I was not familiar with the idea of the “katechon” until a friend referenced it on Facebook recently:

In Nomos of the Earth, German political thinker Carl Schmitt suggests the historical importance within traditional Christianity of the idea of the katechontic “restrainer” that allows for a Rome-centered Christianity, and that “meant the historical power to restrain the appearance of the Antichrist and the end of the present eon.” The katechon represents, for Schmitt, the intellectualization of the ancient Christianum Imperium, with all its police and military powers to enforce orthodox ethics (see Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, G.L. Ulmen, trs., (New York: Telos, 2003), pp. 59–60.) In his posthumously published diary the entry from December 19, 1947 reads: “I believe in the katechon: it is for me the only possible way to understand Christian history and to find it meaningful” (Glossarium, p. 63). And Schmitt adds: “One must be able to name the katechon for every epoch of the last 1,948 years. The place has never been empty, or else we would no longer exist.”

Paolo Virno has a long discussion of the katechon in his book Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation.[1] He refers to Schmitt’s discussion. Virno says that Schmitt views the katechon as something that impedes the coming of the Antichrist, but because the coming of the Antichrist is a condition for the redemption promised by the Messiah, the katechon also impedes the redemption.[1] p. 60.

Virno uses “katechon” to refer to that which impedes both the War of all against all (Bellum omnium contra omnes) and totalitarianism, for example the society in Orwell’s Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four). It impedes both but eliminates neither. Virno locates the katechon in the human ability to use language, which makes it possible to conceive of the negation of something, and also allows the conceptualization of something which can be other than what it is; and in the bioanthropological behavior of humans as social animals, which allows people to know how to follow rules without needing a rule to tell how to follow a rule, then a rule to tell how to follow that rule, and so on to infinity. These capabilities permit people to create social institutions and to dissolve or change them.


SKOAL: Short Film

I’ve written about John Shakely, my grandfather, through his obituary and a later tribute. I’ve started working on his 1950s sailing manuscript, with an eventual goal to release that manuscript as a book through Nittany Valley Press in the next year or so. What I haven’t shared yet is a short film of his Pacific sailing adventures:


