Rhode Island Public Radio

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Rhode Island Public Radio
Broadcast area Rhode Island
Branding Rhode Island Public Radio
Slogan Rhode Island's NPR
Frequency see table in article
First air date May 1, 1998 (service, on 1290 AM)
Format News/talk
ERP see table in article
HAAT see table in article
Class A (all stations)
Facility ID see table in article
Transmitter coordinates see table in article
Callsign meaning see table in article
Former callsigns see table in article
Affiliations NPR
Public Radio International
American Public Media
Owner Rhode Island Public Radio
Sister stations WRPA
Webcast Listen Live
Website ripr.org

Rhode Island Public Radio is the NPR member radio network for the state of Rhode Island. Its studios are located in the historic Union Station in downtown Providence. The network airs a format of news and talk from NPR, such as Morning Edition, On Point, and All Things Considered, as well as extensive local news coverage.

Local programming[edit]

In addition to NPR, APM, PRI and other public radio programming from national sources, RIPR has dedicated reporters covering specific beats, including Politics, Health Care, Education, the Environment, and Arts & Culture. RIPR also produces local segments including:


In the 1990s, a group of Rhode Islanders formed the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio in order to bring a local public radio station to the state. Clare Gregorian was described as the "driving force" behind the idea.[1] At the time, Rhode Island was the only state in New England (traditionally one of the bedrocks of support for NPR) and one of only two in the entire country (the other being Delaware) that did not have a full-service NPR station within its borders. Most of the state got at least a grade B signal from Boston's WGBH-FM (with Providence itself receiving a city-grade signal) and WBUR. After a few years of looking, they found a partner in Boston University, owner of WBUR. BU agreed to buy WRCP (1290 AM), a 5,000-watt station that had been on the air since 1947, for $1.9 million; the foundation conducted a statewide drive to help raise the funds. For many years, 1290 AM had been known as WICE, but switched to Portuguese programming as WRCP in 1983.

On May 1, 1998, WRCP's calls officially changed to WRNI, and the license was officially transferred to the WRNI Foundation, a separate fundraising group set up by WBUR to handle local underwriting.

Even though BU doubled WRNI's transmission power to 10,000 watts, its signal was not strong enough to reach the southern and western portion of the state (though it provides a city-grade signal to Newport, southern Rhode Island's biggest city). Accordingly, in 1999, BU bought WERI (1230 AM) in Westerly, which had been on the air since 1949. BU changed WERI's calls to WXNI, and made it a full-time satellite of WRNI. The station brought a city-grade NPR signal to southern Rhode Island for the first time ever.

BU and WBUR had very big plans for WRNI at first. It moved WRNI from its longtime studio on Douglas Avenue to a state-of-the-art facility at Union Station. It also started a daily two-hour local news magazine, One Union Station. [2] It also had plans to set up a third station to fill the gaps in WXNI's 1,000-watt signal.[3] However, budget problems brought on by the September 11, 2001 attacks forced One Union Station's cancellation. It was replaced with a one-hour news magazine that was canceled in 2004. At that point, WRNI's local operations were significantly cut back, with most of the station's staff either laid off or transferred to Boston. As a result, WRNI's schedule became almost identical to that of WBUR.

Controversy over sale of 1290AM[edit]

On September 17, 2004, with no advance warning, WBUR Group general manager Jane Christo announced that WRNI and WXNI were being put on the market. She wouldn't give any specifics, only saying that it was time for Rhode Islanders to buy the stations if they wanted to keep NPR programming in the state.[2] Indeed, WBUR claimed that it never intended to operate WRNI on a long-term basis, and had only intended to help develop it into a self-sustaining service.[3]

The reaction in Rhode Island was, not surprisingly, hostile. In an editorial, The Providence Journal said that WBUR had made numerous long-term commitments to WRNI. The Journal claimed that if the station's local backers had to buy WRNI, it would be tantamount to buying the station twice.[4]

The announcement led state attorney general Patrick Lynch to open an investigation into WBUR and WRNI.[5]

On September 27, BU interim president Aram Chobanian delayed the sale of WRNI and WXNI, citing concerns raised by both Lynch and Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri. Memos obtained by The Boston Globe revealed that WBUR felt the Rhode Island stations were money bleeders, and had decided to either lease or sell the stations at the earliest opportunity.[6] The furor over the WRNI sale was one factor in Christo's resignation almost a month later.[7]

In June 2005, BU took WRNI and WXNI off the market. It promised to hire a full-time general manager based in Providence, and also stepped up local news coverage. As a result, Lynch closed his investigation in November 2006.[5]

Independence from Boston University[edit]

On March 21, 2007, WBUR announced that it was selling WRNI to Rhode Island Public Radio (formerly the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio) for $2 million. Rhode Island Public Radio also announced it was buying WAKX (102.7 FM) in Narragansett Pier from Davidson Media Group to serve as a repeater for WRNI in southern Rhode Island.[8] WAKX, which signed on in 1989, had been a smooth jazz station (though its call letters referred to a former simulcast of WWKX, which lasted from 1997 to 2005). As part of the sale agreement, BU will continue to provide engineering and programming assistance to RIPR for five years.

