Looking Back at the Founding of WXPR

Jul 20, 2018

Credit WXPR Public Radio

WXPR is celebrating 35 years on the radio this year.

In this week's episode of A Northwoods Moment in History, local historian Gary Entz tells us exactly what went into that first broadcast back in 1983.

In December of 1979 media outlets in Wausau announced that White Pine Community Broadcasting, a non-profit educational corporation, was planning to build a non-commercial FM radio station in the Rhinelander area.  The initial hope was to start broadcasting in 1981.  Peter Nordgren, the corporation president, said that the station wanted to offer folk, bluegrass, jazz, and classical music for listeners in the Northwoods.  In addition, there were plans for local public affairs programs, music and history from the area Native American communities, children’s programs, and programming from National Public Radio.

It was an ambitious goal that would require a lot of support to get off the ground.  The anticipation was that memberships, donations, foundation grants, and grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would get the station off the ground and on the air by 1981.  In the early months of 1980, White Pine Community Broadcasting applied for a $29,849 grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for a study of private, noncommercial radio in the Northwoods.  It received $20,000.

The plans were given a significant boost in June 1981 when the University of Wisconsin-Stout at Menomonie donated a used transmitter to White Pine Community Broadcasting.  A $67,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting arrived in August, and in December Nordgren announced that White Pine Community Broadcasting was the recipient of a $97,164 grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program plus an additional $10,000 grant from the Allen Heath Memorial Foundation of Chicago.  To qualify for the federal grant, White Pine Community Broadcasting had to raise $40,000 from local donors.

The fledgling board of directors sifted through more than 100 suggestions for the station call letters but in early 1983 they settled on letters WXPR.  Meanwhile Wausau Paper Mills Company generously donated an 18-acre transmitter-tower site between Sugar Camp and Three Lakes.  Determined fund-raising and membership drives continued through 1982, and by 1983 everything was in place.  On Sunday, April 24, 1983, at noon, WXPR Public Radio began broadcasting on air for the first time.

WXPR’s mission to inform, entertain, and engage our community remains just as important today as it was in 1983, as does ongoing listener support.

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear

A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.