Happy Birthday, WZIP!


Fifty years ago, astronaut and Ohio native son John Glenn became the first man to orbit the Earth. He accomplished the feat in a spacesuit developed by Akron-based B.F. Goodrich. Also in 1962, Akron Children’s Hospital pioneered the movement toward online medical records by installing the first computerized records system through a partnership with I.B.M., beginning the digital age at the renowned institution. And The University of Akron’s award-winning radio station, WZIP, hit the airwaves for the first time.

A student reporter works on a story at UA's radio station in the mid 1970s.

Beginning as WAUP-FM – the call letters stood for "Akron University Programming" – the new student broadcasting training ground first aired on Dec. 10, 1962. The call sign was changed to WZIP in 1989 to reflect UA’s nickname, "Zips" and kangaroo mascot Zippy. Back in 1962, however, the station actually began as a training facility for speech and theatre students, according to Tom Beck, WZIP general manager and senior lecturer in communication at UA. But the purpose of the new student-run radio station never wavered.

Students gain skills and have fun

"WZIP's mission is, and always has been, to teach students the skills they will need to succeed in communications and business," says Beck, who has been the station's GM for 35 years. "WZIP has a different format than most student-operated radio stations in the U.S. Instead of DJs playing the music they like, WZIP has a unified programming schedule that is designed to develop a large listening audience through consistency in that programming."

WZIP's modern studios in Kolbe Hall are very different from the days on the ground floor of Guzzetta Hall.

For a radio station where students' on-air time is voluntary, WZIP celebrates its 50th anniversary ranked as one of the top radio stations overall in Northeast Ohio. Arbitron reported that for the spring 2012 period, approximately 152,000 people per week tune in to WZIP. The station has long been recognized by the Arbitron ratings as having one of the largest audiences of listeners among all colleges and universities in the U.S. that own non-commercial public radio stations operated by students.

WZIP also is partnered with Z-TV, UA's student-run, Emmy award-winning television station. Z-TV has been nominated for Emmy awards 12 times since 2005, and scored a win from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) in Cleveland in 2011.

Familiar faces and voices among alumni

Originally a training facility for students in speech and theatre classes, WZIP has grown into a top-performing radio station with an impressive list of prominent alumni, including actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who now co-stars in NBC's hit comedy "Community." which also stars comedian Joel McHale. Brown has also made her name in several TV commercials and films.

A page from the 2003 Tel-Buch, the yearbook, marks the station's 40th anniversary.

Another more recent UA graduate, Zeina Yazbek, who was actively involved in WZIP, is now living and working in New York City and runs her own production company, Z Production Group. Locally, radio newscasters and alums Amani Abraham and Aaron Coleman of Rubber City Radio Group’s WAKR-AM, learned their skills at WZIP.

Beck says that WZIP/Z-TV alumni also are employed by FOX, NBC, BET, MTV, CBS, The Travel Channel and several local stations across the country, including Jeff Brenner of WBNS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Columbus.

"The students dedicate so much of their time and professionalism, along with the few number of executive staff, to make the station a success," said Beck. "That’s why many of our alumni have gone on to successful careers after graduation."

They hold an annual banquet every year to show gratitude to the students and staff for their hard work and passion. This year, Beck said, the celebration will be a little different.

"We’ll be celebrating all year long," he says.

For more information about programming and to celebrate the station’s 50th birthday, visit WZIP-FM online, and check out its Facebook and Twitter pages to send students and staff a congratulatory note! 

 Story by Aleka Johnson

Media contact: Laura Massie, 330-972-6476 or massie1@uakron.edu.