WKSU History

WKSU Persistence & Passion: A Historical Perspective

Kelly Viancourt, Med '94"

In the beginning there was nothing but an antenna tacked to a 50-foot pole supported by a chimney atop Kent Hall. WKSU has come a long way since it was founded on Oct. 2, 1950. In the early days, there was no permanent staff and the ten watt signal barely reached beyond the borders of campus. But under the care of station founder Walton D. Clarke and John Weiser (the first station manager), WKSU expanded quickly. Live broadcasts of KSU football and basketball games, along with an eclectic mix of student-produced programming were soon added to the station's original twenty-five hours of weekly airtime.

Kent State University grew significantly in the 1960s and '70s, and so did WKSU with a move to new studios, increased power and additional hours of weekly programming that included a strong emphasis on classical music. In 1967, Congress created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and in 1970, NPR was created - although it wouldn't be until 1974 that WKSU would join as an affiliate, adding All Things Considered to the schedule. John Perry, who came to Kent State in 1971, assumed day-to-day management of the station when John Weiser retired.

As WKSU celebrated its 30th birthday, the station looked to the future by developing new fundraising techniques and professionalizing the staff, earning a national reputation for excellence along the way. To fill ever increasing needs, WKSU initiated a capital campaign with the idea of building a state-of-the-art broadcast facility, a dream that came true as the WKSU Broadcast Center was dedicated on Dec. 3, 1992, two years after the station had marked its 40th anniversary. The next year, WKSU's on-air sound was named the best in the nation by Public Radio Program Directors, Inc., a feat the station would repeat four times before the award was retired. WKSU's coverage area saw dramatic growth during this period as the station's main antenna was moved to Copley Township and repeater towers were added in Wooster, New Philadelphia, and Thompson.

With a new Millennium dawning, WKSU passed the half-century post by throwing a yearlong series of events spotlighting keystones of the station's programming, including guests from NPR, concerts featuring classical and folk music, a live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, and a WKSU Homecoming banquet. A new era began as John Perry retired and Development Director Al Bartholet (who first came to WKSU as a student in the '70s) was named the station's fourth General Manager.

In the early years of the 21st century, WKSU continued to expand its range and availability. By 2005, news and music were available twenty-four hours a day online at WKSU.com. WKSU's FM availability also broadened as a repeater station was added in Norwalk in 2004. Low power translators made WKSU programming available in Boardman and Ashland in 2006. Then in 2008, WKSU took the next step in radio by introducing three digital radio channels, available on HD Radio. WKSU HD-1, 2, and 3 carry the regularly scheduled programming, music from Folk Alley, and 24-hour classical music respectively.

Today, WKSU continues to be one of the most respected and award-winning radio stations in America. As WKSU moves toward the future, it proudly holds to its traditions of creating quality public radio programming based on broadcasting innovation and excellence.

