WPRK: The Best in Basement Radio, and the Voice of Rollins College

Wenxian Zhang

Often called “the best in basement radio and the voice of Rollins,” WPRK has been on air in Central Florida for the last seventy years. However, it is not the first station to broadcast from Rollins. As a national leader in pragmatic liberal arts education, Rollins has a long history in radio broadcasting. In 1924, when radio was still in its infancy, Professor Edward F. Weinberg and a group of physics students launched Central Florida’s first radio signal at 580 AM from a small dance studio on campus, making WDBO (Way Down By Orlando) one of the first college radio stations in America. [1] Weinberg even came up with the call letters himself, but Rollins soon had to give up the endeavor because of operation expenses.

When the Mills Memorial Library was constructed in 1951, a media studio was added in the basement of the building located at the center of campus. With funding for equipment from William B. Calkins of Florida Sanitarium, who wished “to enlighten young people with regard to the great spiritual joys and truths,” Rollins Board of Trustees passed a resolution to establish a new radio station with a mission that would “be of such nature as to raise the spiritual level of the college and the community.”[2] On December 8, 1952, WPRK began broadcasting with 10 watts of power and the first voice aired was President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower’s lofty dedication remarks: “This new FM station of Rollins College can help to spread and advance the great ideas which keep men and women free. Whether the ideas come from the great music or poetry or other literature of the past, or from debates and reflections of today, the people of our country who are listening in will be the richer.”[3]

A broadcasting session in WPRK Studio during the 1952-53 academic year.

Initially, WPRK was on air for only a few hours each weekday evening, Monday through Friday, but daytime programs were soon added. After broadcasting on 88.1 FM, its radio frequency was soon changed to 91.5 FM in 1953. With further financial supports from the college and community, WPRK’s transmitter power was enhanced to 250 and then 1300 watts. As originally envisioned, most of the station’s early programs were of a cultural and educational nature, including discussion forums, science talks, sports roundups, and presentations by local artists and community personalities. In addition to a great music lineup, the station also broadcasted special college events such as Rollins’ Animated Magazine, convocation, and the Winter Park Bach Festival. By 1962, WPRK had “more listeners per watt than any other radio station in Florida.”[4] By 1964, the station began to operate seven days a week. During the 1970s, WPRK was on air from noon to midnight, and summer programs were added in the 1980s.

Since its founding, the student-run radio broadcasting of WPRK has been a vital part of the campus life. For many years, it was one of the largest student organizations on campus, with dozens of DJs and student volunteers covering different shifts and tasks. The radio operation also has a very positive influence on curricular improvement and student learning experiences at Rollins. Not only were some courses in broadcast production taught over the years, it also contributed to the development of the Communication program later on. Many students and alumni have fond memories of their time working at the station in the basement of Mills, and such experiences had profound impacts on their careers and personal lives. After college, some pursued work in business, finance, education, and marketing, while others engaged in related professions such as journalism and media communication. Notable among them are Chris Russo ’82 of Mad Dog SiriusXM, Jim Bowden ’83 of Major League Baseball’s Network Radio, and Maria Paz Gutierrez ’15 of RadioLab, while internationally popular DJ Diplo stands out among WPRK’s former community volunteers.

Benjamin Aycrigg ’49, WPRK’s first program director in 1952, worked at WDBO briefly before being appointed as instructor in Speech and English at Rollins. Aycrigg went on to become WKMG’s news anchor in Central Florida for many years and came to be known as the “Walter Cronkite of Orlando television.”[5] Another notable person affiliated with WPRK was Gordon Fraser, former WWII correspondent and longtime NBC broadcaster, who served as general manager and greatly shaped the growth of the radio station between 1982 and 1990.[6]

WPRK’s first program director Ben Aycrigg ’49 (standing) conducts a radio talk show.

At the end of Fraser’s tenure, students petitioned the administration for expanded hours, more involvement, and greater control of the programming. Consequently, hours of operation were increased; initially it expanded to include the 8 am – 2 am daily timeslot and then, in the mid-1990s, 24-hour broadcasting began. Since then, WPRK has been fully run by students with a general manager who oversees its administration. Such initiatives led to the further development of WPRK as a genuine media outlet for the creative voices of students. These programs also helped to distinguish WPRK from other radio stations in Central Florida. For financial and marketing reasons, Rollins even considered proposals for affiliation takeovers by other networks. However, because of students’ strong opposition to these, throughout its history WPRK has remained an independent voice in the metro Orlando region.

In terms of programming, music has been the largest segment since the station’s founding, and classical music dominated the airwaves during the early decades. Then WPRK’s lineup began to broaden to include more pop, rock, and contemporary tunes, reflecting the changing cultural landscape of the country and students’ own evolving interests. Besides classical, other popular genres frequently aired include indie rock, variety, hip-hop, punk, metal, and movie soundtracks.

WPRK DJ Carla Borsoi ’92 broadcasting her first free-form alternative “PUNK-tuation Show” from the basement of the Mills Memorial Center at Rollins.