Panama to Galapagos

  • 00:00—SKOAL docked at Panama Canal Yacht Club, Canal Zone (Atlantic entrance to Canal).
  • 00:12—John Shakely on deck adjusting mooring lines.
  • 00:44—General view of yachts at PCYC, shoeing SKOAL. Many yachts on deep-water cruises stop here before heading on to the Caribbean or through the Canal to the Pacific.
  • 01:07—Dianne, Tahitian girl who is sister-in-law of American Canal Zone policeman we knew, dancing a hula.
  • 01:34—English yacht leaving for England, escorted out of harbor by several yachts of friends.
  • 02:56—Checking list of food stores and loading aboard SKOAL. 1,476 cans were dipped in hot paraffin to inhibit rust.
  • 03:23—Menace, the cat, our mascot given to us by a “friend.”
  • 03:33—Pablo at helm, Gatun Lake during Canal transit. Transit took about eight hours and cost $4.72 in tonnage fees.
  • 04:17—SKOAL at sea—we had to cross the doldrums causing a 26-day passage to make less than 1,000 miles.
  • 05:03—Birds on water.
  • 05:11—Menace the cat had a propensity for actions that roused my ire so we gave the beast to a farmer at Academy Bay in the Galapagos.
  • 05:31—Sea turtle on deck—about midway between Panama and the Galapagos we came upon fifty or more turtles. We roped one and pulled it aboard for photos, then turned it loose. After two days the turtles left us as abruptly as they had come.
  • 05:47—Pablo swimming—we saw no sharks so when the wind died it was perfectly safe to swim.
  • 05:57—Sunset near the Galapagos—the sunsets and dawns on the sea are quite sudden and dramatic. The color film cannot do full justice to all the subtle hues.
  • 06:24—Approaching northern islands of Galapagos, clouds.
  • 06:57—Coming into Sullivan’s Bay, San Salvador, Galapagos. This was our first stop in the Pacific. The island and its neighbor, San Bartoleme, have no human inhabitants.
  • 07:12—Landscape of San Bartoleme and San Salvador showing jumble of cinder and ash and sparse, stunted vegetation.
  • 07:47—SKOAL at anchor in Sullivan’s Bay.
  • 07:53—Seal (this required stealthy creeping and wading on my part, but I think the animal knew of my presence all the time and was playing with me.)
  • 08:16—Sea iguana, indigenous to the Galapagos—Darwin came here in the ship Beagle to gather data for his “Origin of Species.”
  • 08:35—Bird. Heron.
  • 09:17—Red crabs on rocks.
  • 09:45—John Shakely chasing crabs. (We eventually caught enough to make a meal—they had not much taste.)
  • 10:05—Porpoises.
  • 10:19—After four days at Sullivan’s Bay we headed south for Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. On arriba trail to farms, Santa Cruz. Agriculture is possible in the highlands (arriba) of some of the islands where the “garua” (drizzle) provides sufficient moisture. Many types of common and tropical vegetables are grown with some coffee and potatoes for export to Ecuador.
  • 10:32—Schoolhouse, arriba, Santa Cruz. Class was stopped while the teachers—husband and wife—made us feel at home.
  • 10:45—Birds. Pelican Bay, Santa Cruz. This is separated from the settlement at Academy Bay and so lots of wildlife gathers here.
  • 11:20—Pelican, surf on rocks, landscape, iguana—all at Pelican Bay.
  • 11:48—Goats, Academy Bay, Santa Cruz. These have been domesticated from the wild goats of the island—goats were originally left on these islands by pirates, whalers, etc.
  • 11:55—Hawk, Barrington Island. (From Santa Cruz we sailed east and anchored overnight at this uninhabited island.)
  • 12:05—Sea-lions, Barrington Island. Hundreds of these are seen in the islands, and occasionally penguins are found. The cold waters of the Humboldt Current sweeping up from the Antarctic make these equatorial islands unexpectedly cold.
  • 13:51—SKOAL anchored at Post Office Bay, Floreana Island and John Shakely coming ashore to mail a card. (The Bay got its name from the practice of old-time whalers who, on outbound voyages left letters here to be picked up by home-bound vessels. The practice is perpetuated by yachtsmen.)
  • 14:46—Nailing “SKOAL” sign to mailbox post. This is the custom of all visiting yachtsmen.
  • 14:53—Landscape of Floreana on way to Black Beach.
  • 15:10—Guide who directed us to the Wittmer farm, arriba.

Galapagos to Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, Pago Pago, Auckland, Sydney

