New Wisconsin Public Radio station honors late Executive Director Gene Purcell

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Wisconsin Public Radio

Gene Purcell, Wisconsin Public Media’s late executive director.

Wisconsin Public Radio is launching a new music station with call letters honoring Gene Purcell, Wisconsin Public Media’s late executive director. 

WEPP, which will start broadcasting Thursday on 90.7 FM in Rice Lake, Wis., gets its call letters from Purcell’s given name, Eugene Patrick Purcell. He died due to injuries from a traffic crash in 2021 after more than a decade at the helm of the organizations behind Wisconsin Public Radio and PBS Wisconsin. 

Purcell became executive director of WPM at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 after serving as executive director of the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, which operates Wisconsin Public Radio and PBS Wisconsin in a partnership with UW-Madison. 

He started with the ECB in 2006 as deputy director and was executive director for about a decade, according to the board’s current executive director, Marta Bechtol.

Bechtol said that Purcell was fascinated with call letters and that he gave her a list of Wisconsin public television and radio call signs when she started as deputy director in 2014. Now, Bechtol gets to add WEPP to that list. 

“When we have the ceremony on Thursday, I’m going to hold up the list he gave me,” Bechtol said. 

The new station will be WPR’s 39th station. It will broadcast WPR Music, featuring classical during the week and jazz, folk and world music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, a news release said. WPR and NPR news will air on the hour.

Bechtol pointed out that jazz will be especially appropriate on the station. Purcell’s father, who loved jazz, wanted him to get a job as a student at WLSU-FM at UW-La Crosse to play the kind of jazz his dad liked on the air. 

“Even as we expand our digital service, we remain committed to radio,” WPR Director Sarah Ashworth said in the release. “No other medium is as affordable, reliable and accessible for listeners as radio. 90.7 FM in Rice Lake will be our 39th station and help fill a gap in service that we’ve had between Eau Claire and Superior for some time.” 

The new station is leasing space on an existing tower after receiving its license in 2022, Bechtol said. 

“Gene was passionate about ensuring that everyone in Wisconsin could access the news, information and entertainment on WPR and PBS Wisconsin,” WPM Executive Director Heather Reese said in the release. “As a devoted fan of both music and the north woods, I know he would truly appreciate being remembered with the launch of 90.7 FM in Rice Lake.”

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