people in the country get most or all of their news off the Internet,” says Donovan Reynolds….”The world is changing fast.” If you really want to disseminate knowledge to people now, he says, “you have to go where they are. You have to give them information they can access when they want to.” That means that his operation, like Skip Graham’s 1950 library, has to “experiment, to see what people want and will use.” The experimenting at the radio stations already has shown up in online text versions of staff reporting, in various kinds of “streaming” that make audio reports available to computer users and personal digital devices, and in downloadable videos.
Strategic Goals are adopted on August 27
- To become the leading source for news and information on radio and online in our community within five years.
- To increase the diversity of our staff and programming to better reflect our community.
- To use emerging media to reach and serve a larger and more diverse audience.
Environmental reporting becomes a multi-state regional initiative called the Ohio River Radio Consortium – the first environmental reporting initiative united by a watershed. www.ohioriverradio.org
WFPL and BBC World Service bring the world toLouisvillefor three live international broadcasts of “World Have Your Say” (two from The Green Building with a participating audience). The events placed an international spotlight on the city and the IdeaFestival, engaged our community in a global dialogue, and provided educational opportunities to area students.
LPM devotes a special channel to transmit Central Kentucky Radio Eye, a live radio broadcast of local and national news, to Louisville-area listeners who are blind or visually impaired.
Chosen by Public Radio Exchange (PRX) to be the nation’s pilot station for Story Exchange, WFPL produced its first “crowd-funded” story (Erica Peterson’s award-winning series on coal ash).
WFPL’s morning newscast received first place honors from Public Radio News Directors Inc. of Washington,D.C.
WFPL hired Phillip Bailey as political editor, Erica Peterson as Environment Reporter, and Devin Katayama to focus on education reporting.
WFPK’s Kyle Meredith received the Non Commercial “Music Director of the Year” award at the national Triple A conference.
The 10th season of the WFPK Waterfront Wednesday concert series culminated in September with an audience of around 12,000. Its ongoing success helped Louisville secure an international award as a top city for festivals and events. The upcoming April 2012 concert is being named a “Top 20 Event” by the Southeast Tourism Society.
NPR selected WFPL to participate in special training in digital news and education reporting. training.
Jim James of My Morning Jacket launched a new radio show on WFPK.
The WFPL News staff took home ten first place awards and numerous runner-up and honorable mentions from theKentuckyand Indiana Associated Press Broadcasters. WFPL led in the number of first place honors inKentucky, including Best Newscast, Best Enterprise Reporting and Best Political Coverage.
WFPL hired Erin Keane as the new Arts and Humanities reporter.
Louisville Public Media establishes Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting with award-winning reporter Brendan McCarthy hired as Managing Editor.
Classical 90.5 launches Summer Listening program for families over summer vacation.
Classical 90.5 WUOL curated the first live musical performance on the newly opened Big Four Pedestrian Bridge on Sunday, June 9 at 3:00 p.m. Musicians from the community, including Indiana University Southeast, Louisville Youth Orchestra, and the Youth Performing Arts School will collaborated to play Handel’s “Water Music.”
Daniel Gilliam returned in November 2013 as WUOL Program Director.
WFPL’s New video interview series, “Up Front with Jonathan Bastian,” is launched. The program is broadcast to approximately 2.8 million households in seven states through Kentucky’s PBS affiliate, Kentucky Educational Television (KET), and will be available for viewing online at UpFrontTV.org.
89.3 WFPL News was selected to be a contributor to Here & Now, a nationally syndicated, live, midday radio news program produced by WBUR, Boston and National Public Radio.
After a successful Kickstarter crowd sourcing campaign, 89.3 WFPL’s new fiction radio show, Unbound, debuted in the summer. Each 30-minute episode featured two authors reading their own short fiction on a common theme.
WFPK’s The Rolling Stones Radio Hour conducted a live broadcast from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum in Cleveland, OH.
WFPK hired John Timmons as a regular host of his own Saturday program.
WFPK launched Winter Wednesday concert series to at-capacity crowds at the Clifton Center.
For the first time ever, the Forecastle Festival included the WFPK Port Stage. 91.9 WFPK was the official radio sponsor of the event and the only station to have naming rights to a stage.