  • 15:27—SKOAL at sea under fore-and-aft rig. We sailed generally southwest on this rig for about ten days, then changed to twin-jib rig.
  • 15:59—SKOAL at sea under twin-jib rig. Showing the sheet from bom to tiller arrangement which provided a form of self-steering so that we had to stand no watches, and could both sleep each night. This rig is usable only when sailing before the wind.
  • 16:46—John Shakely firing shot-gun in celebration of Independence Day.
  • 16:55—Dolphins swimming alongside SKOAL and dolphin I speared which Pablo cleaned and cooked. The meat is very good. We were followed by dolphins—at least one of them the same one—for almost three weeks while we were on the twin-jib. The number varied from two or three to several dozen. The dolphins frequently shot ahead of SKOAL to chase flying fish.
  • 17:36—Southern coast of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, and approaching Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. We anchored in Taiohae Bay on the 38th day after leaving Black Beach, Floreana, Galapagos.
  • 17:58—Taiohae Bay. This is a large and beautiful bay protected on all sides except its opening to the south. The village of Taiohae is situated at the head of the bay and the official residence of the French administrator of the island is here.
  • 18:06—Taiohae Bay seen from near the pass on the trail to Taipi Vaii, the valley to the east of Taiohae.
  • 18:21—Wild horse on the trail to Taipi Vaii. In addition to wild horses there are wild cattle, goats and chickens on these islands.
  • 18:38—Landscape showing water-falls in valley of Taipi Vaii. This is the valley of “Typee” made famous by Melville in his book. These islands rise abruptly from sea-level to as high as 3,000 feet and rainfall is quite adequate so there are numerous impressive cascades and falls.
  • 18:48—Pablo and guide at site of the Tikis. These ancient stone gods are arranged in a rough circular pattern at the old location of religious ceremonies of the cannibals who lived in this valley. The site, several kilometers from the village, is now overgrown and the tikis are weathering away to total obscurity.
  • 19:08—Guide on horse and horses on way back to Taiohae. The saddles are carved from wood and often the horses are quite obstinate so I generally preferred to walk.
  • 19:33—Waterfall again, seen from valley floor.
  • 19:39—Taiohae Bay.
  • 20:10—Taiohae Bay, kids with outrigger canoe.
  • 20:41—Guide who took us to waterfall in Hakaui Valley. Here he is roasting the fresh-water shrimp which he caught in the stream, using a loop he made from a near-by leaf, and crushed coconut meat sprinkled on the water for bait.
  • 20:45—Hula-Hula, the traditional dance of the South Pacific, performed by the people of Taiohae as part of the Bastille Day observance. The “grass” skirt, or moré, is actually made from the inner bark of a tree that grows in the higher lands. The hula in its true form always tells a story—some incident from history or an anecdote. The gestures are stylized movements representing some everyday action such as paddling a dugout, grinding corn, etc. The same gesture may be used in different dances. The chief, in the green moré, is the dance director. In many of the dances a litany is included in which the chief leads, with a responsive chant by the dancers.
  • 26:23—SKOAL on the beach at Haveii Bay, Ua Huka. We had departed Taiohae after a two-week stay and headed south for other islands in the Marquesas, but a repair on the main-mast rigging necessitated putting into this bay. The parting of first one anchor cable and then the second resulted in SKOAL being swept onto the rocky beach where she was so battered and broken that repairs were not practical. Virtually all the able-bodied men of the island came to help in the salvage attempt.
  • 27:02—The hill on the north side of the bay is a nesting place for thousands of birds—this provided a ready supply of eggs (very similar to chicken eggs, but smaller) which, with the fish and lobsters caught by the islanders furnished ample food for us all. (I should mention the several hundred tins of food we had salvaged, many of them with the labels soaked off.)
  • 27:13—Finally, with the aid of eight 55-gallen drums, lashed to SKOAL for buoyancy, and M. Bazin’s government boat AORAI acting as a tug-boat, SKOAL—or her remains—was refloated and towed about a mile to Vai Paii, the next bay, where it was thought repairs might be effected. Examination, however, showed repairs not feasible. Whatever was usable was to be auctioned off and the returns to be put into a community fund. We had previously given the wreck to the islanders as community property. (Sometime later I received a letter from Bob MacKittrick informing me that the engine, new in Panama, had been put to use in the Catholic missionary’s boat, and the masts, sails, salvageable planking, etc. had been converted into a fishing boat for use by the people of Vaipaee. I guess you could say SKOAL lived on—body and soul.)
  • 27:28—After a six-week stay in Taiohae as guests of the Bazin’s, Pablo and I left to Tahiti as passengers aboard the VAITERE, a copra schooner that runs from Tahiti through the Tuamotus to the Marquesas and returns.
  • 27:47—Here the VAITERE is shown hoisting a sail as she leaves Taiohae Bay. She has sufficient diesel power to run without the aid of sail when necessary.
  • 28:12—Helmsman.
  • 28:26—Islanders with sacks of copra to be shipped to Tahiti.
  • 28:35—Takaroa, Tuamotus and view across the lagoon. Dozens of these coral atolls in the Tuamotus stretching far to the southeast. Only a few have a permanent population; many have a migrant populous which moves from island to island as the peral diving gets bad. In addition to copra is a major product of the Tuamotus is peral shell.
  • 28:40—Street scene, Takaroa. These islands average about seven feet above sea level, so damage and loss of life is very high when a hurricane strikes.
  • 29:09—Fish and spear-fishermen in lagoon at Takaroa.
  • 29:14—Children throwing stones—playfully, of course—at the fishermen, Takaroa.
  • 29:25—Goats on the VAITERE. These goats had the run of the place and not infrequently were chased by the cook when they ate the bananas. By the time we got to Papeete most of them had been eaten by crew and passengers.
  • 29:41—VAITERE passengers. The number of passengers fluctuated greatly as we came into the different islands. There are just four berths on the VAITERE so much of us slept on kapok mattresses on the cabin top. This was quite comfortable and, in fact, much cooler than sleeping below.
  • 29:54—Fishermen in lagoon at Papeete, Tahiti as we entered the harbor aboard the VAITERE.
  • 29:59—View of Papeete water-front from the VAITERE.
  • 30:22—Launch meeting the plane and bringing the governor of French Oceania ashore.
  • 30:38—Beach at Parae with Michele, my French teacher.
  • 30:56—Street scene, Papeete and boats tied up along quay.
  • 31:32—Hei (lei) sellers going down to meet incoming ship. When a ship comes in the whole town goes down to meet it.
  • 31:39—Road leading out of Papeete.
  • 31:52—Looking across lagoon of Papeete.
  • 31:58—SS SONOMA, the freighter on which I left Tahiti.
  • 32:10—Pago Pago Bay, Samoa, our first stop after leaving Tahiti.
  • 32:22—Unloading SONOMA, Pago Pago.
  • 32:37—School kids, street scene, Pago Pago.
  • 32:55—William Willis’ balsa raft on which he drifted and sailed from Peru. He made the voyage single-handed and traveled a thousand miles further than Kon Tiki.
  • 33:08—Auckland, New Zealand harbor. I stayed here only about six hours.
  • 33:17—Leaving Auckland aboard the MONOWAI, a passenger ship, headed for Sydney.
  • 33:45—Approaching Sydney, Australia and views of the city and harbor.
  • 34:24—Ferry boat on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.
  • 34:47—Motorboat and water-skiers on the Hawkesbury. (I was in Australia for about two weeks until the middle of December. I couldn’t travel much because I had to stay in Sydney ready to leave on very short notice for the job in the Philippines.)

