WPSC

In writing The Penn State Student Broadcasting Story for The LION 90.7fm’s new historical marker last year, I learned a lot about Penn State’s college radio origins. Here’s what we wrote:

Launched in 1912 on the eve of the First World War, 8XE was, according to The Daily Collegian, “one of the first experimental licenses … granted by the government,” as well as “the first licensed club in the nation” among collegiate peers. By 1921 experimental broadcasts were evolving, and newly-christened station WPSC was again among the first of its collegiate or national peers.

WPSC harnessed both AM and shortwave frequencies to reach a local and international audience. Listeners as distant as England, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand could hear programming featuring the first student play-by-play coverage of Penn State football, as well as basketball, wrestling, and boxing. The station also aired weekly chapel services, Glee Club and fraternity orchestra performances, music from the singers and composers of the time, lectures by professors and visitors, and distance learning instruction. It also served as occasional relay carrier for KDKA, the world’s first commercially licensed radio station.

As early as 1920, Penn State employed an undergraduate student general manager in charge of the station’s operations and in 1927 equipped the station with a $2,000 annual budget. But by 1932, wracked by the Great Depression and the prospect of costly new federal broadcast regulations, WPSC ceased operations. However, students kept alive the spirit of WPSC through less-regulated shortwave broadcasts over the course of the next generation.

A friend recently shared a link to Mike Bezilla’s illustrated Penn State history, which contains similar history. It tells the same story, but in what I think is a bit less compelling a manner while leaving out the role of the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 and 8XE’s experimental period. But Bezilla’s illustrated history does contain two photos of 1920s student radio facilities that I don’t remember seeing before. They’re remarkable:

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The most novel medium of communication pressed into service during the campaign was the College’s new radio station. Using transmitting equipment donated by several Pittsburgh area alumni, the station began broadcasting in January 1921, less than a year after the nation’s first commercial station, Pittsburgh’s KDKA, went on the air. The Department of Electrical Engineering supervised operations while a new Department of Public Information handled programming, which typically consisted of agricultural reports, faculty lectures, and musical concerts. Heard throughout Pennsylvania and in many distant states, the station carried call letters WPAB until 1924, when they were changed to WPSC. Unfortunately, a lack of money for technical repairs and improvements caused broadcast schedules to become sporadic, greatly hindering the station’s effectiveness in the building campaign.

Reverence is a gift

Chris Buchignani and Kevin Horne, two friends and fellow board members with The Nittany Valley Society, got together last week to clean up and start restoring the gravesite of Evan Pugh and Rebecca Valentine Pugh near Penn State’s campus in Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery:

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I wrote and excerpted thinking on human dignity the other day, but that higher level thinking translates into this very practical way in which to think about human dignity: it’s a reality we recognize in one another through reverence.

While most people recognize a fundamental dignity unique to human beings, the ways in which that recognition translates into mores and law is breathtakingly divergent. But because actions speak louder than words, the best way to infuse meaning into dignity is to practice it.

That’s why we clean and honor Evan and Rebecca Pugh’s gravesite.

Exiles, not immigrants

Understand something, please: My parents are exiles, not immigrants. There is an enormous difference. They didn’t come to this country looking for money. They left money behind and came here to risk poverty. They did so because they were exiled from a land they didn’t want to leave and still miss, a land they will not visit until this regime is ousted or they see real change that can be trusted. My grandmother put my mother on a plane believing they might see each other again in three months. It took 12 years. Grandma put her on a plane because she couldn’t stomach the idea of both of her children being in jail at once — her son for his politics, her daughter for trying to go to church to honor the dead. Days after she fled, three militia members with machine guns broke into the house at 3 a.m. looking for my mother. Grandma is dead.

Dan Le Batard’s reflection in the midst of President Obama’s Cuban visit.

I’m supportive of the end of our Cuban embargo. It hasn’t worked. But we often struggle to reconcile with those we’ve been closest to, and both geographically and historically speaking we’ve been close with Cuba. The stories of so many of her people—so many of her exiles—are now the stories of our people.

A gift Cubans and Americans can exchange beyond capitalism is memory of the lives lived on both shores since July 26th.

