WKAR Radio Celebrates 90 Years!

Aug 14, 2012

Saturday, August 18, marks 90 years of broadcasting on WKAR.

Although the station's first "official" broadcast was a founder's day speech on May 13 of that year, it wasn't until August 18, 1922, that WKAR was granted a federal license.

J.B. "Jimmy" Hasselman was the station's first director, and its first transmitter was built by electrical engineering students in 111 Olds Hall. Until then it was a student radio station.

Frederic E. Holmes, Michigan Agricultural College (MAC, 1923) was a founding member of the college's student radio station. In a letter written to John Hannah in January 1939 he said, "The idea of regular program broadcasting arose from a few pranks."

He then went on to cite a case where the students, not realizing that their signal would go beyond Wells Hall, sang ribald songs "for the benefit of the inmates of Wells..." To their chagrin, the program had been heard up to a radius of 15 miles. "This almost killed broadcasting at M.A.C before it was born," he wrote.

The final licensing in August 1922 also brought about a series of randomly assigned call letters, WKAR. (It is a myth that WKAR had anything to do with the burgeoning auto industry in Lansing at the time.)

In 1922 only 100,000 radios were manufactured. With its sign-on, WKAR became the third oldest station in Michigan and the second station in the Lansing area. WREO, the first Lansing station, was operated by the REO Motor Car Company. WKAR was also the first educational station in the state, one of 73 licenses issued to educational institutions in 1922.

The next two years would bring some rapid advancements. The first 500 watt electric transmitter was installed in 1924 and that year Consumers Power Company (now Consumers Energy) donated the 182-foot tower. After the new transmitter was installed, WKAR inaugurated it with a day of classical music including selections from Herbert, Dvorak, Kreisler and a performance from the M.A.C. Varsity Quartet.

Ninety years later, WKAR Radio is a fully professional operation, although students are used in internship positions. WKAR has two stations now, with FM joining the mix in 1947.  In addition to offering locally programmed content, the stations are affiliated with NPR, which provides a significant portion of the station's schedule.

(Special thanks to Diane Hutchens who gathered these facts for WKAR Radio's 75th anniversary)