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WKDU Exhibit Reception Features the DJs (Past & Present) Behind the Station

October 21, 2021

On July 17, 1971, WKDU began broadcasting on the FM dial from high atop Van Rensselaer Hall. At just 10 watts, the radio station started out as a place where Drexel students could gain practical broadcast and engineering experience, share their opinions, hear local and underground artists, and build connections throughout the University and the Philadelphia region.

People sit around tables in the Dragons' Learning Den during the WKDU Exhibit Opening Event
More than 50 Drexel faculty, staff, students and alumni gathered in person in the Dragons' Learning Den for the event."

That mission continues 50 years later—as evidenced by the stories told during the opening reception of the exhibit WKDU: 50 Years of Student-Run Radio, held Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in the W. W. Hagerty Library Dragons’ Learning Den. Nearly 100 people attended the event—with 57 faculty, staff, students and alumni gathering together in person for the event and another 39 people viewing the live broadcast of the event online via YouTube.

“Some of my fondest memories are from my time at WKDU… along with the fellowship of being with my Communicators,” said Sherri Pennington during the event. Pennington is a Drexel alum and WKDU Communicator from The Black Experience in Music during the 1970s and 1980s. “We had anniversary celebrations where hundreds of people would come to Drexel’s campus because they listened to The Black Experience in Music programs. We would have a great time. That community and the connections are unforgettable.”

A woman stands in front of a large WKDU banner during the WKDU opening event
Sherri Pennington shares memories of working as a WKDU Communicator.

During the event, Pennington and five other Drexel alums and three current students spoke about the many ways WKDU has offered them the opportunity to not only form life-long friendships but also pursue independent, self-directed learning opportunities.

“WKDU was a learning experience. There are all kinds of things you could learn at WKDU,” said Laverne Battiste, another Drexel alum and WKDU Communicator. “The diversity of projects melds so perfectly with the diversity of the people involved with the radio station. It doesn’t matter if you’re a design student or an engineering student or [a business student]. Everyone could get involved. That’s what was so important about the station, and those are experiences [and people] I will never forget.”

Matthew Lyons, University Archivist; Amy Carson, current WKDU DJ; Bartok Jaskulski, WKDU General Manager, and Derek Hengemihle, WKDU Station Manager—developed the idea for the exhibit and the corresponding event as a way to tell the story of the station’s decades of broadcasting.

Laverne Battiste holds up a photo taken during her time at WKDU.
Laverne Battiste, another WKDU Communicator, holds up a photo taken during her time at WKDU.

“DUA exists first and foremost to document and share the history of Drexel as an academic institution and as a community,” Lyons said during the event. “WKDU—50 years old this year—is an important part of that history. WKDU has touched thousands of lives, with people learning new technical skills, hearing & sharing new kinds of music, becoming informed about cultural and political issues and making new connections.”

Objects in the exhibit, on display in the W. W. Hagerty Library now through the end of the calendar year, include 3D artifacts, photographs, newspaper articles and posters from the University Archives’ collection and on loan from WKDU Philadelphia 91.7 FM and members of the Black Experience in Music radio program.

“When put together, the artifacts in this exhibit do more than just tell the story of the radio station,” Danuta A. Nitecki, Dean of Libraries, remarked. “The exhibit truly embodies the spirit and the shared mission of the radio station, the Drexel Libraries and the University—to inspire the community to be self-directed, life-long learners through experiential learning, discovery, exploration, creativity and dissemination of authoritative information.” This exhibit shows the real objects that become evidence for future researchers and others simply curious about activities at Drexel.

“As a student,” Carson added, “it feels nice to be reminded that you are part of something bigger than yourself… There’s a huge legacy behind you that you’re continuing on… and there are so many people out there who care about the radio station just as much as you do and who put the work in to make it last for 50 years.”

People standing together on the patio outside the W. W. Hagerty Library with catering
Following the speeches, attendees were invited to attend a COVID-friendly reception on the patio outside the W. W. Hagerty Library.

Following the formal program, on-site participants were invited to attend a reception on the Library’s outdoor patio. This was the Libraries’ first in-person. catered event since March 2020 when COVID-19 forced the University and much of the world to shut down. This was also the first time the Library patio has been used in this way.

The creative use of the Libraries’ outdoor space worked beautifully to provide a safe, healthy environment that met the University’s COVID-19 event policies and to foster informal conversation, giving attendees additional time to reflect on their shared experiences and the impact WKDU has made on so many people over the last 50 years.

View the recording of the event on the University’s YouTube channel or visit the Drexel University Archives’ WKDU radio station finding aid for more information about the contents and organization of the collection.

The WKDU: 50 Years of Student-run Radio exhibit is free and open to all members of the Drexel community and the public. It will be on display in the W. W. Hagerty Library atrium September 13 through December 31, 2021.