RIPR officially took control of WAKX on May 17, 2007; changing the calls to WRNI-FM. The addition of WRNI-FM made WXNI redundant, and BU has sold that station separately to Diponti Communications, which renamed it WBLQ. RIPR took control of WRNI on September 1, 2008.

RIPR registered the domain name ripr.org on February 13, 2007; the site was live as of June 2007.

Migration to FM[edit]

Recognizing the long-term challenges of AM broadcasting,[9] and the general expectation by public radio listeners that public radio stations transmit in the non-commercial F.M. subband (88.1-91.9 MHz),[10] in 2011 WRNI began to expand into a statewide network of FM signals. Accordingly, it also began branding itself exclusively as "Rhode Island Public Radio."

91.5FM First, in July 2011, RIPR entered an agreement with WCVY (91.5 FM), which is owned & operated by Coventry High School and covers the Kent County region. Previously, because WCVY did not broadcast 24/7, they had been forced, under FCC rule 73.561(b), to "share-time" 16 hours per day of the frequency with the now-defunct religious station WRJI. After WRJI lost its license, RIPR assisted WCVY in "reclaiming" the frequency for 24/7 operation. WCVY still airs its own student-created programming on weekdays from 2-8p.m. when school is in session, and RIPR fills the remainder of the time to avoid another "share-time" challenge.[11]

88.1FM Then, on October 8, 2011, RIPR signed a 10-year lease with The Wheeler School, a K-12 private day school and owner of WELH (88.1 FM).[12] RIPR's content would be heard 24/7 on 88.1 in Providence except for a student-produced sports talk radio midnight-3 Saturday mornings. The remainder of Wheeler's student media was migrated to internet radio and, more recently, to internet video projects.

As part of this new lease, the previous lease tenants on 88.1, Brown Student Radio, and Latino Public Radio, each broadcasting a limited number of hours each day, were displaced:

  • BSR began an internet radio station "BSRlive" and, in January 2015, was granted an FCC license for an LPFM station WBRU-LP on 101.1FM in Providence, in conjunction with Providence Community Radio and AS220.[13][14]
  • Latino Public Radio signed a lease with RIPR to broadcast on RIPR's 1290AM signal, WRNI,[15][16] and moved to 1290AM the same day RIPR moved to 88.1FM. In addition to allowing LPR to broadcast 24/7, it also gave them a larger signal.[17]

89.3FM: Most recently, in January 2017, RIPR announced a deal with the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth to purchase WUMD (89.3 FM).[18][19][20][21] The deal includes a move and expansion of the existing signal from the UMassD campus to a taller tower in Tiverton, RI. The station's FCC city of license will change from North Dartmouth, Massachusetts to Newport, Rhode Island. The existing RIPR network of WELH, WCVY and WRNI-FM is not changing as part of this deal. While not quite a "statewide" signal, the new 89.3 will provide one, single frequency that all the Narragansett Bay and South Coast communities can tune to hear the network. On June 26, 2017 "WUMD" ended at noon and the station went dark for two weeks to add new studio/transmitter link equipment. 89.3 returned to the airwaves with RIPR programming at 10p.m. July 11, 2017. On March 9, 2018, WRNI-FM changed its call sign to WRNI.


Station Frequency City of license First air date ERP HAAT Facility ID Coordinates Call sign meaning Former call signs Owner
WXNI 89.3 MHz
North Dartmouth (current)
Newport (pending)
Early 1970s[22] 7,000 watts
254 m (833 ft) 163899 41°35′48.00″N 71°11′24.00″W / 41.5966667°N 71.1900000°W / 41.5966667; -71.1900000 (WXNI) Derived from WRNI,
formerly used for WBLQ
WUSM (early 1970s–1989)
WSMU (1989–2006)
WUMD (2006–2017)
Rhode Island Public Radio
WELH1 88.1 MHz
FM only
Providence February 1995 4,000 watts
41 m (135 ft) 66656 41°51′26.7″N 71°19′5.6″W / 41.857417°N 71.318222°W / 41.857417; -71.318222 (WELH) WhEeLer ScHool The Wheeler School
WCVY2 91.5 MHz
FM only
Coventry October 19, 1978[23] 200 watts
11 m (36 ft) 14229 41°41′10″N 71°35′37″W / 41.68611°N 71.59361°W / 41.68611; -71.59361 (WCVY) CoVentrY Coventry Public Schools
WRNI 102.7 MHz
Narragansett Pier July 15, 1989[24] 1,950 watts
69 m (226 ft) 22874 41°25′27″N 71°28′38″W / 41.42417°N 71.47722°W / 41.42417; -71.47722 (WRNI) "News" in "Rhode Island" WPJB (1989–1997)
WAKX (1997–2007)
WRNI-FM (2007-2018)
Rhode Island Public Radio


  • 1 WELH airs a student-produced sports/talk show from midnight-3a.m. Friday nights/Saturday mornings, with Rhode Island Public Radio programming airing at all other times.
  • 2 WCVY airs its own programming out of Coventry High School from 2 to 8 p.m. on school days, with Rhode Island Public Radio programming airing at all other times.
  • The network's programming is also available on Full Channel Digital Cable channel 799 in Bristol, Warren and Barrington.

