Hear from alumni who worked at KWSC or, after its call letters changed, KWSU, the flagship station of Northwest Public Broadcasting’s National Public Radio News network.
The non-commercial radio station is licensed to Washington State University in Pullman. While the frequencies, reach, call letters, and approach to programming have all changed since its inception in 1922, WSU’s radio station has been broadcasting for 100 years this year.
‘What a fun time’
In 1995 to 1996, I—along with Brian T. Perkins (’98 Comm.), Jeff Kirsch (’98 Comm.), Randy Goode (’97 Comm.), Michelle Memmel (’95 Busi. Admin, Comm.), Darren Fessenden (’99 Comm.), Jason Ferguson (’97 Comm.), and many others were hosts, co-hosts, and ran the board to record segments for the Cougar Pre-Game Show on KWSU-AM with interviews leading into WSU football and basketball games! What a fun time we had as students back then!
—Darren Nutt (’98 Comm.)
Getting the timing right
I worked at KWSU on different projects from ’92 to ’94. I remember producing and hosting football and basketball pre-game shows for the station with a couple of my classmates. We would interview coaches and play-by-play broadcasters (Bob Robertson, Bud Nameck), put the show together a day before the games, and air it a half-hour before kick-off or tip.
However, my favorite memory was board-operating football and basketball games and having to cover the commercials from the feed from KXLY in Spokane. Public radio = no commercials. I had a timer the studio so I could see how much time I had to read scores, news, play KWSU promos (Neal Robison’s The Jazz Collector, etc.), or listen to KXLY in my headphones so I knew when to re-join the broadcast.
At this time, I was the program manager at (WSU’s student-run radio station) KUGR and one morning I walked into 301 Murrow to a note in my mailbox from Glenn Johnson. He said that was the best job working the board and hosting in a few years! I still have that note somewhere!
—Tim O’Rourke (’94 Comm.)
From pre-med to radio
My freshman year, fall of 1971-1972, I left Los Angeles to come play basketball and start a pre-med course. But, as it turned out, the classes I needed for pre-med were the same time as basketball practice. I was looking at six years at Washington State if I did pre-med, so I ended up in the communications department.
In 1973, I started working at KWSU radio for the 6 am newscast, ripping and tearing copy from AP, UPI, Reuters, and other new services that we used. But the bulk of my work was on KWSU TV, where—as the floor manager—I had a great conversation with Gore Vital, got actress Pam Grier’s phone number from Tony Brown of Tony Brown‘s Journal, and learned a go-to recipe for refried bean dip made from scratch that, to this very day, is my favorite even though it seems decadent. I also taped with the Wilson sisters from Heart, and the segment was used to get them a spot on The Captain and Tennille show on ABC. As it turned out, crewmate Keith Buttleman’s (’76 Comm.) father was the chief technical engineer on that show and The Missiles of October.
By my senior year I was head of audio. Most of my time in the booth was spent watching The Electric Company and all the other shows that my nieces and nephews were watching. What was really great was, at the time, we got paid four times minimum wage to work on the TV shows. We probably would’ve worked for free, but it sure made it a lot easier to get paid for our time.
My senior year, the PAC-8 track-and-field finals were held at Rogers Field, and I was paid to be the unit manager. All the runners from each event would come to me and tell me their times and pertinent information, and I would share that information with the announcers. The meet was shown on my local LA television station, KTTV Channel 11, which later became FOX. Bill Welsh, a longtime producer who would always host the Rose Parade, offered me a job at the station. The job was actually to join the set-building crew.
My only bad experience was when my coach, George Raveling, was on a show, and I was so nervous that I kept making typos.
Later, I received a fellowship to the UCLA Motion Picture Television Department. I was able to direct well because of my time in the control booth at KWSU.
—Ed Jackson (’75 Comm.)
From studio audience to play-by-play game recreation
I grew up in Pullman so my memories of KWSC (as it was known then) extend back to the early ’50s. That meant being part of the studio audience for Record Man and Story Lady, and sitting in front of the broadcast booth at Bailey Field to listen to a young Keith Jackson (’54 Speech), as he found his way in the sportscasting world. He employed the closing phrase of the nightly Sports Final, “Good evening, and good sporting!”
I was an announcer for all of my years at WSU, 1964 to 1968. I did almost all the programs—news, sports, morning (Coffee Pot Parade), classical music, weather, even farm news. (Farm Facts was the station’s most-listened-to program.)
On the morning after Robert F. Kennedy was shot, I persuaded station manager Burt Harrison to allow us to undertake continuous coverage from the time the station went on the air at 6:30 am until about noon. That was quite an undertaking in pre-Internet days. We had only AP and UPI news machines, plus some audio feeds from UPI.
In 1968, Jackson came and conducted some master classes as he received some kind of award from WSU. He asked for a volunteer to read a script. My hand shot up, and he handed me the paper. I summoned all my announcing skills and gave what I thought was an excellent reading, then handed the script back. Jackson then asked me to summarize the story I had read. I blanked. I had no idea. Jackson’s lesson was simple: You have to know what you are saying. During my 35 years of teaching journalism, almost all of it at Indiana, I repeated that lesson many times.
What I had most fun with at K-dub was sportscasting—doing play-by-play in football, basketball, and baseball for WSU and Pullman High School. Especially challenging were the recreations that we did. In my freshman year, senior Darrel Aune (’66 Comm.) and I recreated WSU’s games at the College World Series. Then sports information director Dick Fry cabled us brief notes, but Darrel and I, sitting in a KWSC studio, had to create in our mind’s eye what was happening on the field. The technical link didn’t work for the first 40 minutes or so of the first game against Texas, so we had to invent reasons for the delay. Washington State was eliminated by Ohio State, 1-0, in a game that went 15 innings. Steve Arlin threw all 15 innings for the Buckeyes, a feat that has never been duplicated in the CWS. Back in Pullman, we pulled out all the stops. To simulate a hit, we hung a table leg from the microphone boom and hit it with a pencil. We put Ron Spellecy (’68 Comm.), another announcer, in an adjacent studio, to simulate the public address announcer. In addition to announcing the batters, he also made one or two announcements about drivers who had left their car lights burning. When I followed Indiana to the College World Series in 2013, I could say I had been there twice, but only the second time in person.
I also remember recreating a basketball game at Los Angeles against UCLA when Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) scored something like 56 points. It was difficult to recreate the excitement.
Listeners tuned in to our basketball broadcasts, whether they were in Pullman or Whitman County, but there was a small cohort that drove to Queen Anne Hill in Seattle where they could pick up the broadcasts.
—Owen V. Johnson (’68 History), associate professor emeritus of journalism, Indiana University
From secretary to executive
Kay Wight (’63 Comm.) got her start in radio at KWSC. In 2015, she told Sarasota Magazine she served as Edward R. Murrow’s campus hostess when he gave WSU’s 1962 commencement address. “He helped me get to CBS,” she recalled—a classic example of Cougs helping Cougs. “I started out as secretary to (founder and board chairman) Bill Paley. I said, ‘This is a really nice job but I don’t want to be a secretary.’ Every four years I got a new responsibility—I would learn it, and do it, and move on to the next.”
Read and watch more
Video: 100 Years of NWPB
Meet Cara Williams Fry (general manager of NWPB)
Wonders of wireless: The genesis of radio at Washington State College