Since its opening broadcast on December 8, 1952, WPRK 91.5 FM has evolved from public addresses and classical music selections to spotlighting new bands and producing original content. As the Rollins College student-run radio station prepares for its 71st birthday party, it continues to overcome industry challenges while meeting the expectations of new generations of listeners.
“Being a radio station in 2023 is no easy task,” station manager David Palacios told the32789. “The consumption of music is almost entirely on-demand, which is not how traditional radio works.”
Palacios joined WPRK in 2021 as personnel director, then moved on to the programming director position before his promotion to station manager in March of this year. He spoke of his surprise at the impact that local radio can have on a community.
“During my time here, I was able to take part in celebrating events and organizations such as Juneteenth, Florida Fringe Festival, the Eatonville Chamber of Commerce, and many more,” he said. “As a station, we have been able to get better at remote broadcasts by better learning the technology we have. These live broadcasts make for great programming.”
WPRK’s first program began with the Rollins College anthem and an address by college president Hugh McKean that featured a recorded message from U.S. President-elect Dwight Eisenhower. The original schedule ran for a few hours on weekday evenings with daytime hours added soon after. Noon-to-midnight programming began in the 1970’s with classical music and news reports by day and student-selected formats at night. A 24-hour schedule was adopted in the 1990’s with formats ranging from cultural discussions to alternative rock programming. Access to broadcast archives on the WPRK website provided an on-demand element, but increasing listenership while managing tighter budgets has required additional pivots.
“Podcasting has shown to be very popular with younger audiences,” said Palacios. “Since we are non-profit, we are able be free and experimental with our programming. This is something that few radio stations or media outlets are able to do. Although we may be serving a niche audience, I like to believe that we leave a big impact on our listeners.”
Among the more popular shows is Live from Apartment E. Hosted by Orlando-based writer, activist, and local arts supporter Frankie Messina, the program focuses on local art, culture and business, and includes live music performances. Live music broadcasts also helped raised the bar for WPRK producers. “Since the summer, we’ve been able to train our staff on how to produce live bands in the studio for airplay,” said Palacios. “We also experimented this semester with putting on a small scale concert on campus by utilizing campus restaurant, Dave’s Boathouse.”
The station will present the WPRK Birthday Bash at Orlando’s Ten10 Brewing Company on Friday, Dec. 8, beginning at 7 p.m. Last year’s party marked the return of the Fox Fest music and arts festival, but this year’s event will be a slimmed-down celebration that reflects another necessary adjustment.
“Fox Fest was always a tremendous undertaking in both labor and funding,” Palacios explained. “We found ourselves, in past years, having a tough time balancing our job as a radio station with putting on a music festival. Our approach this academic year is to take a step back and focus on programming, fundraising, and student engagement.”
He adds that fundraising has become a larger part of station responsibilities. And while the Birthday Bash is a free event, donations will be accepted.
The Rollins spring semester will be Palacios’ last as station manager. He hopes to spend that time increasing the number of live music broadcasts and helping to raise the already high production standards.
“I have seen first-hand all the hard work that our volunteer DJs do to share their thoughts and music with our listeners,” he said. “If my team and I can help set up future generations of staff for success, then I would say we’ve done a good job.