WPR’s history and connections to UWL


UWL student broadcasting on WLSU in 1980. Retrieved from UWL archives.

Julia Balli, Assistant Editor

In Whitney Dining Center, there is a door near the front entrance with a sticker that reads, “WPR”. Many students pass by this door every day, unaware of what is beneath their feet in the basement of the dining hall.  

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) has been active for over a century with their first broadcast airing in 1917 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since then, WPR has touched on a variety of topics including its first “play-by-play” basketball game in 1923, launching educational programs over the radio, and broadcasting music, according to WPR’s history timeline. Since then WPR has expanded across Wisconsin. They have regional offices located within Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Wausau, La Crosse, Eau Claire and Superior.  

WPR has a station located in La Crosse called WLSU (88.9 FM) which was established in 1971. WLSU airs, “[National Public Radio] News and Classical Network, consisting of classical music and news and talk programming. WLSU also broadcasts local news and programming from studios in the Whitney Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.” 

According to UWL’s 1975 yearbook“Jim Conway and Bill Hoel were the first professional staff members working with a crew of students from the then Wisconsin State University-La Crosse. The professional staff has grown to five and more than 50 students are currently working for WLSU.” The WLSU became a member of the WPR in 1972. 

“WPR consists of 37 radio stations programmed by seven regional studios and carrying programming on three content networks – the Ideas Network, the NPR News and Classical Network and the All Classical Network. WPR’s radio stations, studios, networks and online streams allow it to serve local, regional and statewide audiences with the highest quality programming available,” according to the WPR website. 

Senior Regional Manager of WPR Dean Kallenbach said, We know from audience research that about ten percent of all adults in Wisconsin tune to one of our stations at least once a week.” WPR had more than 420,000 weekly listeners, with more than 20,000 tuned in at the same time on average between 6 a.m. and midnight, according to the spring 2019 Nielsen Audio survey. Our digital site has about 500,000 unique visitors each month. However, we also have an impact on our local communities by partnering with local organizations to let our audience know about their activities and events,” said Kallenbach. 

In 1933 WPR began airing College of the Air programs which, “were designed for adults unable to afford tuition during the Great Depression, and a host of home economics and farm programs were created to benefit Wisconsin’s mostly rural families.” Today this show is continued with, “Hosts Norman Gilliland and Emily Auerbach invite distinguished faculty guests from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss topics in music, art, writing, theater, science, education, and history,” according to the WPR website. This program allows people who may not be able to go to college to be able to access free educational information. 

WPR Reporter Hope Kirwan said, “WPR serves an important role in the La Crosse community by providing thoughtful news and cultural affairs programs. My job as a reporter is to help shine a light on the issues that are impacting this region, both for the people who live here and for the rest of the state.” 

“If any students are interested in a career in public radio, I would encourage them to reach out to us! I want to help the next generation of reporters, producers and hosts because so many people in radio helped me when I was a student,” said Kirwan.  

For more information about WPR visit https://www.wpr.org/. For more information about career opportunities reach out to Hope Kirwan, email [email protected]