Cherry-blossom sigh

All is despoiled, abandoned, sold;
Death’s wing has swept the sky of color;
All’s eaten by a hungry dolor.
What is this light which we behold?

Odors of cherry-blossom sigh
From the rumored forest beyond the town.
At night, new constellations crown
The high, clear heavens of July.

Closer it comes, and closer still
To houses ruinous and blind:
Some marvelous thing yet undivided,
A fiat of the century’s will.

“To N.V. Rikov-Gukovski”
—By Anna Akhmatova


As a child, I grew up in awe of the Americans Indians. There was this powerful spiritual force that surrounded them in my mind, and the basics of their marginalization that I learned in school was just an opening to learning more about individual American Indian tribes and the people as a people.

One of the things I suspect we’re at risk of culturally is entirely forgetting the American Indians in any meaningful way. I think is partly due to the rise of political correctness and identity politics, which makes it functionally impossible for whites to speak about American Indians (even in an appreciative way) without being looked at suspiciously as either a potential appropriator or as some sort of racial nut. I think it’s also due to the fact that we tend to lack American Indian symbols, names, and faces from so much of our cultural landscape. Lots of names remain in a geographical sense, but names on a map matter less than an intellectual or physical encounter with the people who we removed from the land and who we have little way to “encounter” in cultural practice.

It would be very difficult (if not political suicide) to attempt to name a school in honor of an historical American Indian figure, for instance. Yet that sort of thing can introduce generations of Americans to the first peoples of our lands, like it did for the students of Kishacoquillas High School in Lewistown, Pennsylvania for 30 years:

Kishacoquillas Junior/Senior High School alumni are giving back.

The Class of 1982 has established a scholarship fund to financially support college-bound students from Mifflin County.

“When we were planning our 35th reunion, several of us thought it would be nice to make the event purposeful by raising money for a local charity,” explained class member Terry Yoder. “We eventually decided to create a scholarship in the name of our alma mater.”

