Philadelphia Radio Archives

History of Philadelphia radio station 88.5 WXPN


The University of Pennsylvania began a “carrier current” station on 730 AM for $500 in 1944. This was not technically a “broadcasting” station at the time, because the signal was designed to only be available on campus and was not transmitted from a traditioanl antenna tower. Known as WXPN-AM, the studios were located on the third floor of Houston Hall with popular records of the time played from turntables. Most of the station’s equipment was either hand-built or World War two surplus.

In 1957, the station was granted a license to operate at 10 watts on 88.9 FM. (The carrier current station continues to this day as WQHS) Through the 1960s, the station was a typical student run university station, although it was known for some unique programming. Micheal Tearson, who went on to local radio fame at stations such as WMMR, got his start at WXPN with an early progressive format. In 1970, the studios were moved to 3905 Spruce Street, a large, red mid-nineteenth century villa completely rebuilt by the Wison Brothers circa 1876.

Suspended License

In 1974, a live call in show called the “Vegetable Report” and other programs contained obscene language that caused the FCC to suspend the station’s license and impose a $2000 fine. (For more details of the incident, see the Citypaper article referenced below) For the next 20 years, WXPN was particulary cautious about the use of obscenity on air, even to the point of editing explicit lyrics or avoiding certain songs altogether. In order to get their license back, WXPN agreed to remove students from on-air positions and use semi/professional volunteer staff. Some WXPN purists consider this period of the late 70s and early 80s the golden years of the station, with a very eclectic mix of folk, rock, jazz, and ethnic music.

WXPN mid-1990s logo In 1986, station Manager Mark Fuerst arrived at WXPN and was charged by the University with making the station financially self-sufficient. Out went many of the volunteers and other special interests along with many longtime programs. In came professional hosts and more successful fund-raising. In 1990, the station tripled its strength, expanding its reach out to the suburbs and adding affiliates in nearby markets. The frequency moved from 88.9 to 88.5 MHz. Some of the other achievements during this period included: increasing listenership over five times, growing listener contributions about ten times, developing the popular World Cafe program now distributed by NPR, and the production of Kids Corner, a daily interactive radio show for kids.

In 2004, WXPN moved to new facilities at 3025 Walnut Street, where the station shares space with World Cafe Live.


  • Joe Logan, “WXPN-FM marks its 50th”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/21/1996, E6
  • Margit Detweiler, “Lawyers, Guns and Lyrics”, Philadelphia Citypaper, 8/1/1996
  • Alan Sheckter, “WXPN Takes A First-Hand Look Back At The Early Days On The Air”, The Xpress, February, 1996

Discuss WXPN

Comments? Corrections? Worked there? Please let us know!

1. Posted on Thursday, April 29, 2010 by Alan Steiner:
"In order to get their license back, WXPN agreed to remove students from on-air positions and use semi/professional volunteer staff." Definitely not true. Students were on the air at the station before, during and after the license issues.

2. Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by Richard cottone:
I remember the pre.74 xpn.I loved it even after that it was still the best station in the US the only one that was even comparable was KALX. Sanfran. But after 86 it died I worked for UAL I was all over extensively.

3. Posted on Sunday, May 31, 2015 by Valerie Larkin:
I was a student at Penn 1975-79, and was on the WXPN staff. There were definitely students on the air during that period. Also, 3905 Spruce St. was not designed by Frank Furness, but by the Wilson Brothers, who were noted Furness imitators (I was an architecture student.)

4. Posted on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 by Paul Shrager:
I worked at WXPN-FM from 1991 - 1994 as an "operations engineer." That was the title. Fun job and good people.

5. Posted on Sunday, October 14, 2018 by Alan:
The arttcle states that the station *agreed* to remove students from on-air positions. Whether they actually did and to what extent or for how long is another story.

6. Posted on Saturday, December 12, 2020 by Deb:
Hey! What is the exact movement of Respighi's Fountains of Rome played as an intro around 1965 or so?>>>>

7. Posted on Monday, April 5, 2021 by Reg:
i was one of the volunteer producers who were eventually phased out in the corporate takeover of the late 80s-early 90s. i remember sitting in a big meeting, chairs in a wide circle, while the corporate takeover was carefully explained to us in industry doublespeak. and we could all hear the death knell for the station we loved: the eclectic, college-radio gem that WXPN once was.

8. Posted on Saturday, June 26, 2021 by Bruce P.:
"the eclectic, college-radio gem that WXPN once was" So true. I discovered WXPN in 1973. Used to listen to Diaspar on the way home from work. Actually attended Penn in late 70's to early 80's and interned there. Eventually the pressure from schoolwork, commuting, and an abandoned lifestyle made me give it up b/f I got my license and went on air. I did get to sit in With John DL and Gino Wong on their hostings of Diaspar. That was great. John would turn off all the studio lights, turn up the monitors, and it was real underground radio live and in concert. Still listen to Stars End regularly, although mostly while sleeping.

9. Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 by Jerry Barrish:
I worked at WXPN while I was an undergrad at the university. I became the program director in late 1963. In fact, my first day on the job was November 22, 1963--the day of President Kennedy's assassination. One hell of a way to get started. My proudest achievement was tying the station into the national network of educational programming. While at the station (before my time as PD) we broadcast a debate between William Buckley and Murray Kempton from Irvine Auditorium and another appearance by Malcolm X at the same site. We had a varied format, one that included many Classical Music programs, ranging from pre-Baroque to modern electronic, plus jazz nightly beginning at midnight. In addition, we had many feeds from national education education radio, and live Quaker football and basketball games. It was a great time to experiment and to really explore possibilities. I wish it had lasted

10. Posted on Friday, August 19, 2022 by David Director:
Answer to #6: Ancient Airs and Dances on the Lute, Suite #2. It was the opening theme for the afternoon show when I started in the fall of 1963. Another alum who started at the same time (and should be noted in the history) is one Andrea Mitchell, who arrived in the office the first day of classes and announced that she was "going to do news."

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