89.7 WKSU turns 60

Allison Smith


Kent State radio station continues to evolve

Get a behind the scenes look at Kent State’s radio station, WKSU.


The introduction of radio in the ‘20s helped create a culture for America, but today the only form of broadcast getting by are public channels like National Public Radio affiliate WKSU-Kent’s own radio station.

Ben Whaley, an assistant professor for journalism and mass communication, said radio tied Americans together by allowing them to listen to the same performance no matter where they were in the country.

“If you lived in Ames, Iowa, for example, and wanted to hear a symphony orchestra, you’d probably have to jump on the train and go to Chicago where there was one,” Whaley said. “Where, if you stayed in Ames, Iowa and listened to NBC, you’d hear Arturo Toscanini, one of the great conductors of all time, conducting one of the better symphony orchestras of all time, the NBC symphony orchestra.”

When radio was popular, it featured programs much like those on television today, he said. Today, most radio stations play syndicated shows such as “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and “On-Air with Ryan Seacrest.”

“What I like to say is the minute the first cassette player, or even the first 8-track player, went into an automobile, radio started to die,” Whaley said. “Because once people were able to program their own music, what did they need music radio for? And advertising revenue started to dry up.”

Whaley said the only radio stations that are doing well today are those affiliated with NPR.

“There’s only one area of radio I know of that actually has an increasing demographic: NPR,” Whaley said. “And the reason NPR is increasing is you can’t get it anyplace else except newspapers that are going belly up all over the country. So, unfortunately, what you’re really seeing is the shift of the newspaper demographic to NPR’s demographic.”

Whaley said the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which NPR is associated with, was started to tie the public stations across the country under a government corporation.    

WKSU Executive Director Al Bartholet said WKSU has been at Kent since 1950. It began as a teaching program and was originally broadcast from Kent Hall. It moved to the third floor of the Music and Speech Building in 1968 and then to its current location off of East Summit Street in 1992.

“We became a professional station in 1973 and 1974 when NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting started funding university licenses,” Bartholet said. “Since then, we’ve gone to HD … we created Folk Alley, which is a 24/7 folk music service. We’re the number one provider of folk music content in the world.”

Bartholet said high definition radio presents a similar opportunity to satellite radio, but the consumer won’t have to pay a subscription for it. He said WKSU is the only radio station in the state that offers three high definition channels.

“I think the future of radio will depend in part whether HD radio is successful,” Bartholet said. “I’m not certain that satellite radio is the panacea, it’s not doing very well financially.”

Whaley said XM and Sirius Satellite Radio have merged because there wasn’t enough revenue. He believes satellite radio is not the future of radio because he thinks the next thing is wireless Internet radio.

“You already have services like Pandora,” he said. “But what we haven’t got right now is a business model. I don’t know how you make money, and neither does anybody else.”    

Contact features reporter Allison Smith at [email protected].