PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – AM 1450 KBPS, the oldest student-run radio station in the United States, is celebrating 100 years on air in 2023 and on Wednesday, Portland city council proclaimed a day devoted to celebrating the centennial. 

KBPS is proudly produced by students at Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland and has been since March 23, 1923 when students purchased a radio transmitter from a local electric shop and brought it to the school to launch the station. The first broadcast took place on May 4, 1923. 

Now, 100 years later, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city council announced a proclamation that March 23, 1923 would be AM 1450 KBPS Centennial Day. 

“I want to say congratulations to KBPS, the students and staff for this amazing 100-year run on the air, given all the advancements we’ve had in technology… it’s particularly meaningful that the station continues to thrive,” Commissioner Carmen Rubio said at the city council meeting Wednesday.  

Photo shows Jacob Patterson while he worked at KXL in Portland. Courtesy Jacob Patterson
Photo shows Jacob Patterson while he worked at KXL in Portland. Courtesy Jacob Patterson

The commissioners and current KBPS radio broadcasting instructor Jacob Patterson all said they feel confident in the station’s ongoing success. 

Bill Cooper, who participated in the KBPS program when he was in high school in the 1970s and who later went on to be the general manager of the program from 2004-2012, agrees the future remains bright for the program. 

He’s seen the broadcast industry evolve through five decades and said even during the transitions from turntables to tapes, and now to digital, radio continues to be something people rely on. 

“The function of the radio station is still the same. It’s to impart information and to entertain and, in the case of Benson and KBPS, it’s to teach students a trade – radio broadcast is a trade,” he said. 

Regardless of whether students go on to pursue careers in broadcasting after high school, Cooper stressed that the skills taught in the KBPS program are applicable in many careers. Students learn digital content creation, social media, how to operate new technology, and perhaps most importantly, they learn communication skills. 

Students have gone on to careers at radio and TV stations around Portland and throughout the country. Even some celebrities such as Nike co-founder Phil Knight, rapper Aminé and actor Joel David Moore participated in the program while they attended high school. 

Patterson, the current instructor, boasted to city council that KBPS has always strived to be inclusive. He said the program allowed girls and Black students to broadcast in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s when Benson High School was an all-boys school. Today, it’s dedicated to lifting up the voices of LGBTQ community members. 

Since Patterson began teaching the program in 2021, he’s grown the number of students participating, established a partnership with Portland Radio Project, and made a new radio broadcast textbook for students. 

“I could not be more excited about the future of KBPS with a brand new Benson Polytechnic High School coming in a year and a half, new broadcasting facilities, new connections with multimedia teams… a new city-wide recognition of our program. The future of KBPS has never looked better,” Patterson told the city council. 

Cooper remembers attending KBPS’ 50-year anniversary in 1973. At the time, he was just a couple years out of high school. At the time, people wondered if the radio station would last for another 50 years. 

He’s glad to see that half a century later, it’s still around and still launching people like him into fulfilling broadcast careers. 

“KBPS, I think, will continue to train students to do a good job on the radio, or whatever the pipeline is they deliver their digital content, and I think another 100 years – it’s not out of the question,” he said. 

To celebrate the centennial, KBPS is holding a luncheon and dinner on Saturday, March 18 at the Monarch Hotel in Clackamas and has invited all alumni of the program to attend from noon to 9 p.m.

On Thursday, March 23, there will be a special live broadcast on AM 1450 and www.kbps.am. KBPS alumni are invited to join students live on air from the Marshall High School Campus, where the students are temporarily located during the Benson school construction, or send audio students can air to Jacob Patterson jacpatterson@pps.net

On April 20 and 21, there will be a public open house at the 100th Tech Snow. Everyone is invited to visit AM 1450 KBPS at the Marshall Campus.