The class is still raising money toward the Spirit of Kishacoquillas Scholarship. Yoder said more than $4,000 has been raised thus far. Short term, the class aims to raise $12,500, for an endowment that would allow it to award one $500 scholarship annually based on interest earned. The ultimate goal is to raise $25,000, which would boost the endowment to award $1,000 per year.

Here’s a bit about Kishacoquillas from Centre Foundation, where the scholarship has been established:

The Spirit of Kishacoquillas Scholarship Fund

Perpetuating the legacy of a peaceful Shawnee Chief and the school which bore his name by financially supporting a new generation of community-minded students.

Kishacoquillas was a widely known chief of the Shawnee Indians of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania around 1750. He was held in high regard by early colonial officials in the area because of his successful efforts in keeping the Shawnee neutral during the beginning of the French and Indian War. A beautiful valley and the creek that runs its length bear the name of Kishacoquillas. From 1958 through 1988, students in grades 7 – 12, living in the townships of Armagh, Brown, Union and Menno attended Kishacoquillas Junior/Senior High School, affectionately known as “Kish.”

In 1966, Anne Kepler Fisher completed ‘Kishacoquillas,’ a painting that depicts Chief Kishacoquillas watching over the school that was named after him. For years, it hung by the entrance to the Kish auditorium and is now displayed in the Mifflin County Courthouse in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. The family of Anne Kepler Fisher is honored to have this image associated with the Spirit of Kishacoquillas Scholarship Fund.

There’s no bringing back the American Indians—the first peoples of the American continent. But there are practical ways to honor them and remember the peoples and nations that came before us through statuary and public buildings and scholarships and so forth. However imperfectly we may remember them, and however shabby it is that we can only perpetuate their memories rather than enjoy their fellowship as living neighbors, it’s a powerful and worthwhile thing to honor the American Indians as our cultural ancestors.

Comrade Detective

I watched Comrade Detective, a six-episode Amazon miniseries, after a friend recommended it to me earlier this month. Chloe Schildhause at Vanity Fair answers the question “What the Hell is Comrade Detective?”:

After delving deep into the archives of Cold War propaganda, Gatewood and Tanaka took inspiration from hits like the Czechoslovakian classic Thirty Cases of Major Zeman. When creating their homage to shows created behind the Iron Curtain, Rhys explains, “We weren’t going in with the mindset that we were Westerners making fun of Communism. We always tried to make sure that, no, no, we’re the Communist filmmakers.”

As Gateway says, “We grew up in the ‘80s, watching Red Dawn and Rocky IV and all these films—not really knowing as kids that we were essentially watching propaganda.” Tatum recalls a youth where every movie “had a Russian bad guy.”Showing the reverse, though, is both “hilarious and really poignant right now.”

The series effectively satirizes both Communism and capitalism while maintaining expertly stylized cinematography, replicating a time when propaganda was overt and clear. Now, of course, such machinery has grown more sophisticated; the show’s creators note that propaganda has become more obscured, subliminal, and subtle. Gatewood hopes the show will help viewers “reflect more on the power of propaganda, and how it’s seamless in society today”—even as they enjoy a comedic cop thriller populated by characters who say Monopoly is dangerous, think baseball is boring, and have nightmares about young children chanting, “I want my MTV.”

Gordon-Levitt compares the series to ideas media theorist Neil Postman presented in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, which examines the negative effects of television on politics. “What [George] Orwell feared were those who would ban books,” Postman wrote. “What [Aldous] Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism . . . In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

At the end of the book, Gordon-Levitt explains, Postman “does say, look, the way to deal with this is to just get people to understand it. Television doesn’t have to be harmful if people [are] aware of the way it is manipulative, if they were aware that you literally can’t communicate well-reasoned arguments and ideas through television by virtue of the medium.”

Incredible humor in this, but depth, too.