Resurrection

Wesley Hill distinguishes between resuscitation of a corpse and the resurrection of the dead:

There is a profound difference, in orthodox Christian thinking, between, say, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (recounted in the Gospel of John, chapter 11) and God the Father’s vindication of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. In the former instance, Lazarus was truly dead—his remaining in the tomb four days sealed that fact—and he was truly pulled from death’s blaze, like an ashen remnant lifted from amid the coals, and given a restored life. Even so, he had to die again, still subject, after his grave clothes had been removed, to the same old process of decay he had known before he heard Jesus’ summons from the tomb. But unlike Lazarus, Jesus emerged from his tomb, St. Paul tells us, never to die again: “death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9). There is, in other words, a qualitative difference, not merely a difference of degree or intensity, between the raising of Lazarus and the raising of Jesus. The former is a miracle, but it doesn’t solve the problem of death for all. The latter is an apocalyptic action of unilateral divine sovereignty, forever defeating death and ensuring its absolute eradication. As Luke Timothy Johnson has put it, “The Christian claim concerning the resurrection of Jesus is not that he picked up his old manner of life, but rather that after his death he entered into an entirely new form of existence, one in which he shared the power of God and in which he could share that power with others.” …

Although Wright has written the definitive historical defense of the empty tomb tradition, he has also drawn attention to the fundamentally non-historical truth that the empty tomb points to. The new life that Jesus now enjoys is, in Wright’s fine coinage, “transphysical”: it is real bodily life, but at the same time, it is unlike any bodily life we now know. Jesus’ body is, precisely, the first instance of God’s eschatological renewal of all things. His resurrection is the beginning and initial example of the new creation. It is dissimilar to anything we’ve seen before—without analogy or pre-formed pattern, utterly unique in its unsurpassable theological significance. …

With his raising of Lazarus to enjoy the old life he had before he died, Jesus is creating an analogy or signpost that will serve as a faint—but true, nonetheless—indication of what Lazarus, Martha, and all believers can expect from him in the end. Jesus’ granting of historical life to a corpse becomes a window into what it may be like when he finally and irreversibly grants eternal, immortal life to those who are dead.

The moment I begin to feel like I comprehend Christianity in its essence is always the moment when I remember that whatever I’m comprehending isn’t Christianity in its essence. It is distinctly beyond our logic, which is one of the reasons why I trust Christ’s Easter promise.

Easter

It’s Easter, and here is an Easter piece of music: Miserere mei, Deus is Latin for Have mercy on me, God. NPR brings out some of the history of this piece:

Composer Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” is a piece of choral music so powerful that a 17th-century pope decreed it could be played only during the week leading to Easter—and then only in the Sistine Chapel.

Village life

I’ve gotten into History’s “Vikings” series lately. It weaves together the stories of Ragnar Lodbrok and the Viking excursions of the dark ages. It’s held together with a particularly strong performance by Travis Fimmel, who portrays Ragnar.

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I screenshot the village scene above because it was so beautiful. It’s from a Yule celebration wherein the entire village of Kattegat has turned out. I describe this as beautiful because it is. Look at it.

This is what most of human experience has been. Village life. It feels strange and foreign, but it also feels so familiar.

Imagine waking up and knowing everyone in the village. Knowing more or less every thing in the village. Knowing the king or earl. Fighting and farming and hunting and living and dying together.

A messaging system, not a library

Adrienne LaFrance writes on the void that is the internet:

The web, as it appears at any one moment, is a phantasmagoria. It’s not a place in any reliable sense of the word. It is not a repository. It is not a library. It is a constantly changing patchwork of perpetual nowness. …

“There are now no passive means of preserving digital information,” said Abby Rumsey, a writer and digital historian. In other words if you want to save something online, you have to decide to save it. Ephemerality is built into the very architecture of the web, which was intended to be a messaging system, not a library.

Culturally, though, the functionality of the web has changed. The Internet is now considered a great oracle, a place where information lives and knowledge is stitched together. And yet there are no robust mechanisms for libraries and museums to acquire, and thus preserve, digital collections. The world’s largest library, the Library of Congress, is in the midst of reinventing the way it catalogues resources in the first place—an attempt to bridge existing systems to a more dynamic data environment. But that process is only beginning.

In the print world, it took centuries to figure out what ought to be saved, how, and by whom. The destruction of much of Aristotle’s work deprived humanity of a style of writing that the philosopher Cicero described as like “a flowing river of gold.” What survived of Aristotle’s writing wasn’t prose, but more akin to lecture notes.

Creative responses to failure

I think Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program is one of the best programs of its kind in the country. I know some call Philadelphia a “city of murals.” It’s true they seem to be everywhere.

