Beginning in 1917, This Was Michigan’s First Educational Radio Station
The very first educational radio station in Michigan just happens to be WKAR at Michigan State University. WKAR has had quite a ride over the last 100+ years. Here are some highlights in a nutshell:
Thanks to the first World War, WKAR’s rumblings kicked off in 1917 when the president of Michigan Agricultural College (later MSU) asked a freshman to teach telegraphy, with equipment provided by the military. Its purpose was to teach army personnel how to use Morse Code and telegraphy.
Beginning in 1918, the telegraphy teaching equipment was refurbished into an amateur radio station. The call letters were 8YG, and it transmitted many of the events going on around the campus. This was WKAR’s experimental stage, that lasted from 1917 to 1922.
In 1922, Michigan Agricultural College was authorized their own 250-watt radio station by the federal government. Even though 250 watts were authorized, the station only had 50. The call letters given to this ‘new’ station was “WKAR”…..but what do the letters mean? According to history, nothing. The letters were simply chosen at random with no meaning or forethought.
While set up in the Home Ec building, WKAR received new equipment in 1924, increasing the wattage to 500.
In 1925, WKAR’s wattage increased to 1000 when radio station WWJ in Detroit donated some of their old equipment.
Through 1934, the station only had a one-hour broadcast day. When a new transmitter was built that year, the wattage was boosted to 5000 and the station was moved to the auditorium.
The educational programs featured on WKAR over the years were agriculture, conservation, education, home economics, music, and Spanish, along with all the MSU football games.
In 1935 the broadcasting day was up to 4 hours.
In 1937, they became licensed to broadcast for a full eight hours a day.
After World War II, WKAR got an FM license, a new studio, and control room…and they keep on rolling to this day.