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Remembering WYEP's pre-launch show on WDUQ and how we chose our call letters

Three black and white photos of men posing.
From left to right: John Schwartz, Jeff Smith and Ellery Schempp.

WYEP is celebrating our 50th anniversary, and we’ll be sharing aspects of the station’s history throughout the year.

Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting, WYEP's parent organization, was founded in 1972. But it took nearly two years to put the station on the air. Ellery Schempp, one of WYEP’s founders, remembers, "Well, there was a whole lot of work that had to be done because we didn't have any equipment, we didn't have any location. We didn't have any money.”

Another founder, John Schwartz, added, “You have the big slog of actually putting the money together and putting the station together. And that took years.”

Waiting on Federal Communications Commission bureaucracy dragged on for quite a while. Schwartz recalled that another one of the people working hard to launch the station started to think of other pursuits: “He figured it was going to take months to do that and he would become a traveling member of the circus.”

Schwartz also said that while awaiting FCC approvals, future WYEP on-air hosts had to learn to do radio work. This was achieved with the help of other radio stations in town.

“At the very beginning, we didn't have facilities of our own, so any training we did for community people had to be done elsewhere," Schwartz said. "WDUQ was gracious in helping us to demonstrate our concept. And another station that helped us, where we did training, was WAMO.”

John Spiegel, one of the early WYEP DJs, shared, “WDUQ gave us, I can't remember, something like an hour or two to promote WYEP.”

Another one of WYEP’s founders, Jeff Smith, worked on this show on WDUQ, titled “Random Reports.” He said, “We did three hours a week—4 to 5 PM, Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays—so we could play the kind of music, and I brought in interviews, so we could basically promote the idea that we were going to be doing as a radio station.”

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The members of Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting also had to choose call letters by which their new station would become known. Station history could have sounded very different had the people who began WYEP picked a different set of call letters.

"We had to do an FCC filing, so we had to write down something,” said Schempp. "We thought about WHIP for ‘hip’ and WYOU, because it was going to be a station for ‘you,’ the listener.”

Smith said, “The main one that I remember was. WHOA, as in ‘whoa.’ There was a station in Puerto Rico or something like that that already had taken the call sign.”

“WSHD for Shadyside,” offered Schempp, with another one of the candidates. “We knocked around a couple of other ideas, none of which we liked, and we finally settled on WYEP for ‘yep,’ it's ‘yes.’ And that's OK.”

“I proposed WYEP,” said Smith, “because it just seemed like a positive thing to say.”

People wondered if "YEP" was an acronym. “Some people were saying,” Smith explained, “well, what does it stand for? And I thought, it might be ‘You Entertain Pittsburgh’ or ‘You Educate Pittsburgh,’ but that was really too academic as far as I’m concerned. It's just the positive sense that comes with it.”

Be sure to join us at our 50th Anniversary concert at the Byham Theater on April 16 featuring Shawn Colvin and KT Tunstall (tickets are on sale now). And listen on April 30 as we share listener’s stories of WYEP memories during that day. If you want to share a story about how WYEP has been meaningful in your life, go to wyep.org/memories.

Mike Sauter started at WYEP in 2004 and held various positions, including Midday Mix host, music director, program director, and station manager.