WPRK has also contributed to the growth of the music community in Central Florida. Known as “Orlando’s hip radio station,” WPRK prides itself on airing music ignored by the mainstream.[7] “It’s a blues station. It’s also, at various hours of the week, a jazz station, a reggae station, a country station and a late-night punk station.”[8] In addition, WPRK regularly features live performances by hometown musicians in its studio and sponsors concerts on campus such as the Fox Fest, an annual festival with multiple genres by local artists and student talent, which takes place during Family Weekend each year.[9]

The twenty-first century marks a few notable milestones in WPRK’s history. During January 17th to 21st of 2005, 25-year-old WPRK DJ David Plotkin successfully completed 110 consecutive hours of on-air programming that included spinning CDs, hosting music bands, and interviewing local artists and civic leaders. His impressive accomplishment exceeded the Guinness World Record at the time in broadcasting and helped raise over $16,000 that made streaming possible.[10] In 2006, WPRK.org was launched, and online streaming has since reached global listeners in Germany, Brazil, Finland, UK, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia, and France, among others.[11] On September 10th, 2017, Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to WPRK’s antenna and forced the radio station off the air, leaving online streaming as the only way for listeners to connect for a period of eleven months.[12] Finally, in 2020, after the major renovation of Mills Memorial Center (previously Mills Memorial Library), WPRK moved into its new broadcasting studio on the first floor of Kathleen W. Rollins Hall, where it remains a key part of the vibrant and central student hub on campus.

Sessions of live broadcasting at WPRK during recent years.

For the last seven decades, WPRK has been a vital part of Rollins and the greater Central Florida community. Currently, the student-run radio station is on air and online 24/7 year-round with over 80 weekly shows, each one crafted by its own set of hosts which range from students to faculty and staff members to community volunteers. Its signature programs still broadcast new indie music and an eclectic mix of genres rarely played on commercial airwaves. From alternative music and live performances by local bands to earnest discussions of politics, economics, books, and global issues, today “WPRK is an example of how passion and drive—plus a healthy dash of spontaneity and originality—combine to create a successful enterprise.”[13] As a celebrated local cultural and artistic undertaking with its unique, independent voice capturing the dynamics of Rollins and greater Central Florida, WPRK symbolizes “the enduring medium of radio, as well as the importance of local radio stations in the community.”[14] One media personality in the region noted: “WPRK is college radio at its best. Run by students, programmed by students, and enjoyed by the entire community. Orlando wouldn’t be the same without WPRK!”[15]

An early version of this essay was published in the 20:2 (Fall 2022) issue of Reflections from Central Florida, the Magazine of the Historical Society of Central Florida. The author gratefully acknowledges constructive reviews from Professors Rachel Walton and Jonathan Harwell, and feedback provided by Greg Golden, ’11 ’16MBA, Director of Student Media at Rollins.


[1] Ann W. Mikell, “WPRK 91.5 FM: The Best in Basement Radio,” Rollins Alumni Record, Fall 1993, 12-15, https://scholarship.rollins.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1060&context=magazine.

[2]Hugh McKean, “WPRK Inauguration Dinner,” December 8, 1952. 170B WPRK Radio, Rollins College Archives, Winter Park, Florida.

[3] “Dedication Address by President-Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower for Rollins College FM Station,” December 8, 1952. Rollins Digital Collections, https://archives.rollins.edu/digital/collection/archives/id/638/rec/2.

[4] Nick White, “More Listeners per Watt, Rollins Radio Boast,” Winter Park Star, October 19, 1962.

[5] Hal Boedeker, “Orlando TV legend Ben Aycrigg dead at 88,” Orlando Sentinel, November 5, 2014. 

[6] John Gordon Fraser Journalism Papers, Rollins College Archives, Winter Park, Florida, https://aspace.rollins.edu/repositories/2/resources/14.

[7] Mikell, 1993, page 13.

[8] Dana S. Eagles, “Surreal Radio: Live from a Rollins College Basement, All Things Really Are Considered at WPRK,” Winter Park Magazine Spring 2015, 39-42, https://winterparkmag.com/2015/04/17/winter-2012-8/.

[9] “Fox Fest 2021,” WPRK 91.5 FM, https://wprk.org/foxfest/.

[10] Phelan Ebenhack, “110 Hours on the Air: College Disc Jockey Sets World Record,” USA Today, January 22, 2005, https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2005-01-22-dj-marathon_x.htm.

[11] Laura J. Cole, “An Insider’s Guide to WPRK,” Rollins 360, June 23, 2015, https://wayback.archive-it.org/4097/20170101145852/http://360.rollins.edu/arts-and-culture/an-insiders-guide-to-wprk.

[12] Xander Peter, “Radio Silence: WPRK 91.5 Has Been off the Air for Nearly 3 Months, But It Will Return,” Orlando Weekly, December 20, 2017, https://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/wprk-915-has-been-off-the-air-for-nearly-3-months-but-it-will-return/Content?oid=9416257.

[13] Sarah Hartman, “Still the Best in Basement Radio,” Rollins Magazine Fall 2014, https://www.rollins.edu/magazine/stories/around-wprk.html.

[14] Lauren Shilverstri, “The Music Never Stops,” Sandspur, March 29, 2012, https://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2949&context=cfm-sandspur

[15] Billy Manes, Dave Plotkins and Jessica B. Young, “Notes from Underground,” Orlando Weekly, April 5, 2012, https://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/notes-from-underground/Content?oid=2248676.

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