Portland radio station KBPS, first licensed in 1923, is the second oldest radio station in the city of Portland. The student body of Benson Polytechnic High School purchased the transmitter and other equipment from Stubbs Electric in Portland for $1,800. Money for the purchase of the station came from student body funds.
On March 23, 1923, the student body of Benson was licensed by the federal government to operate a radio station using 200 watts of power at 834 kilocycles. The first call letters of the station were KFIF. The station made its formal debut on the air and was officially dedicated in early May of 1923, between the hours of 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., on the opening night of the 5th annual Benson Tech Show.
In spring of 1930, the call letters changed from KFIF to KBPS, for Benson Polytechnic High School.
In 1941 KBPS stopped sharing its frequency with other stations and moved to 1450 AM on the dial where it remains today.
In 1971 the FCC gave the station permission to increase daytime transmitting power to 1000 watts. Nighttime power was 250 watts. KBPS is now licensed for 1000 watts 24-hours a day.
The KBPS studios, transmitter and 200 foot self-supporting steel tower are located at the rear of the Benson campus.
The KBPS program would not be what it is today without the hard work and dedication of Kevin Flink, who spent 32 years as the primary broadcast instructor at Benson High School. Kevin retired from teaching in 2007.
Kevin Flink circa 1980 Kevin Flink - KBPS Classroom 2007
KBPS Control Room
Kevin reflects on his more than three decades guiding students through KBPS:
"I was hired in August of 1975 to oversee the student program and also be a producer at the station. My first task was to make the student program as good as any in the nation.
I consulted with high schools around the country, textbook publishers, and my former college instructors as to what material they would recommend. What my research told me was that most if not all high school level text books about radio were written on about a 6th grade level, way too simple for the facility and quality of students that we were drawing into our program.
What we came up with was a text book that was used in colleges as an introduction to radio broadcasting, and a companion book that would give production exercises. It was called Modern Radio Station Practices. Later editions of this book are still being used in the program today.
We wanted the best program in any high school, and the chance to give our students a head start over anyone who just entered college and wanted to begin a broadcasting career. Since we had the radio station facility to work with also, we divided up the week, 3 days were spent in a classroom setting, and two days were spent in the transmitter working on production and announcing skills. And while the students were “in the transmitter” my time was spent as a production assistant at the station.
The transmitter engineer would supervise the students in their production assignments. Wendall Bates did a lot of that work with me in the early days. Others who helped out were Ron Ross, Tim Underwood, Richard Wilson and Tom Cauthers, James Boyd and others. Pat Franklin would supervise the students during their night shifts on air, which lasted from 5-10 p.m.
This stayed the same until we moved into the new KBPS Broadcast Center. In the new center we had two classrooms, one for advanced students, and one for beginning students. And each classroom came with two practice booths, so when students were not working on textbook work they could rotate into the booths to work on production assignments. This made supervision of the students much easier.
The idea was always to keep up to date with what was going on in the industry. And to give our students the chance to have a competitive edge over other college students entering the field, or anyone just starting out in the business with better production skills and industry knowledge.
I feel that I was able to help take the student program from the 1970’s into the 21st century. We have been copied by other school districts, won national and regional awards for our student programs, and have taught many student how to be productive members of the community. I’m very proud of my time at KBPS.
Dr Patricia Swenson
Patricia Green Swenson is one of the people responsible for making KBPS the station it is today. She dedicated her life to making KBPS an example of how an educational public radio station should be operated.
The longtime station manager of Benson High School's, KBPS died in her home Jan 4, 2010 after a long illness.
Swenson, 93, served as KBPS's general manager from 1946 until 1994. Scores of the station's alumni have gone on to work in professional broadcast outlets.
Born Patricia Green in 1916, Swenson took over the station in 1946. Founded in 1923 as the nation's second educational radio station, KBPS became a mecca for students at Benson Polytechnic High School who wanted to work in the era's most modern form of communications. The station only operated for six hours a day until Swenson took it over. By the time she left in 1994, its 14-member staff helped students through broadcast days that ran for 18 hours.
And though the station was staffed largely with inexperienced teenagers just learning the fundamentals of broadcasting, Swenson insisted on professional standards of behavior.
Swenson was delighted to keep her own career centered on KBPS. Her husband, Daryl, was an early alumnus of the station's student staff. They were married in the mid-'50s, and when he encouraged his wife to pursue a Ph.D through a New York University program, she wrote her thesis on the history of broadcast education, as evidenced by the history of KBPS. She achieved her doctorate in 1958, becoming the first woman to to earn such a degree from NYU's communications department.
A charter board member of the National Public Radio board of directors, Swenson also served on the board of directors for the National Association of Education Broadcasters. She was vice chairwoman of the Consortium for Public Radio in Oregon, and won awards including the James M. Morris Award for Distinguished Service presented by the Consortium for Public Radio in Oregon.