Penn State Student Broadcasting campus historical marker

I’m thrilled to share that Penn State has placed a new campus historical marker, recognizing Student Broadcasting as a significant part of Penn State tradition:

Student Broadcasting

“Penn State has been a leader in broadcasting college radio since the class gift of 1912 enabled early national experiments. By 1923, WPSC students were among the first college broadcasters in the nation. Since then, students have learned the craft while fulfilling their public mission to the campus and listening community. While station names and technology change, campus radio continues to enrich student learning and campus life.”

This historical marker is a reality thanks to Paul Clifford of the Penn State Alumni Association, who advocated for it internally, as well as Jackie Esposito of the Penn State Libraries, and Laura Waldhier of the Office of Strategic Communications who oversees the Penn State Historical Markers program. If you’re not familiar with Penn State’s Historical Markers program, some context:

Colleges and universities are rarely aware of their own history until chronological landmarks approach. These landmarks—anniversaries of institutional events or facilities, for example—often trigger nostalgic reminiscences. At Penn State, the historical markers program has been one way of keeping history in the public forefront without depending on special occasions. By telling the story of the University’s rich tradition of achievement in such a public manner, the marker program helps to sustain Penn State’s reputation as one of the nation’s foremost public institutions of higher education. The blue-and-white historical markers dotting the campus landscape demonstrate that Penn State has a long and diverse intellectual heritage. These markers remind visitors to the campus, as well as students, faculty, and other members of the Penn State community, of major figures and accomplishments from the University’s past. The markers stand as tangible evidence that Penn State recognizes and appreciates its heritage. They are intended to be read by pedestrians and are situated accordingly.

When I proposed this historical marker years ago, I never really expected it to go anywhere. There are an incredible number of worthy Penn State achievements worth recognizing, and these historical markers are only placed for exceptional causes—at University Park there are fewer than 65 markers, and many Commonwealth campuses have none. For these reasons and more, I’m so grateful to see the spirit and grit of generations of Penn Staters commemorated in a tangible way through this historical marker.

It’s a small but powerful symbol, and seeing it on campus calls to the imagination each of the countless thousands over the past century who have shaped Penn State through the distinctive medium of public communications. In standing beneath this marker for the first time, I felt like I could practically speak with the earliest student-pioneers, and that they could whisper to me. I hope that a century from now, whatever student broadcasting looks like at that point, that someone else will be able to feel the same way. In the meantime, I hope that students from student broadcasting today in the form of The LION 90.7fm in the HUB-Robeson Center, CommRadio at Innovation Park, and other public communicators feel every bit as honored by this historical marker as the generations that have come and gone.

You can visit this historical marker for yourself the next time you’re in Happy Valley. It’s located on the Mall in front of Pattee/Paterno Libraries, specifically on the lawn of the Sparks Building. It makes for a good place to take a photo and share with friends and alumni, especially because Sparks was home to WDFM, the longest incarnation of Penn State student broadcasting to date.

And in the spirit of sharing the larger story, and the more complete inspiration for this historical marker, I’m including below two historical markers that the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group placed in the facilities of The LION 90.7fm in the HUB-Robeson Center in 2015. The first is a small circular plaque that essentially was the “first draft” of what is now the official Penn State Historical Marker:

And the second covers in detail the remarkable story of Penn State student broadcasting:

The Penn State Student Broadcasting Story

Born out of a vision for enhancing campus life, student broadcasting promised a new and very real expansion upon the classical idea of the student body as the heart and soul of the living university. To accomplish this, the Senior Gift of the Class of 1912 equipped The Pennsylvania State College with one of America’s first student-operated radio stations.


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.


By the late 1940s, fresh from American victory in World War II and in a booming economy, Penn State was ready for a new chapter. The Senior Gift of the Class of 1951 returned student radio to the airwaves as WDFM in 1953, perpetuating the spirit of pioneering student broadcasters. Located in 304 Sparks, WDFM was one of the area’s first FM stations.

In its earliest days, WDFM aired classical music, lectures, Greek and Shakespearean plays, and radio dramas like The Adventures of Ludlow and Myrtle. Like WPSC, WDFM welcomed students of any academic major, as well as alumni and townspeople. Featuring programming from “Bach to rock,” WDFM was also said to stand for “We Dig Fine Music.”

