WLRN Public Broadcasting
Celebrates 60 Years of Service
It has been said that the greatest impact on a city’s cultural life radiates from the emphasis it places on the education of its citizens. For Miami, that cultural force is WLRN Public Radio and Television.
Since the inception of WLRN Radio in 1948 and with the committed support of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the station has strived to provide quality educational and entertainment programs with a commitment to excellence in serving local, national and international communities.
This year, WLRN Public Broadcasting celebrates its 60th year of service and support to the South Florida community. Today, well over a million listeners and viewers from Palm Beach to Key West tune in weekly to WLRN Channel 17 and 91.3 FM for quality programs and the trusted news and information platform that WLRN is relied upon for.
The history of WLRN Public Broadcasting stems back 60 years to 1948 when WLRN Radio signed on as a non-profit, non-commercial broadcast station licensed to the School Board of Miami-Dade County. WLRN-TV followed in 1955. One of WLRN’s earliest station managers and pioneers, Roger Kobzina, joined the station in 1954 after graduating from the University of Miami. At the time, programming consisted of instructional programs, including Spanish lessons during the day and general adult programming at night with the classical music program, Concert Hour, every Wednesday. With limited funds and personnel, everyone had to pull a heavy load and work tirelessly to keep the station afloat.
“We all worked so hard trying to serve the schools and public with a limited staff, but we knew that we were all providing a very important service to the people of South Florida,” says Kobzina.
Don MacCullough is another pioneer of WLRN Public Broadcasting. MacCullough began working at WLRN in 1964 as the Supervisor of Instructional Television, when the station was still known as WTHS Technical Radio, operating inside the old Lindsey Hopkins building. Maccullough came to the station to head the instructional television division because he believed that instructional programming could effectively address the overcrowding problems within the schools throughout the county, in addition to serving the people of South Florida.
“The instructional programming used by the Dade County School Board was very controversial for many reasons at the time but I truly believe that it was a lot more successful and effective than people tend to give credit,” says MacCullough.
MacCullough is also the man who came up with the name WLRN in the early 1970’s.
“In the early ’70’s I decided to apply to the FCC to change the station’s name. At the time, everyone at the school board and the station thought it was such a brilliant idea to change the name to WLRN for “learn” television. I thought I was being creative, but I later found out that a station out in Austin, Texas was operating under the name KLRN for quite some time. So much for creativity,” says MacCullough.
Like Kobzina, MacCullough served multiple roles during the early days, but it was his vision for public broadcasting as a diverse, inclusive entity that was instrumental in the expansion of the early programs broadcast on both radio and television. With the full support of the Dade County Public School System, he was able to help create inclusive programs and expand programming that reflected the diverse residents of South Florida.
“I never believed that classical music all day and all night was what public broadcasting was really about,” says MacCullough. Public Broadcasting is about serving a diverse audience through substantive programs that bring people together and challenges them intellectually. WLRN reflects that vision and I am most proud of the fact that we are serving an eclectic audience with the current programs.”
Since the early days of the station, WLRN has grown steadily to become an integral part of the community it serves, offering a rich and varied mix of news and information, arts and culture, childhood education and lifelong learning. Today, thousands of WLRN 91.3 FM listeners tune in to NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation and The Diane Rehm Show.
In addition to the esteemed national radio programs, WLRN is also home to several highly regarded locally produced radio shows, including Topical Currents with Joseph Cooper, South Florida ArtsBeat with Ed Bell, Evenin’ Jazz with Len Pace, Sounds of the Caribbean and Radyo Lekol, the station’s only program broadcast in Creole.
Joseph Cooper, the current host of WLRN 91.3 FM’s Topical Currents, started out at WLRN Public Broadcasting as a “Jack of all Trades”, producing and writing material for the station. Now with his daily radio program, Cooper covers a sub-tropical blend of politics, author interviews and regional issues and concerns in South Florida.
“Over the years I have interviewed everyone from famous athletes to politicians, but I always enjoy interviewing the average Joe and allowing them to share their stories with the listeners here in South Florida,” says Cooper.
Although WLRN started out as a public radio station, the television component was not too far behind. In 1955, WLRN-TV was created with the mission of providing news, quality entertainment and learning services and it was Anna Brenner Myer, a prominent lawyer, educator and social worker in Miami Beach, who helped make it all happen. Brenner Myer was seen by many as the “matriarch of educational television in Dade County.” She served as a board advocate on behalf of the station and secured funding from the Dade County School Board for the stations’ educational programming.
As a broadcast service of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, WLRN-TV never lost sight of its original mission; to engage young (and old) minds, enhance lives and strengthen the social, diverse, democratic culture of the region. WLRN provides several locally produced programs, among them Celebrate South Florida, a show that takes viewers on a journey about interesting people, places, and events in our own backyard and ArtStreet, an arts and entertainment show showcasing local artists, hosted by Meredith Porte.
Porte began working at WLRN Public Broadcasting in 1976 as the co-host of Something on 17, a nightly magazine format show that broadcast live with host Don Webb. The show lasted for 13 years and during that time, Porte interviewed many well-known artists and entertainers, including Jane Seymour and famed playwright Tennessee Williams. Currently, Porte hosts her own show, ArtStreet. Since the inception of the show, she has worked hard to expose our South Florida to talented artists who reside right here in our own community. Porte says she is proud to be associated with a station that is “committed to programs and projects that bring benefit to our community.”
“WLRN has grown in so many ways over the years. We have made so much honest effort to serve the community, not to get ratings or sell products, but with the pure desire to truly help people who live here. This aim has paid off, and the community now knows that we are here to serve them and do work that makes a difference in their lives,” Porte says.
In addition to the on-going local programs, WLRN has provided remarkable television documentary style programs that have impact South Florida and can be seen across the country on PBS. Most recently, these include; Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami, exploring the critical role that Miami played in the evolution of one of the most significant cultural figures of our time and soon to be released, All Shook Up, which traces the rich history of music in Miami during the 50’s and 60’s.
The station’s current General Manager, John LaBonia, came to WLRN Public Radio and Television in the year 2000 and has quickly worked to transform the station into the successful, financially sustainable, forward-thinking public media enterprise that it is today.
“I strongly believe that strategic partnerships are the key to success in today’s competitive media environment. The success of this enterprise has resulted in unprecedented growth in audience, revenue, new digital and online services and the ability to form strategic partnerships with media entities like The Miami Herald, which brings listeners more in-depth, compelling local and regional news.”
LaBonia says his future plans include more locally produced programs and online services in an effort to stay current and responsive in the ever changing world of media. “Increasing local production is very important to us, but in the process of expansion and growth, we must not lose sight of Public Broadcasting’s core mission of providing high quality educational and entertaining programs for both radio and television.”
Recognized from local organizations for the station’s numerous service projects here in South Florida, WLRN Public Broadcasting remains committed to advancing forward and remaining responsive in the ever changing world of media with more innovative, in-depth, compelling local and regional news, as well as quality entertainment and educational programs.
As WLRN Public Broadcasting moves forward in its service to South Florida, the station vows to never lose sight of its original mission of providing information, entertainment and learning services with a steadfast commitment to excellence. It is their hope that in generations to come, viewers and listeners will look back and acknowledge that WLRN kept their promises with a constant eye on the future for new and exciting possibilities for Public Radio and Television in South Florida.