New generations

I’ve written before many times about the importance of “a spirit of community across time” as vital for places looking to cultivate or conserve a distinctive character. I want to dive in to explain this a bit.

On January 4th, I hopped into an Uber from my office in Narberth, and headed to West Chester for dinner at Rams Head with Jake Abrams, who as of this month is the newest president and general manager for The LION 90.7fm, Penn State’s student radio station. I had read Jake’s Onward State contributions, but had never met him. We were meeting in my capacity as a former president and general manager of the station, and also as president of the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group, an affiliate of the Penn State Alumni Association that’s in he middle of a multi-year campaign to create a new scholarship for undergraduates at the station.

Campus radio at Penn State began thanks to the Class Gift of 1912 with WPSC, but while its tradition is long, its latest incarnation as WKPS dates only to 1995. I’ve come to know almost every president and general manager since its founding, and through the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group we try to keep different generations connected and communicating. You can’t force mentorship, but knowing past generations exist is a way to crack open the door.

In any event, it was great getting face time with Jake, and connecting with the newest generation of station leadership. He’s passionate and seems sober about the challenges and opportunities for leading the station. Their new facilities are a great inflection point, and I’m excited to see what he and his staff do. I’m also excited because he’s a sophomore, which means he has a special potential to make a major impact if he stays involved as a multi-year president. I actually prefer underclassmen as leaders, because I’ve found seniors are often there simply to check the box.

As a young leader, Jake also has the opportunity to connect the youngest generations with the older ones, helping the station’s roots reach into more deeply fertile soil. New generations in life occur roughly every 20 years, but on campus they occur roughly every 24 months. It’s vital to put the time in to meet and connect with new generations, or you’ll quickly find the thread of continuinity is lost, and it can be weird if a 50-something alumnus tries to connect with a 19-year old student with no one to serve as a bridge in between.

As technology changes, I believe radio’s worth is primarily in the way it can serve as a platform for interdisciplinary media skills. And especially in the midst of a cultural climate limply clinging to “safe spaces,” the federally protected airwaves are also a relevant place for freedom of thought and expression. Jake is an example of that—a sophomore who’s learning to do play-by-play sports coverage, who’s learning to manage staff and operations, who’s writing for Onward State, and who’s not a communications major.

Learning to speak articulately, earn attention, and tell a story is a major key in life. The LION 90.7fm is the most relevant media voice for students at Penn State to learn those skills, and it’s why I’m happy to give back by meeting with new generations every year. In connecting, sharing a bit of yourself, of the past, and of what’s possible in the months and years to come, you’re fostering a bit of that “spirit of community across time.”

You’re showing new generations that they’re not alone, and that those who’ve gone before care about them, and want them to write the next chapter in a larger story.

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