Sandy Greenspun Thomas, a board operator in the 1950s, later reflected in The Penn Stater: “The fact that I was allowed to broadcast on the air was unusual. In those days, you wouldn’t hear women on commercial stations or national stations. … I loved it. It was the most rewarding, energizing, confidence-building experience.”

Robert K. Zimmerman, another alumnus from the early era, recalled: “I did a request show, which turned into a rock ‘n’ roll show, because in 1958, what did everyone want to hear? I was the first at the station to play rock ‘n’ roll. Dr. Nelson [our advisor] called me and gave me hell for playing “Hound Dog.” I said, “Well, someone requested it.” Of course, I’d stacked the requests, had my friends call in.”

As a campus and community voice for Penn State throughout the Cold War, WDFM and its student broadcasters frequently found themselves at the center of historic events, narrating along with their professional counterparts the stories of the American century. “I was standing in the studio,” recalled Dick Harris, “the afternoon that the news of the assassination of President Kennedy came across the teletype machine.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Penn State in January 1965, WDFM broadcast his speech for those not able to join the more than 8,000 who had packed Rec Hall. MLK spoke of his “faith in America,” the Greek concepts of love in eros, phileo, and agape, his struggle for voting rights in Selma, and the necessity of the “struggle to secure moral ends through moral means.”

WDFM evolved in the 1960s and ‘70s, reflecting the evolution of American culture. Student broadcasters diversified their programming, including weekly USG press conferences, more than 50 weekly five-minute newscasts, dramatic literary readings, and live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera from Lincoln Center in Manhattan alongside “middle of the road music” like jazz and folk. University Chapel services continued to be broadcast each Sunday into the 1970s to an edgier student body.

“We were very into playing ‘deep cuts’ on an album,” one student of the time reflected, “not the popular songs.” WDFM  programs like “Highlight” fostered public opinion conversation, while students pushed the boundaries of their listenership with antics like the “first male stripease on radio.” At other times, student broadcasters embraced the 24/7 demands of their medium. One student recalled of his show and timeslot: “One of the themes of the show was ‘It’s Saturday night. If you’re listening, you’re a loser.’”

By the late 1970s, WDFM celebrated more than 25 years and a litany of successful graduates who were shaping the explosion of American popular media over the airwaves, behind the scenes, and in the boardroom; leaders in fields like journalism, broadcasting, and advertising, their professional fortunes rising with the rising influence of radio and television at places as varied as NBC, Westinghouse, HBO, Showtime, and NASA.

(Meanwhile WDFM inspired others. In 1963, West Halls Radio emerged as WHR, and by 1972 was joined by WEHR in East Halls, and WSHR in South Halls. These sister stations harnessed a unique “carrier current” approach to broadcasting in their respective residence halls, using power lines to transmit broadcasts directly to the dormitories. These stations functioned independently, with their own staffs and broadcast schedules. WHR and WSHR faded in relevance over time and were largely defunct by the late 1980s. WEHR continued to operate until the mid-2000s.)

A changing media landscape came to impact student life in the 1980s. One student captured the growing tension in an April 1980 Daily Collegian article, explaining that some professors and administrators believed student broadcasting belonged “in the hands of professionals” rather than with young people. An October 1981 editorial cites Senior Vice President for Administration Richard E. Grubb’s promise that administrative goals for professional broadcasting would be “carefully designed to have no effect on WDFM. WDFM has a rich history, a long tradition and a strong loyalty which should not be disturbed…” Lisa Posvar Rossi, WDFM’s 1981-82 general manager, later reflected: “We felt threatened … I remember setting up meetings at which we said we wanted to maintain independence. We did end up stalling the conversion to a public radio station, for a little while at least.” Yet by 1985, WDFM’s call letters were changed to WPSU and with this change came greater faculty influence, the loss of student general manager authority, and a shift in mission away from original content produced by students and toward NPR syndication.

By the late 1980s, WPSU had been absorbed by Penn State Public Broadcasting, leading Penn State Trustee Ben Novak to lament: “No doubt WPSU will be better and more professional according to some abstract national standard. But it will no longer be the voice of Penn State students.”