1941 Howard Hansen becomes first full time director of radio at Kent State University. Radio Workshop presents 40 different programs over local commercial station, WAKR. Radio Workshop facilities moved to third floor of Kent Hall.
1942 Radio Workshop presents a weekly program over WADC, Akron.
1946 Walton D. Clarke is appointed director of radio and develops Radio Broadcast curriculum. FM frequencies begin commercial development.
1948 FCC authorizes low power FM frequencies for non-commercial/educational stations. Radio Workshop begins the installation of a 5-watt signal that can be sent over wires to the residence halls.
1949 Kent State Board of Trustees authorizes the application for a 10-watt educational station. Clarke and E. Turner Stump travel to Washington, DC to personally deliver the application to the FCC. In September, John Weiser joins the staff. On Dec. 9, the FCC accepts KSU’s application for filing.
1950 On April 12, the FCC grants Kent State a construction permit for WKSU-FM at 88.1. A single ring antenna is mounted on a 50 ft. pole attached to a chimney on the roof of Kent Hall with a line to the station transmitter running through a third floor window to the control room. Test pattern trials conducted in May through July. Oct. 2 1950 – WKSU-FM officially begins an eclectic mix of regularly scheduled programming 5 hours a day, 5 days a week during the academic year with a student on-air staff. This same day, newspapers around the country offer a new comic strip, “Peanuts” by Charles Schulz. Station broadcasts its first KSU football game – an away game against the University of New Hampshire – with recorded sound effects and details via Western Union telegraph messages received in the studio. John Weiser named station manager.
1951 WKSU airs its first KSU basketball game live through a hardwired line between Wills Gym and Kent Hall, although by the end of the year, WKSU was completely wireless.
1952 Station does live broadcast of election returns for Portage County from county courthouse, a standard practice until 1960.
1960 Application filed with the FCC to increase power to 1000 watts on a 310-ft. tower at 91.2. WJW-TV objects due to interference caused to their audio and 89.7 is settled on. WKSU studios moved to third floor of the new KSU Music and Speech Building.
1961 Programming schedule expanded to 8 AM – 10 PM, 6 days a week with classical music as the basic format. Programs include news, locally produced talk, children’s programs, women’s programs, as well as taped programs from international sources.
1962 Frequency officially changed to 89.7. John Weiser becomes station manager.
1963 Two WKSU-FM reporters travel to Washington, DC to broadcast JFK’s funeral procession.
1966 Program hours expanded to 1 AM. “Fresh Air,” a late night show focused on a progressive, eclectic rock sound is introduced. Percentage of Portage County homes with FM receivers grows from 1% in 1950 to 65%.
1967 Congress passes Public Broadcasting Act. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is founded and funded by Congress.
1969 Anti-war protests increase on KSU campus. During Spring Quarter, a group of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) members (eventually called the “Kent 25”) break into Music and Speech Building and attempt to take over WKSU-FM. Attack is rebuffed when Weiser stands outside the station entrance door while students call police. Events reported as breaking news live on-air.
1970 CPB budgets funds for radio with the formation of National Public Radio (NPR) being one result. WKSU-FM broadcasts 90 hours a week. Student news staff prepares on-the-scene reports as student protests over the U.S. invasion of Cambodia lead to vandalism in Downtown Kent and the burning of the campus ROTC Building on May 2. On May 3 after the Governor calls in the National Guard at the request of Kent’s Mayor, WKSU hosts a 5-hour call-in show with protestors and University officials as guests. The following day, May 4, WKSU reporters cover a rally called for noon. Station continues to issue updates as National Guard troops fire on the crowd, killing 4 and wounding 9 others and the campus is evacuated and placed under martial law. Station remains on-air after the campus is immediately shut down for the summer, offering updates and classical music daily from 8 AM to 5 PM.
1971 John Perry joins Kent State University staff as an instructor in the Broadcast program and assumes responsibility for day-to-day station operations.
1972 WKSU power increased to 7500 watts.
1973 Perry named WKSU general manager. Station receives HEW grant for $39,443.
1974 WKSU becomes NPR affiliate and “All Things Considered” debuts on-air. Station administrative offices moved to the fifth floor of Wright Hall. Radio studios remain in Music and Speech. The station holds its first fund drive, raising $5000 – half of which was donated to victims of a devastating tornado in Xenia.
1976 Live broadcasts begin on WKSU of speakers from the Akron Roundtable.
