History of WRPI
The history of WRPI begins with WHAZ-AM, the RPI-owned AM radio station that began broadcasting in the early 1920s. In 1924, a group called Campus Review was formed, devoted to broadcasting college-oriented entertainment and radio to the Troy area. Campus Review was initially responsible for programming a half hour of WHAZ's six-hours-a-week schedule on Monday night. In the spring of 1947, a new group was organized by Carl J. Kunz, Jr., a student in the Electrical Engineering Department, and was called the "Rensselaer Broadcasting Association." The RBA took over the remainder of WHAZ's schedule, working with Campus Review and using talent drawn completely from the RPI community. Later that year, the Radio Club started an experimental AM radio station began broadcasting from the Russell Sage labs, under their call sign W2SZ. Its signal only covered the Quadrangle (then the freshman dorms), but with WHAZ only broadcasting once a week, W2SZ became the first campus station to truly get the attention of the RPI community. Soon students were referring to it, informally, as WRPI.
With three different radio clubs on campus, things got confusing in a hurry, so Student Union leaders merged them together by the end of 1948, under the name of the Radio Counsel. In March 1951, the Radio Counsel was divided into an amateur radio group, which still convenes as W2SZ to this day, and a broadcast group. That group began broadcasting at that time on the AM band at 640 kHz, and was the first broadcast officially registered with the FCC as WRPI. Broadcasting from the old 15th Street Lounge, using small transmitters scattered throughout campus, WRPI claimed a listenership of 85% of all those listening to radio sets on campus.
Still, with a weak signal, no broadcast tower, and equipment that was mostly donated or even made by station members, the broadcast radius was tiny. Most of the fraternities were too far to pick up WRPI, and even Freshman Hill was beyond the reach of the signal for the first few years. By 1956, WRPI was proposing a move to FM, and after getting approval from RPI and the FCC, WRPI began broadcasting at 91.5 FM on November 1, 1957. At the same time, a new 30-foot tower was built on the ridge next to '87 Field. As a result, WRPI's coverage area grew to include almost all of the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area.
At a time when FM radio was dominated by classical music and talk radio, WRPI was the only popular-music FM station in the area. By 1967, WRPI took this further, switching from a freeform format to progressive rock, becoming one of the first prog-rock FM stations in the country. At the same time, WRPI began broadcasting from a much taller tower in North Greenbush, donated by WTEN-TV, and increased its power from 750 to 10,000 watts. This allowed WRPI to abandon its AM signal and cover all of east-central New York, as well as parts of Massachusetts and Vermont.
By the mid-1970s, other rock stations were moving onto the FM band, and WRPI changed its format back to freeform radio. The station moved its studio from the 15th Street Lounge to the basement of the DCC, where it resides today. As such, WRPI's current format and location have remained stable 35 years. WRPI's oldest current show, Mostly Folk, dates back to this time period.
To this day, WRPI is still entirely student-run, and its announcers are drawn from the local community, mostly RPI students. Broadcasting continues every single day, from early in the morning to after midnight every night, on 91.5 FM and over the Internet from this website. Anyone can show up to our training classes to gain clearance, and obtain a time slot to program as they see fit. With WRPI still easily the highest-powered student-run station in the Capital Region, the station gives students a uniquely powerful voice within the community.