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WKSU-FM Celebrates 60 Years On Air

Posted Oct. 4, 2010

In the beginning, there was nothing but an antenna tacked to a 50-foot pole supported by a chimney atop Kent Hall. WKSU-FM has come a long way since it was founded on Oct. 2, 1950. In the early days, there was no permanent staff, and the 10-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-FM expanded quickly. Live broadcasts of Kent State football and basketball games, along with an eclectic mix of student-produced programming, were soon added to the station's original 25 hours of weekly airtime.

leads WKSU
The early tower going up


Kent State University grew significantly in the next decades, and so did WKSU-FM, 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, National Public Radio (NPR) was created, although it wouldn't be until 1974 that WKSU-FM 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 Weiser retired.

As WKSU-FM 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-FM initiated a capital campaign with the idea of building a state-of-the-art broadcast facility, a dream that came true when the WKSU-FM Broadcast Center was dedicated on Dec. 3, 1992; two years after the station had marked its 40th anniversary. The next year, WKSU-FM'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-FM's coverage area saw dramatic growth during this period as the station's main antenna was moved to Copley Township and repeater stations were added in Wooster, New Philadelphia and Thompson.

With a new millennium dawning, WKSU-FM 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-FM homecoming banquet. A new era began when John Perry retired and Development Director Al Bartholet (who first came to WKSU-FM as a student in the '70s) was named the station's fourth general manager.

In the early years of the 21st century, WKSU-FM continued to expand its range and availability. By 2005, news and music were available 24 hours a day online at WKSU.com. WKSU-FM's FM availability also broadened as a repeater station was added in Norwalk in 2004. Low-power translators made WKSU-FM programming available in Boardman and Ashland in 2006. Then in 2008, WKSU-FM 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-FM continues to be one of the most respected and award-winning radio stations in America. As WKSU-FM prepares to turn 60 on Oct. 2, 2010, it proudly holds to its traditions of creating quality public radio programming based on broadcasting innovation and excellence. As the station looks to the future, WKSU-FM also looks to new outlets in Northeast Ohio and beyond for the best in news, classical, folk and public radio entertainment.

For a timeline of significant events in WKSU-FM's history, go to this link.

By Alex Cox

(This story first appeared in the summer 2010 issue of Station Break.)