PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Before there was KXL, before there was KGON, there was AM 1450 KBPS – a radio station run by students at Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland.
The station was first licensed to broadcast on March 23, 1923 and its first broadcast took place on May 4, 1923. This year, it’s celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“We are the oldest AM radio station at a public school in the nation,” said Jacob Patterson, the radio broadcasting instructor at Benson Polytechnic High School.
He said the station started when Benson students spotted a radio transmitter for sale in the window of a local electric shop.
“They convinced the school officials to pony up a couple bucks and buy it and started building the equipment necessary to get a signal out, and that radio station has been in operation now for 100 years,” he said.
The station has been live on the airwaves since then, giving students like Giovanno Ferroggiaro an opportunity to explore a potential career in broadcasting before they graduate.
Ferroggiaro is a senior at Benson Polytechnic High School and is majoring in radio broadcasting. Benson requires students to take the basic required classes, but also allows them to choose a major – like they would in college – that gives them skills they could use after they graduate.
In his opinion, Ferroggiaro thinks the radio broadcasting major offers more “real life” work experience than the other majors.
“You’re like up and close with these boards and machinery that you don’t know quite how they work, but you figure it out. And then, you get to do, obviously, cool stuff, like you can go on the air,” he said.
Working for the radio station is helping Ferroggiaro figure out what he wants to do later in life.
Students operate the radio station during daytime hours Monday through Friday, and in the evenings for school sporting events.
In the mornings, Patterson said the sophomores run the show, but they are not required to be on air.
“It’s a little bit more challenging to get the younger students to step up to a big plate like that,” he said.
Juniors and seniors, however, are required to be on air and host from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays.
In the summertime, the program hires students and pays them to work at the station as a part-time job. The summer programming operates on a more traditional schedule and operates from 8 a.m. to about 4 p.m.
Patterson said the summer work gives students even more opportunities to get involved and learn new skills. Ferroggiaro said that’s when he learned how to interview people and run newscasts.
“At first, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking, like, ‘Oh god, I better not mess this up.’ But when you get used to it, it’s like, ‘Holy cow. I’m broadcasting my entire voice to Portland and potentially the world from our website,” Ferroggiaro said.
KBPS not only airs on AM 1450, but also on the school’s website.
From news to sports to DJing, students get a taste of almost everything, except for sales and advertising. Patterson explained that KBPS is a non-commercial station, so they only allow underwriting announcements about their sponsors.
When students aren’t live on the air, Patterson said “DJ Auto” runs the show and broadcasts randomly selected playlists.
Patterson graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School in 2006 and returned in 2021 to teach the radio broadcasting program. He took part in KBPS when he was a student in the early 2000s and his high school radio experience led him to a fulfilling career.
“KBPS gave me my life, gave me my career,” he said. “I always knew I was destined to do something like this.”
He went on to get an associates degree at Mt. Hood Community College and worked for a few Portland radio stations before accepting a job in Washington DC and eventually starting a political talk show. While working at the capital, he reported on a State of the Union address and attended the White House Correspondents Dinners.
He gained news broadcasting experience and political experience throughout his career, and then he came back to Portland.
“I never thought that I would come back and be the teacher of the program that started at all. I really didn’t think that it was going to come back full circle for me. But now, it’s very clear that it was supposed to be this way,” he said.
Patterson said he still gets goosebumps when he thinks about the job he gets to do now. He’s glad to be able to give back to the program.
Other noteworthy individuals who are KBPS alumni include Nike co-founder Phil Knight, rapper Aminé and actor Joel David Moore.
Patterson and his class hope these alumni and others who participated in KBPS while they attended Benson Polytechnic High School will return for the 100th anniversary celebration.
KBPS students planned an off-campus party where they could meet former members. It will take place Saturday March 18 at the Monarch Hotel and Conference Center.
The radio station is also asking former students to contact the station. Patterson would like current students to interview former students about their experiences and if they used their radio skills in the career they pursued.
Interested alumni can contact the program on Facebook, by emailing Patterson, or by calling and leaving a message at (503) 916-5101.
KBPS plans to broadcast special anniversary programming on March 23, 2023. The station will also host an open house and live broadcasting event at the 100th Tech Show on April 20 and 21.