WHYY began broadcasting on October 20, 1954. The station was founded by a group of dedicated citizens led by Dr. W. Laurence LePage, then president of The Franklin Institute. LePage and his support group of citizens, corporations and foundations persuaded Westinghouse Radio, Inc. to donate a fully operational FM radio station at 17th and Sansom Streets. WHYY, which stood for "Wider Horizons for You and Yours", dedicated its evening broadcasts to providing educational and cultural programming for the citizens in the metropolitan Philadelphia area
In 1957, WHYY launched a television station on channel 35, WUHY. In order to coincide with the TV call letters, the FM station was renamed WUHY. In 1964, a year after WUHY-TV was switched to the channel 12 frequency and renamed WHYY, the TV and FM studios were moved to 46th and Market Streets. The new studios were donated by Ambassador Walter Annenberg, who had just moved his WFIL (channel 6) operations to City Avenue.
The FM station, still named WUHY, continued to operate its transmitter from 17th and Sansom until 1972, when it joined most of the region's transmitters in the Roxborough section of the city. The WUHY broadcast day, which was 5pm to 11pm weekdays, and 9am to 11pm on weekends, programmed mainly classical music, and some material obtained from the "Eastern Educational Radio Network".
The station's programming choices were dramatically increased 1n 1977, when National Public Radio set up a sattelite-delivered programming network for its member stations. A 10 Meter C-Band recieving dish, the first of its kind in Philadelphia, was placed atop the Market Street studios in 1978. This technological advancement provided enough material to allow the station, renamed WHYY, to commence full-time operations.
The next year, through a special arrangement with the City of Philadelphia, WHYY moved its headquarters and Channel 12 administration offices to the former Living History Center Museum on
Independence Mall. In August 1980, 91FM moved its new headquarters to the Mall. By April 1983, all broadcasting, production and corporate activites were housed together on Independence Mall. One item, however, that remained back at 46th and Market was the station's C-band satellite dish, which could not be moved to center city due to interference problems. Until a recent switch to a smaller Ku band system, the signals from the large dish were sent via microwave downtown to WHYY. The former Market Street facility is now owned by a West Philadelphia empowerment program.
During the 1980s, 91FM became one of the nation's premiere NPR affiliates, contributing programming such as "Fresh Air" and "Voices in The Family" to other NPR stations across the country. In 1987, the station decided to drop its mainly classical format in favor of news and information. WHYY and NPR are also noted for being on the cutting edge of broadcasting technology through early utilization of fiber-optic distribution and digital audio recording techniques.