Determined to restore that voice and resurrect a unique and powerful Penn State tradition, students in the early 1990s once again championed the cause of student broadcasting. The Board of Trustees petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a new license, to be operated independently by and for the students, and on October 31, 1995 the airwaves welcomed WKPS and the rebirth of student radio.

Located in Downtown State College, this third generation station experienced its share of growing pains, learning to excel not through an academic department or college, but for the first time as an independent student organization. Eventually WKPS found an identity in “The LION” and, in 2003, a home in the HUB-Robeson Center. Creating a station both innovative and well-programmed, students restored many of their earliest traditions, including Nittany Lion athletics broadcasts, coverage and fundraising for the IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, and service as a platform and voice for a growing student body. Diverse programs such as the Jazz Spectrum,  Jam 91, State Your Face, Latin Mix, and Radio Free Penn State echoed earlier incarnations from the WDFM era.

Students continued to narrate the stories of their time, notably during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, during which Mike Walsh covered the attacks through John Raynar, who was working one block from the World Trade Center. “We were the only media outlet in State College who had someone on the scene that day,” recalled Walsh. “That was the high point of our professionalism.”

While breaking new technical ground, student broadcasters also learned to redefine their value in light of a more connected culture, pioneering internet streaming ahead of peer stations, establishing an automated broadcast schedule, partnering with Movin’ On and The State Theatre to welcome acts large and small, and connecting major industry labels to independent and avant garde artists. In a tangible way, student broadcasters created a home for peers, professors, townspeople, and friends to put into practice the ideal of “a liberal and practical education,” embodying the principles of a free society through concern for speech in all its forms, as well as artistic and musical expression, and a cross-generational experience of a community in time which valued sense of place.

Forging their own identity in the context of the larger history of student broadcasting, students fused an often fierce commitment to principle with an evergreen mission of enhancing university and community life.


The historic and challenging lessons of time shaped the cultural and institutional character of Penn State student broadcasting, which has been defined since The LION’s founding by three bedrock principles. First, to be independently programmed and operated, led by an elected student president and general manager. Second, to honor a mission of public service to the Penn State and Central Pennsylvania communities, realized through open membership to students of any academic major as well as community members. Third, to pursue institutional support through technical, professional, financial, and legal assistance that respect freedom of thought and expression as imperatives for authentic public service.

These principles have defined student broadcasting since WPSC’s earliest days and continue to enable students to be adaptive, innovative, and confident in their mission. A tradition for more than a century, student broadcasting continues to contribute to the culture of Penn State and the wider listening community while providing students with a relevant media voice and an outlet to pursue excellence.

Desolate Big Sur

Earlier this year, in advance of traveling to California, I had planned to drive a bit of the Pacific Coast Highway again like I did last year. But this spring a mudslide took out significant portions of the scenic roadway near Big Sur, south of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Not clear when it will be reopened, but the tenuous nature of the roadway underscores that it might not last forever, let alone my lifetime. When it reopens, I hope to drive that stretch at least one more time. Big Sur in particular is a remarkable place, akin somewhat to Glacier National Park that I trained through six years ago:

By now, Big Sur’s severing from the outside world has unnerved even locals who are used to recurring plunges into isolation.

“It’s not a unique situation for us to be shut off,” said Kirk Gafill, the owner of Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant that’s operated in Big Sur for nearly 70 years.

He recalled past mudslides on Highway 1 that had closed the Central Coast hideaway between Carmel and San Simeon for 10 weeks.

“But this one is so different because now we’re in week 20,” he said late last week. “The timeline is just epic.” …

In the meantime, with summer upon us, the few visitors have been seeing a rare crowd-free version of Big Sur.

Anthony Albert, from Oakland, lugged his bike along a half-mile hiking trail that circumvents the downed Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and cycled all the way to Paul’s Slide and back.

In roughly eight hours of riding, he said, he encountered maybe 10 people.

“It was surreal,” said Mr. Albert, 27. “It felt like I was in the afterlife, like reliving a past experience with nobody around.”