Until the day before Thanksgiving 2002, Kansas State University station KKSU in Manhattan was still on the air just five hours a day. KKSU was a partner with commercial broadcaster WIBW in one of the last time-sharing arrangements remaining in the United States. On August 29, 2002 WIBW and KKSU reached an agreement to purchase KKSU’s broadcasting time for $1.5 million. KKSU ceased to exist at 5:29 pm November 27, 2002.
The station at one time published its own brief history, including information from the 1980s, when the station changed its call letters three times in one week. The K-State website no longer features this information; however, the internet archive has maintained a copy.
Additional historical information is in a 1972 master’s thesis by Richard Ridgway at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism. Ridgway’s thesis was a history of the station, then known as KSAC. Some highlights of KKSU’s history as outlined in the thesis:
- The physics department of the Kansas State Agricultural College obtained a license of station 9YV in 1912, beginning a daily weather broadcast in Morse code at 9 a.m. According to Ridgway, “this is believed to have been the first fixed schedule of radio transmission of weather reports in the United States.” Moreover, “except during World War I, there has been a daily weather broadcast from Kansas State College continuously since 1913.”
- In 1921, physics instructor Eric R. Lyon was placed in charge of 9YV, obtaining a broadcast license for the station as WTG, a “100-watt radio telephone station.” The official license date for WTG was April 6, 1922. WTG was later discontinued.
- The physics department quickly wanted a higher-power station. To demonstrate the desirability of such a facility, it turned over programming responsibilities to K-State’s extension division and made arrangements with Dr. John R. Brinkley’s KFKB in Milford, 25 miles west of Manhattan to begin broadcasts. “These first broadcasts from KFKB met with almost instantaneous response from the people of the state. So favorable was the reaction, that plans were made to expand the number of programs,” wrote Ridgway.
- In cooperation with KFKB, the physics department decided to experiment with remote-control operation. Beginning February 11, 1924, remote broadcasts over long-distance lines from Manhattan to Milford began. Three station employees chipped in the $150 deposit needed for the phone line. Sometimes, crosstalk on the lines would cause “‘many of our programs [to be] interrupted by impromptu bits of farmer’s-wife-to-farmer’s-wife information upon canning, chicken raising, and child care. It may be that this, too, helped show the legislature the value of broadcasting programs upon the problems of agriculture and domestic arts,'” according to then-station manager Lyon.
- The success of the KFKB programs induced the Kansas Legislature to approve the purchase of a 500-watt Western Electric transmitter and twin towers “built by a windmill company” for $29,000. KSAC began broadcasting December 1, 1924 by special permission of the Department of Commerce. The station’s official license date was January 27, 1925.
- KSAC’s employees found programming a full broadcast day burdensome. KSAC decided to seek out time sharing arrangements. The first such arrangement began in the winter of 1926 with KFAB, Lincoln, Nebraska. Ridgway reported, “Considerable difficulty in time sharing resulted from this union. The trouble originated over KFAB’s refusal to allow KSAC to broadcast in their entirety, the basketball games at Kansas State.”
- KSAC moved to 580 kHz on October 30, 1928, sharing time with University of Iowa station WSUI. At that time, KSAC increased its daytime power to 1,000 watts. While this arrangement worked much better, according to Ridgway, “the Federal Radio Commission began to try to get stations sharing the same wave length to locate closer together geographically.”
- The Topeka Broadcasting Association had just moved former portable station WIBW to the Kansas state capital. The association, owned by Capper Publications, proposed a share-time arrangement with KSAC. On November 8, 1929, an agreement was signed, with the arrangement taking effect November 30, 1929.
Time-Sharing Schedules with WIBW
Until October 2, 1961, the stations alternated blocks of time on weekdays and Saturdays. On weekdays, WIBW broadcast until 9:30 am. KSAC broadcast from 9:30 until 10:30. WIBW then broadcast until 12:30 pm. KSAC came back on until 2:00 pm, when WIBW resumed use of the frequency. At 4:30 pm, KSAC took over for one last hour. From 5:30 pm onward, WIBW broadcast.
On Saturdays, KSAC broadcast from 9:30 to 10:30 am, and from 12:30 to 2:30 pm, with WIBW on the air at all other times.
Beginning October 2, 1961, the handoffs became much less frequent. On weekdays, KSAC broadcast from 12:30 to 5:15 pm, with WIBW broadcasting at all other times. On Saturday, KSAC handled all K-State football broadcasts; otherwise, WIBW was on the air. In 1969, KSAC’s broadcasting time was extended from 5:15 pm to 5:30 pm. In exchange, WIBW began broadcasting Kansas State football games.
Until it left the air in November of 2002, KKSU broadcast weekdays from 12:30 to 5:30 pm, with WIBW on the air at all other times. Until a dispute over broadcasting rights in 2002, WIBW broadcast (and networked) Kansas State football. After WIBW won a court case against Kansas State, negotiations led to WIBW’s purchase of KKSU’s airtime for $1,500,000. In return, Kansas State gained exclusive rights over its football broadcasts.
Even in KKSU’s later years, the stations still operated from separate transmitter sites. The difference was noticeable in Kansas City, and it was even noticeable in Lawrence, Kansas, which is some 50 miles closer to Topeka and Manhattan than Kansas City. (1997 audio clip by Richie Kennedy.)
The K-State Research and Extension program still maintains a radio presence through the K-State Radio Network, which distributes the programming formerly broadcast on KKSU through syndication on commercial radio stations, as well as through podcasting.