1979 WKSU adds NPR’s new “Morning Edition” news program to the schedule.
1980 Power increased to 50,000 watts with the WKSU-FM tower raised to 387 feet. Station links up with the WESTAR I satellite, 22,000 miles in outer space, replacing AT&T landlines.
1983 Jim Blum hosts as WKSU originates the live national broadcast of the National Folk Festival from the Cuyahoga National Recreation Area (now National Park). Local favorite, “The Benchbook” with Judge Jerry Hayes debuts.
1986 WKSU is the only NPR affiliate invited to cover the National Folk Festival, part of the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration, which is broadcast live from New York City over nearly 100 radio stations.
1987 Administrative offices are moved to former Mexican restaurant on E. Main St. and initiates a capital campaign to raise $2.175 million to create a facility to consolidate operations and broadcasting.
1990 Plans begin for new broadcast facility on KSU campus at the corner of Loop Rd. and E. Summit St. Mark Urycki produces “Remembering Kent State, 1970,” a half-hour documentary using only archival sound and interviews. The work wins Urycki a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award.
1991 The Kresge Foundation awards WKSU a $100,000 challenge grant.
1992 All WKSU-FM staffers, broadcast and administrative, move into new building – reuniting after an 18-year separation. The WKSU Broadcast Center is dedicated on December 3 with a public open house.
1993 WKRW booster upgraded to repeater tower broadcasting from 89.3 in Wooster. WKSU-FM wins the first of 4 FLO Awards for best sounding public radio station from Public Radio Program Directors, Inc. (PRPD).
1994 WKSU launches wksu.org, becoming only the second radio station, commercial or non-commercial, nationally to stream live audio over the Internet. The station adds a repeater tower in New Philadelphia broadcasting at 91.5 WKRJ.
1995 Permission granted by the FCC to move the main WKSU-FM antenna to a tower in Copley Township operated by PBS 45 and 49. The WKSU web site premieres on-demand streaming with Mark Urycki’s award-winning documentary “Remembering Kent State, 1970.”
1996 University Circle welcomes WKSU as the station broadcasts live from the Parade the Circle Celebration for the first time.
1997 Station adds third repeater tower, taking WKSU programming into Pennsylvania over 89.1 WKSV in Thompson.
1998 WKSU opens the Cleveland Bureau, staffed by Kevin Niedermier, in the Halle Building in Playhouse Square.
1999 John Perry named Associate Vice President for University Relations and Marketing for Kent State and Director of Development Al Bartholet becomes Station Manager. Kevin Niedermier wins WKSU’s first prestigious national Gabriel Award from Unda-USA for “Chernobyl Kids.”
2000 WKSU celebrates 50 years on-air with a year of activities, culminating with a live broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor at Blossom Music Center in June and a Homecoming banquet at the Kent State Ballroom in October. Station assumes operations responsibility for the Kent State Folk Festival. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the shootings on May 4, 1970, Mark Urycki expands his documentary “Remembering Kent State, 1970” to an hour. The revised works receives a Sigma Delta Chi from the national Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Urycki travels with The Cleveland Orchestra on their annual European tour, sending back stories produced on a laptop in his hotel room to Kent via the Internet. The Walton D. Clarke Founders Fund for WKSU is established to provide an annual fellowship opportunity for Kent State graduate students.
2001 Bartholet is named WKSU’s fourth General Manager following Perry’s retirement. The Ohio Chapter of SPJ awards the WKSU newsroom its first nod as Best News Operation in the state.
2002 WKSU adds the Stark/Wayne Counties News Bureau located in the Canton Museum of Art in the Cultural Center for the Arts. Perry named General Manager Emeritus. Urycki wins WKSU’s first national Third Coast Festival Award for radio documentary.
2003 Dr. John Weiser dies at age 81 and Walton D. Clarke dies at age 94. WKSU launches FolkAlley.com, a 24-hour folk music Internet service. Local “Morning Edition” host Leonard Will is inducted into the Press Club Journalism Hall of Fame. WKSU-FM regional listeners top 200,000 for the first time.
2004 WKSU’s fourth repeater station, 90.7 WNRK Norwalk, is added, bringing the station’s coverage area to more than 20 counties and parts of Western Pennsylvania.
2005 Kevin Niedermier and the WKSU Cleveland Bureau move to the WKYC broadcast center. The station adds dedicated online streams for news and classical music.
2006 Boardman and Ashland gain low power translators, adding reach to WKSU's 5 towers.
2008 WKSU introduces digital HD Radio sidestreams, adding Folk Alley and the all-classical stream as listening options.
2009 Station enters into agreement with Western Reserve Public Media and WKYC and opens Akron Bureau in downtown United Building.
2010 WKSU Celebrates 60 years.