By Kristi Jourdan - Arts and Culture Student Writer
WKAR/FM Celebrates 60th Anniversary
In its six decades of existence, WKAR/FM has provided thousands of listeners with an array of jazz and folk music as well as news from National Public Radio.
Sixty years later, the station continues to serve the community, a 60-mile broadcast radius, as the area’s only radio source for classical music. WKAR’s ability to provide a 24-hour news service, with mostly locally-produced broadcasts, is what keeps the community interested, says former WKAR station manager Dick Estell.
From 1964 to 1978, Estell managed WKAR/FM when the station was located on the third floor of the Auditorium. In 1981, the station made its current home in the Communication, Arts and Sciences building. Technological advances and commercialized programming have made it possible for MSU radio to reach “beyond the Lansing boundary,” he said.
“In the very beginning the FM station had no satellite service,” Estell, who has been in the broadcast industry for 58 years, said. “When the network public broadcasting satellite came into being, then we were able to transmit and receive the programming from different areas throughout the nation. This has been the biggest change that I’ve seen in public broadcasting – the ability of the satellite to provide materials to get that information out to the public.”
The station’s ability to expand in commercial broadcasting yet maintain its local news programming is what makes it so viable, Estell added.
In its time, 90.5 WKAR has witnessed many historical events: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, racial tensions during the Civil Rights Movement and Watergate, among many other significant events. Programming shifted to reflect the times as entertainment shows such as “Homemaker’s Hour” and “You Are the Jury” transformed into more FM news-oriented shows, sports play-by-play broadcasts, Bill Gaddis’ black weekday series called “Takin’ Care of Business,” – which introduced more political programming to Lansing’s local radio scene – and “Variedades in Espanol,” which provided Hispanic music, news and social services information.
It’s the third oldest radio station in Michigan and became the first FM station outside of Detroit in 1948.
Half of WKAR/FM’s funding comes from community donations, which Estell says speaks highly of the community.
“In the beginning, we never asked for donations from the public,” he said. “But that grew as the need for additional financial services grew, so we could provide those services to the community.
“It’s needed and required, and it’s something the public itself will continue to support throughout the years. Without the public support, what good is the public broadcast station?”