A Vision Rededicated

Eager to open the burgeoning venue of AM/FM radio to Phillips Academy, a team of entrepreneurial student journalists launched WPAA, Phillips Academy’s radio station, on April 30, 1965. On the station’s inaugural broadcast—accessible on—Bob Hope, the renowned humanitarian and actor, David Brinkley, the NBC broadcast legend and Sammy Davis Jr., the famed musician, welcomed WPAA to the broadcast radio medium. A “student engineered and operated and written” station, explained prominent broadcaster Hugh Downs, “the purpose of WPAA-FM, as outlined in Article I of [its] constitution, is to develop a relationship between the campus and surrounding communities and to provide educational and entertaining programs to the campus and surrounding area.” From its first day, WPAA was committed to thorough news reportage, complete with a wire service to help the news division broadcast the latest stories whenever or wherever they happened. In his congratulatory message, Brinkley noted the “sense of public affairs among students” who led WPAA. He continued, “The need for proper training is essential. A student of Phillips Academy who has an interest in broadcasting can start early, and this will help prepare him for the increased and increasing competition among professional broadcasters.” Over the next decades, until its conversion from FM to Intranet, WPAA heeded the counsel of Brinkley and its own constitution, thriving as a source of professional broadcasting, credible news and novel entertainment reaching the Phillips Academy community and surrounding townspeople. When it launched, the station connected to a population of over 150,000 people, a constituency that surely grew over the next fifty years. In these decades, WPAA and The Phillipian competed in seeking to deliver headlines to students, faculty, and the community. Since the administration terminated WPAA’s FM operations in 2003, the station has had to work within the Academy’s Intranet network. This more restrictive venue has offered the station less exposure, and thus, interest in the communication of serious news and ideas has declined rapidly. Regular programs became less well-defined, the issues discussed became less meaningful to students, and DJs/hosts became less attentive and prepared. With the Intranet came an “inside joke” mentality towards the station’s programming—“if it’s not broadcast outside of the Intranet, who cares,” some students have argued. In turn, listenership and content lagged, and the station fell into relative obscurity. But this year at the helm of the station, former General Manger Henry Frankievich brilliantly led WPAA in the direction of professional broadcasting once again. Frankievich realized the potential for more professional broadcasts—both in news and entertainment and supervised Internet coverage of Election Night 2006, President Bush’s State of the Union Address 2007, the Intranet Andover Idol competition and the PA Student Council Presidential Debate series. What did all of these programs share? A common desire to inform or entertain the Phillips Academy community in the most professional manner, the very purpose of WPAA as articulated in its 1965 constitution. In particular, student listeners became excited—some for the first time—about well-conceived listenable content on the station that competes with NPR, in the case of public affairs coverage, or FOX, in the case of Andover Idol. Students as well as faculty were intellectually stimulated or entertained by these broadcasts and their journalistic and technical savvy, which allowed for smooth transitions as PBS Correspondent Judy Woodruff and New York Times Columnist Frank Rich called into the station or as Tessa Pompa and Jane Shin with a supporting band, cast of judges, and host competed for the Andover Idol crown. Students crave to see their peers emulate the professionals, and try, like The Phillipian, to generate a popular and masterly product week after week. After these strides, we recognized the extent to which WPAA could adopt all-around more professional programming. With the inspiration of our first student journalists and Frankievich, the dream of the new WPAA leadership is to restore the station’s founding vision of professional content across the spectrum and, once again, to amplify and legitimize WPAA’s student broadcast voice. In rededicating ourselves to WPAA’s fundamental purposes, this Fall, we will launch WPAA’s own Editorial Board, an NPR-style correspondent system with a team of student journalists and writers collaborating on nightly news broadcasts like those who founded the station some fifty years ago. Part of this mission is to broadcast nightly newscasts—which will air initially one or two nights per week—covering the news from a unique PA perspective. Modeled after PBS’s “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” the general scheme will function with chief correspondents and writers covering PA, local, national, and international news with depth, style, and a keen focus on what matters to students. A typical broadcast might consist of the headlines, news features, student/faculty news analysis, and interviews with influential newsmakers. Our central objective is to develop consistent professional programming—emphasizing quality over quantity. We plan to continue an open program application process, and to complement the nightly news broadcasts with shows that match our criteria as clearly-defined and professional, with hosts who take their programs seriously and prepare thoroughly. One example is Lambros Theofanidis’ culinary program, Bon Appétit, on which he has interviewed several local Andover Chefs and students on diverse types of cuisine. We will continue our 24/7 genre block playlists and innovative weekly music programs like “Pure Jazz,” as well as new talk programs such as “Meet the Academy,” where student leaders such as the Editor-in-Chief of The Phillipian and the Presidents of the Philomathean Society, Model U.N., Andover Economics Society, and Young Democrats and Republicans, will discuss PA and national issues; “The Presidential Hour” with Teddy Collins and Jon Adler; and special documentaries and live events hosted by our chief correspondents. These are the promises of the station’s top executives! As the station’s founders observed, WPAA offers a distinctive outlet and a constant stream of media—unparalleled on campus. Unlike print publications, we have the opportunity offered by “real time;” when stories break, we can reach listeners with live news feeds, nationally broadcast speeches, and more. Our task to return WPAA to the prominence it enjoyed on FM will not be an easy one. As Brinkley warned the station, “The responsibility will be great and so will the challenge.” We accept that challenge unreservedly—to use WPAA to its maximum potential, to enrich dialogue on campus, and to shine a wealth of knowledge on Academy Hill.