HD Radio[edit]

In March 2013, WRNI-FM HD2 began airing MVYradio, a simulcast of WMVY 88.7FM on Martha's Vineyard. The simulcast is modified slightly to have Rhode Island-specific underwriting and donor appreciation announcements. It can also be heard on W243AI 96.5FM broadcasting from the roof of Newport Hospital.

The arrangement was initially worked out when MVY sold its original commercial F.M. frequency to Boston University[25] which became WBUA, but both the owner of W243AI and MVY wanted to continue broadcasting in Newport. A lease agreement was reached,[26] and was later continued after MVY purchased and expanded their existing 88.7 signal because the presence of WJMF, also on 88.7, in Smithfield/Providence, precluded over-the-air reception & rebroadcast in Newport.

The arrangement ended in February 2018 and WRNI discontinued broadcasting anything on HD2, although the HD1 broadcast remains.

WXNI broadcasts in HD Radio, but as of July 2017 has no HD2, HD3, etc. subchannels.

WELH and WCVY do not broadcast in HD Radio.


RIPR has won over 30 Associated Press Awards for news coverage, seven Public Radio News Directors Inc Awards, and seven prestigious RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Awards.[27]


  1. ^ http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20180429/clare-gregorian-driving-force-behind-ripr-dies-at-80
  2. ^ a b NorthEast Radio Watch by Scott Fybush
  3. ^ a b Current.org | Struggle over WBUR's Rhode Island stations, 2004
  4. ^ "Editorial: Broadcast betrayal". Providence Journal. September 19, 2004. Archived from the original on March 1, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b Peoples, Steve (November 20, 2006). "Attorney general closes WBUR investigation". Providence Journal. Retrieved September 22, 2013. 
  6. ^ Jurkowitz, Mark (September 28, 2004). "BU delays sale of R.I. radio stations". The Boston Globe. 
  7. ^ Current.org | Christo resigns at WBUR, 2004
  8. ^ Smith, Andy (March 23, 2007). "R.I. group to buy WRNI". Providence Journal. 
  9. ^ "Is AM Radio Still Relevant?" Radio World, August 30, 2009
  10. ^ "Quora: Why are Public Radio stations always at the bottom of the FM dial?"
  11. ^ Fybush, Scott (July 11, 2011). "Merlin Drops 101.9 Clues". NorthEast Radio Watch. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Wheeler School to Lease FM Airwaves to Rhode Island Public Radio" Jennifer Waits, Radio Survivor, August 22, 2011
  13. ^ Ahlquist, Steve (November 13, 2015). "New low-power FM community radio station coming to Providence". RIfuture.org. Retrieved November 13, 2015. 
  14. ^ "AS220: 101.1 FM Community Radio!" November 9, 2015
  15. ^ Ziner, Karen Lee (October 7, 2011). "R.I. Latino radio station going 24/7 in new place". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on October 7, 2011. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  16. ^ Harrison, Elisabeth (October 10, 2011). "Changes ahead for radio in Rhode Island". WRNI.org. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  17. ^ Until late 2010, WELH was only a 150-watt signal, much smaller than the 4, 000-watt signal it is today. See "FCCdata.org file on WELH" and "FCCdata.org file on WRNI-AM" for comparison.
  18. ^ "RI Public Radio Acquiring UMass-Dartmouth Radio Station" Ian Donnis, RIPR.org, January 4, 2017
  19. ^ "UMass Dartmouth and Rhode Island Public Radio create new collaboration" UMass Dartmouth Office of Public Affairs, January 4, 2017
  20. ^ "UMass Dartmouth Plans to Sell License for College Radio Station WUMD to Rhode Island Public Radio" Jennifer Waits, RadioSurvivor, January 4, 2017
  21. ^ "R.I. Public Radio in deal to get UMass Dartmouth broadcast license" Aimee Chisvaroll, The Standard-Times, January 4, 2017
  22. ^ According to WUMD History
  23. ^ Broadcasting & Cable Yearbook 2003-2004 (PDF). 2003. p. D-417. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  24. ^ 1996 Providence Journal Almanac
  25. ^ Radio Discussions website "102.7 in HD" (started February 26, 2013). Page retrieved March 5, 2013. Archived April 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ RIPR & MVYradio Leverage HD Radio for FM Translators
  27. ^ RIPR Awards page. Page retrieved December 11, 2013.

External links[edit]