Correcting institutional identity

I first wrote last spring about “strengthening institutional identity” for Penn State’s campus radio station. We had commissioned a small historical marker, and worked with The LION 90.7fm‘s student leadership at the time to place it in the new facility.

As I wrote at the time, the idea was that an historical marker could help “defeat some of the corrosive effects of transience and the attendant loss of perspective and memory that often alienates people from enjoying a meaningful sense of place.” A lot of us who’ve “been through the halls” care about the place, and want to make the experience even more beautiful for generations to come. Knowing the history plays a big role in that.

After we had last year’s historical marker manufactured and installed, I spent a number of days researching and cataloguing the earliest newspaper articles concerning Penn State radio. I was stunned to learn we had gotten our own history wrong. We had believed the earliest origins of Penn State radio had begun with WDFM in 1951. In fact, there was an entire earlier (the earliest) generation that began with Penn State’s Senior Gift of the Class of 1912, which led to the creation of WPSC which broadcast through the early 1930s.

This discovery had been a great lesson to me personally in the value of digging deeper, doing first-hand research to verify the history rather than relying only on the received history passed down by peers. For whatever set of reasons, the institutional memory of the 1912 gift and the WPSC pioneers had long faded from anything heard by students and alumni of The LION 90.7fm over the past 20+ years. The pioneers of a century ago have passed out of living memory, too.

We had our historical marker recast to correct our initially incomplete history. I’m glad that, in this small way at least, we can honor those who were there at the start.