Thursday, August 06, 2009

The dark past of XPN

I had heard rumors for years of unspecific wildness, of a rowdy past of punk rock and college kids. WXPN wasn't always a monument to middle-aged blandness. Once, long ago they were a wholly different station. Finally I bumped into the history of a little carrier current station WQHS. Their story is also the story of WXPN. I'm going to quote at some length here to set up the back story.

"...back in the day, Penn had these two radio stations: 88.9 WXPN-FM and 730 WXPN-AM. The FM one was pretty rad, innovative, and all of that stuff. Both stations consisted of educational programming, news and sports coverage, and tame music... In 1965, things got interesting when WXPN-AM started airing popular music shows, stirring interest among the students. In about three years time, practically the entire programming schedule of XPN was rock... So around this time, things started getting crazy. XPN fell in with the wrong crowd. To make a long story short, there were several instances of 'offensive' material going on-air, including (but not limited to) fake sexual enhancement drug advertisements, erotic literature, and vegetable discussion. Let's not forget the legendary Vegetable Report."

"Vegetable report" was the magic phrase. With that phrase alone I unlocked the truth about the creation of the XPN we know today. The Vegetable report is just the tip of the iceberg. it's just what they got nailed on. There had been so much more but it was a talk show segment on the sexual insertion of vegetables that was the end of everything.

In the U. Penn archives are multiple documents referring to the incident. My favorite is the Executive Summary for the Board of Trustees, dated December 8th 1975. This is the official short-version of what the reaction was in an administrative capacity. It concerned Mr. Morton Wilner, the Chairman of the Electronic Communications Subcommittee of the Student Affairs Committee.
"It was his understanding that the FCC had issued a formal "notice of liability" calling for a forfeiture of $2,000 ($1,000 for each for two violations of obscenity law in the January 1975 broadcast of the now discontinued "vegetable Report" on WXPN-FM. Pending receipt of the formal notice of the Commission's decision, it was recommended that no action be taken."
After that everything changed. the students were kicked out good and bad alike. The University decided to re-staff and re-build WXPN as a more commercial entity. It had paid staff, a format, and no damn kids. The course of history had been change forever by a dirty joke.
In the U. Penn Almanac of November 1978 included excerpts from the 45 page FCC Decision. It accuses the station of inadequate supervision, of ineffective control, and lacking management structure. the spell out a dearth of responsibility so vast that blame can only be assigned to the University itself. it states plainly that the FCC received 27 months of complaints. Worse yet, in March of 1975 U. Penn had still failed to bring any order to the chaos. The sum it up succinctly
"We do emphasize, however that a licensee, educational or otherwise, may not delegate and sub-delegate authority over a broadcast facility and thereby insulate itself from the ultimate responsibility for the operation of the station."
Essentially they admit the students were wrong, but that the University for allowing that situation to continue for years, bore the greater share of guilt. Commissioner Robert Lee write a dissent but merely mourns the loss of a community station and adds that the students should have been spanked. (I kid you not) the FCC opted not to renew the license of WXPN. the station was dead. This incident was the first time FCC killed a license on grounds of obscenity. More here.

But Philadelphia wasn't ready to see it go. A citizen's group was organized and to petitioned the FCC to reconsider. To sweeten the deal U. Penn promised to recreate the station with Professional staff to run things. The University was allowed to apply for a new but somewhat conditional license. Interestingly enough I found that Tom Fallat still lists the program in his resume.
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