KRPS-FM has been the four-state region’s source for public radio for more than a quarter century, but its roots actually date back to 1977. It was during this year that Pittsburg State University first attempted to establish a radio station.
Actually, Pittsburg State made two attempts to establish a radio station in 1977. The first attempt came in the form of a recommendation from a special broadcasting committee created at the request of Pittsburg State University President John Appleberry. In September of that year, the committee recommended the creation of a small 10-watt station to be supervised by the Department of Speech and Theater. In May of 1978, the department presented a formal proposal for funding in support of the radio station ($43,574 for equipment and one FTE) but it would ultimately be rejected by the Kansas Board of Regents following a Federal Communications Commission freeze on new 10-watt station applications.
The second, and more ambitious plan, was developed during this same time period by students who wanted to build a student-operated radio station. After several discussions with officials from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and from the University of Kansas’ radio station KANU, a joint decision was reached by Pittsburg State University and the University of Kansas to operate a public radio station at Pittsburg State. However, this proposal would meet the same fate as the 10-watt proposal after failing to meet CPB requirements.
These setbacks did not deter Pittsburg State administrators who understood the incredible opportunities that a public radio station would provide to the university and to the region.
A third attempt to provide public radio to the four state region was made in 1984 when KU developed a plan that would create a public radio network throughout the state. This plan called for the construction of eight translators at Emporia, Independence, Junction City, Manhattan, Parsons and Pittsburg, Kansas and at Joplin, Missouri. The plan was initially supported by Pittsburg State but a lack of funding on KU’s part prevented the installation of all but two (Emporia and Iola) translators.
A change of leadership at Pittsburg State University brought a renewed push for a public radio station. One of the first things Dr. Donald W. Wilson pledged to do after becoming president in 1983 was to establish a radio station at the university.
After the failure of KU’s radio network plan, Pittsburg State began to place the necessary resources behind President Wilson’s commitment to build a public radio station. Dr. Joseph G. Smoot, who had joined the university on May 1, 1984, as Vice President for Development of Public Relations, was placed in charge of the radio project and quickly began to build public support.
No longer content with a small 10-watt station; the university was fully committed to constructing a 100,000-watt station to provide unique programming that would serve the public and reflect educational goals of the university.
Fundraising for the project began in late 1984 and 1985 and helped raise the startup costs necessary to move the project forward. In late 1985, the university identified a possible frequency for its radio station in the form of a small radio station in the town of Weir, Kansas. The Weir Educational Broadcasting Foundation operated a low-power, 380-watt station on the 89.9 frequency using the call letters KJWR-FM.
Discussions with the station’s board of directors would begin in the fall of 1985. After nearly 16 months of negotiations, the radio station was purchased by Pittsburg State University, clearing the way for a change of power and of call letters.
Land for the tower and transmitter site was donated by Mr. William Reals, a longtime university supporter. This land site, located 2-miles west of Weir, allowed the university the space it needed to build a tower.
Pittsburg State University officials originally wanted to use the call letters KPSU-FM for their radio station but it was soon discovered that these letters were in use by Panhandle State University. Instead, officials selected the letters KRPS in a nod to both the university and community served by the radio station.
The timelines for construction of the studio and tower site were incredibly tight, allowing only six months for the completion of both. Construction of the broadcast studios, which were located in a former student housing unit, began in October of 1987 with the tower beginning shortly thereafter. A target date of April 29, 1988 was set as the official start of broadcasting operations for the new station.
The final weeks of construction were hectic indeed as pressure mounted to complete the studios and install the equipment. As often happens in April, rain moved into the area, delaying tower construction and the much publicized date of first broadcast of the university’s new radio station.
Pittsburg State officials had come too far to have Mother Nature delay them and were able to secure a loaner antennae from their longtime partner, KANU at Lawrence, Kansas.
Final assurance that KRPS would go on the air came only minutes before Frank Baker, General Manager, signed the station onto the air exactly at 4:00 p.m. University officers and friends of the station were present to witness the historic event.
KRPS-FM continues to hold true to the vision of its founders at Pittsburg State University. It remains an educational and cultural resource for the region and its mission remains just as it did on April 29, 1988 … “To serve otherwise unserved audiences.”