by Rebecca Southwick, ‘14
The history of Whitworth radio is not just a record of facts. It’s a story; or rather, many people’s stories. Stories full of passion, persistence, and purpose.
When Jon Flora, ’78, a freshman living in McMillan hall, saw the bulletin board notice about a Whitworth radio club, he saw it as an opportunity to meet new people or, at the very least, find something to do. He had no idea it would influence the rest of his life.
Flora attended the radio club’s initial meeting in the fall of 1974, and stuck with the radio program for the rest of his college career. He went from being a curious observer of a bulletin board flier to the general manger of Whitworth.fm, a position he held for three and a half years.
“The college president at the time was Ed Lindaman,” Flora says. “He was totally enthralled with the idea, so I had his support.” Eventually, the student council provided the funds necessary to get the radio station going.
Through integrating resources and interacting with many people – Whitworth’s board of trustees, the college president, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the student body and commercial stations in town – Flora gained a zeal for radio.
“What developed the passion was the idea that basically we were starting with nothing. And we were trying to put this little thing on the air,” he says.
In September 1977, Whitworth.fm went on air for the first time. “Ultimately, through a lot of hard work and youthful enthusiasm, it got done,” Flora says.
The lessons Flora learned from Whitworth radio have stuck with him ever since. In addition to learning to build a program from scratch, he honed his problem solving skills and his ability to work with people. “It was a formative experience that I’ve carried on throughout various aspects of my career,” he says. “That was worth a large part of what my parents paid to send me to Whitworth … I’m glad I did it and it has served me well for 30 years.”
After Flora graduated, the program continued to develop, adding more on-the-air time. In addition to music and banter, the station offered news and interviews. Students tried new things – some successful, some not. “It’s had ups and downs,” Flora says. “Like anything else, it comes from who’s running it at the time.”
A major speed bump hit in the mid-2000s when Whitworth.fm lost its station license. The FCC eliminated the license category to which Whitworth belonged, meaning Whitworth could no longer have an over-the-air station. However, this allowed the station to switch to online, which meant anyone could listen via the Internet, no matter his or her location.
Several years later, in 2010, David Dennis, ’12, entered the picture. His vision and hard work transformed the station, updating its outdated equipment and replacing its untidy disarray with a professional working environment.
Dennis’s journey to radio began when a teacher at Pasadena City College told him he should do radio because of the sound of his voice. Through the next several years, Dennis attended Whitworth for six months, failed out, and returned to Los Angeles to work until he became sick of “doing nothing.”
So he walked back into the same classroom where his teacher had previously told him to join radio, and said, “I want to do radio.” After excelling in the college’s advanced radio classes, getting an internship at CBS Radio in Los Angeles, and becoming a producer there, he re-enrolled at Whitworth.
Armed with experience, knowledge, and passion, he was ready to transform Whitworth radio. It was fall of 2010, and due to the abnormally large freshman class, Whitworth’s Associated Student Body (ASWU) had an excess of funds. Dennis requisitioned and received more than $12,000 from ASWU, with which he purchased new radio equipment.
For two years, Dennis rebuilt the station both literally and metaphorically – both the equipment in the radio booth and the radio program itself. “I put my blood, sweat and tears into the work,” he says.
His dedication was so strong that, even though he graduated in May 2012, he returned that August to finish rebuilding the booth. Dennis and his successor, Aaron Kilfoyle, ’14, spent hours renovating the booth from outdated equipment and walls of CDs to an updated and entirely computerized operation. “I had the know-how, and he had the persistence,” Dennis says.
Now that the renovation is complete, Kilfoyle, the current general manager, wants to focus on growth: “growth of the program, growth of campus awareness,” he says.
According to Kilfoyle, prior to Dennis’s time, the weekly class period consisted of nothing more than asking students if anything groundbreaking occurred that week. “So David overhauled that into an actual educational forum, of trying to get the class to see the relevance of radio,” he says.
Kilfoyle, whose interest in radio was piqued when he visited Whitworth as a pre-frosh and stayed with a radio participant, would like to see the Communication Studies department create more classes that interact with the radio program. He has proposed to the department the idea of combining radio participation with a public speaking class. He would like to “have an audio engineering course or public speaking course that focuses on aspects of radio, or a music class that comes and utilizes the radio station,” he says.
In addition to these goals, Kilfoyle’s vision for the future includes letting more people know that Whitworth radio exists. “I think if more people were to see the radio station, they would be interested in doing it. A lot of people don’t know where we are,” he says.
Why does he believe radio is important? “In short,” he says, “radio is a community.” Dennis elaborated on what this community brings people. “I see it as an opportunity for people that are searching for something greater to have a place to be creative,” he says.
Krystal Valle,’13, who is currently enrolled in Whitworth radio, echoes this idea. “Radio is really cool because it’s student-run, and we get to play what we want to play. Even though not many people listen to our show, I still feel like I get to introduce people to new music,” she says.
Valle, Kilfoyle, Dennis, and Flora each have a different story, but in each of their stories, Whitworth radio has made a lasting impact. As Dennis puts it, “maybe you’re a communications major, and you just like to do a radio show on Friday nights. That’s all that it is for you. But it’s a thing that you’re going to remember for the rest of your life.”