I’ve been thinking about murals for a few years, most recently on a visit to State College where I’m working with a few people to build out the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk to surround and ultimately conserve the enormous Inspiration Mural on Heister Street. A more recent mural addition to State College is the one that appears here, on the blank wall of McClanahan’s Downtown Market along Calder Way:

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These are beautiful things. But it’s also true that the existence of most murals (like the one here) is possible only because of the failure of our architecture. What McClanahan’s built was a structure with a hideous and worthless blank wall that contributed to the deadening of a key portion of a main artery of the town. The mural above, like most opportunities for grand murals that I’ve seen, are creative responses to failure.

They should be celebrated for what they are, and for the stories they tell. They should also be a call to our architectural and civic sensibilities to start building structures that are themselves works of art.

Barking Spider

In the spirit of sharing experiences, here’s something I wrote while sitting in a Cleveland bar in May 2013. It’s amazing how words, these little markings, can call into our consciousness an experience from years ago.

What are the things that are real but pass into unrecorded history? That is, what are the experiences we have but do not document, and so we can only call forth in our memory?

In this era of continuous communication, we can document everything, though some things are still sacred. Births, deaths, illnesses—these are still private, unrecorded moments in time. They’re real, but they don’t pass into a referenceable history. Years later, without a clear record, these moments are recalled through the fog of memory as if being rediscovered in a haze. What are the real parts, and what might we be inventing? What is there when no Facebook post, blog entry, or tweet has recorded the specifics of a special moment?

I’m drinking Newcastle in a bar in Cleveland called The Barking Spider near the campus of Case Western in rapture with a jazz band. The middle aged singing woman crooning, the bassist peering at his notation, the pianist in the corner, the fat drummer melting with energy into the snare cracks and tsst-tsst-tsst of the cymbals. A lesbian couple sits off to my left, as into it as I am. Psychedelics, iron work, and art of the avant garde hangs about the place. It’s late May and a winter chill hangs in the air, but in here there’s warmth. The small place fills and swells, and lets out again. It hums.

What of this living experience would pass into nothingness if I had not just here recorded it? What of it would have been real, but unreal in the future by being unremembered in the formal or even mental record?

We discount feelings as fleeting things, and as chemical side effects—but what if they are ways we are transported into the pages of the unrecorded (even unremembered) reality of other moments?

As I sit here in my $6 Walmart sweatshirt and overpriced jeans the ooze of jazz seeps in past the fabric, saturating me. I’m absorbed, and though I can know I’m sitting here at a creaky table in Cleveland I’m also now back in New Orleans of a few years past, in Preservation Hall. I look down and see the dusty wooden floor of the hall, see a knot in the one plank. I feel the bench, and catch a waft of that inviting mugginess in the air. The band is about to begin, and a fan is going gently in the hallway out the door. A child yelps with glee or surprise outside. I’m in Cleveland, living and recording, and the living has brought me back to an experience of my till-now unrecorded, foggy past. It floods back as a living reality, the specifics unprovable and subjective except for my reliving them, and being alive in them.

I’ve got to stop writing, and return my whole attention to this woman singing in this Spider bar. It’s what real, even as real as the moment that I’ve just relived as surely as if I were looking at a Facebook photo from that afternoon in Preservation Hall.

We can be real in so many more ways than even we expect. We capture glimpses of past reality from the fog and mist of time. They’re no longer present, but they’re no less real. They’re living, too.

This woman sings as I write: “You can’t looooooose a thing… if it belooooonnnggsss to you.”

Scent of rain

This is something I wrote two years ago, recounting an experience. I plan to write more of these, but figured I’d start by looking at where I’ve been before.

After working into the early hours of the morning one night earlier this year, I decided to start the new day with a run through the city. I don’t run outside often in the winter months, but it was warmer than usual this morning. There was a surreal fog covering the city, and I was feeling keyed-up.

There’s a word I learned recently: petrichor. It was coined a few decades ago by Australians, but its root is Greek, and it’s a word that tries to capture the distinctive scent of rain, or as I think of it, the distinctive scent of wet.

So there was a petrichor blanket across the face of Philadelphia this morning, and combined with the novelty of shorts in January and the way the wet in the air seems to cleanse the lungs it was a beautiful running experience. I ran from Old City across Market Street into University City, eventually crossing back into Southwest Philadelphia and through Devil’s Pocket and the still mostly rotting infrastructure disaster zone that is Washington Avenue, especially west of Broad Street. Then through the potent scent of fruits, fish, and unknown foodstuffs of the Italian Market on 9th Street, and back north along Front Street. The blanketing fog had lifted shortly after I began the run, but the scent lingered in the air and still dominate my memory of that morning run.

Every choice involves trade offs. In this case I was glad I decided to go for a cold, wet run through the city rather than retreat into the warmth of my sheets.