Station History

By:  Susan Clark

“Less talk, more music…”

That is the mantra of hundreds of classical music enthusiasts who listen to KCSC 90.1 FM, Oklahoma’s only 24-hour classical music radio station, located on the University of Central Oklahoma campus.

One of Oklahoma’s five public radio stations, KCSC stays true to public radio standards to keep itself non-commercial, a standard its listeners like. In April of 2006, the station pondered its past as it celebrated its 40th anniversary.

KCSC is committed to playing a wide range of music from early classical to more contemporary forms, offerings that general manager Brad Ferguson said “fits the mission of a university to heighten cultural experiences in the community.”

“It befits a university, as a preserver of culture, to project an image of high art and the timeless music of genius that classical music brings to its listeners, said Ferguson.  “The music cultivates an air of respect and reverence, not just for the composer, but to many, it inspires contemplation of a greater universe.”

KCSC and its repeater station KBCW in McAlester are listed by Radio-Locator, a large Internet radio database, as the top two most listened to Oklahoma stations. This would include listeners from throughout the state to a growing number of loyal listeners who listen via the Internet.

While other radio stations have changed ownership and formats over the years, KCSC has remained steadfast to its roots, its focus on classical music.   “This station was originally established as a classical format station though some experiments have crept in from time to time,” Ferguson said.

What began in 1966 as a student-operated station focused on broadcast training transformed over the years into one of about 26 stations nationwide that plays classical music 24 hours a day.

Professionals gradually replaced student broadcasters and by the mid-1980’s the station became a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Radio International, was selected for the 1995 Governor’s Arts Award, and by the late 1990’s became one of a crowd of antennae owners in Oklahoma City’s antenna farm.

KCSC’s reach today, including KBCW, extends north to Enid and Stillwater, east to Okmulgee, Sallisaw and Poteau, south to Smithville, Atoka and Ada, and west to Chickasha and Weatherford.  Listeners driving north on Interstate 35 swear they don’t lose Mozart or Beethoven until they are somewhere in Kansas.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Long-time opera announcer Clyde Martin, KCSC’s earliest current staff member, claims the station’s “reach” all had to do with the weather.
In the days of a 30-watt signal, Martin, who was hired in 1969 to announce and emcee opera programming, said “I’d get calls where people said ‘your station is collapsing’ and I’d say ‘where do you live?’ and they’d say ‘southwest Oklahoma City.’”  “And I’d say ‘that’s your problem,’” he said. “The funny thing was that on cloudy days the signal was strong and on bright, sunny days some people couldn’t hear us.”

UCO’s professor of theater Dr. Don Bristow, originally hired in 1966 as an instructor and KCSC’s first station manager, said the initial studio, located in the former Arts and Humanities building, was “small with a turntable, a 10-watt transmitter, and an antenna of top of the building.  The format was some classical, some middle-of-the-road pop, and CSC football games,” Bristow said.  “Max did the play-by-play and I was the color commentator,” he added.  Max Davis, chairman of CSC’s speech department, deserves credit as KCSC’s creator.

After countless calls from radio stations across the state needing trained graduates, Davis set a goal in 1963 to create an educational FM program that would operate between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. from the CSC campus. News, interviews, and mostly classical music would be the format.

He told the Oklahoma City Times in 1964 that he “wanted to go first class” and sought a system that would extend about 60 miles. To achieve this, Davis knew he needed to raise $35,000.  It would take another two years before Davis met that goal, thanks to a $25,000 contribution from CSC alum Homer Johnson, who was the largest contributor to the university at that time.

The final stipulation was for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant authority for KCSC to broadcast, and on April 4, 1966, with FCC authorization, KCSC officially signed on the air at 4 p.m. from the Homer L. Johnson studios.

On that day, with reach just slightly surpassing the CSC campus, listeners heard programs that included “Candlelight and Silver,” “Broadway Remembered,” “The Art of the Violin, Organ, and Piano,” a U.S. Army program, “What’s Happening Coed?,” waltz favorites, an evening concert, and news, weather and sports.

Davis described the first broadcast as “little more than a glorified megaphone.”  Some of the early programming was “live” and some was delayed tape-recordings. News was provided over the teletype by United Press International.

From there, the station was transformed to a 30-watt broadcast that was intermittently interrupted by vibrations in the building.  Davis told the Edmond Sun “we kept having a rumble at various times of the day and then it dawned on me that that was when classes let out.”

Martin said in the early days the large music library that exists today did not exist and he would bring in his own LP’s to play as did students during their air shifts.  “I’d come in on Saturdays, open the place up, turn everything on and we’d play the Metropolitan Opera and then I’d turn everything off and leave,” he said.

When CSC became a university (CSU) in 1971, attempts were made to change the station’s call letters to KCSU but Colorado State University already had the letters.  Also during the 1970’s, the station was moved to CSU’s Communication building, its location today.  The format included contemporary, classical, easy-listening music, and news.

Oral Communications professor Jack Deskin ran the station for several years during this decade and Deskin lauded the fact that many of CSU’s broadcast students moved on to professional radio and television broadcasting positions in Oklahoma City.

One of the highlights in 1978 was a $100,000 grant by the Kerr Foundation to CSU to be used to increase the broadcasting capability of KCSC.  The grant was awarded to buy equipment that would boost the power at the station to 100,000 watts and to build a 400-foot broadcasting tower to replace the existing 170-foot structure on the Edmond campus. The project was completed and in 1978 KCSC’s airwaves stretched south to Norman, north to Stillwater, west to Weatherford and east to Shawnee.

Dr. Mike Dunn, general manager in 1978, told CSU’s student newspaper, The Vista, “what began as a training tool for students gradually evolved into a public relations tool for CSU.”

In 1979, the station expanded to an 85% classical music format.  Ironically, KCSC was the first public radio station to play jazz which it broadcast late at night.

During Dunn’s management, the station held its first fund drive in 1981 and by the following year, KCSC had the means to acquire a satellite dish which improved sound quality and expanded its ability to add new programming that included the San Francisco Opera, the Cincinnati Symphony, and live interviews and performances by classical music celebrities.

Dunn began adding more professionals to his student staff and it was in 1983 when Ferguson was hired as a part-time announcer. Long-time KCSC announcer Kent Anderson was also working at that time as a student announcer.

In 1984, KCSC began operating 24 hours a day. An Edmond Sun report stated that same year the station became the best funded non-commercial radio station in the state and the second best in fundraising in the nation for markets of its size.  The format by 1984 was all classical except for some jazz, a little radio drama and comedy, and Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”  Keillor’s show was so popular, KCSC began hosting annual picnics which it held at the Oklahoma City Zoo and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Ferguson, who became program director in 1984, said “statistically the KCSC audience was made up primarily of the 50+ age group,” a marker that remains the same today.

Shows produced by the station at that time included “The Morning Concert,” “Go For Baroque,” and “Clyde Martin’s Opera.” The station also offered “Jazz After Hours” on Friday and Saturday evenings, Irish and Scottish folk music, and Indian and Vietnamese music.

In 1985, the station became a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio.  Programming began to include shows like “Business Times,” NPR’s “The Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” and “Monitoraudio,” a program produced by The Christian Science Monitor.

Ferguson said KCSC and Norman’s KGOU station, which both served the Oklahoma City area, put their heads together and the stations agreed that KCSC would primarily provide the classical music format and KGOU would provide the news/talk/jazz format.  In this way, the two stations discontinued overlapping and duplicating formats, and better served the community.

By 1991, Ferguson became general manager of the station and KCSC’s listening audience grew to about 40,000 listeners per week and was 1,200 members strong.  The station’s relationship with Oklahoma’s arts community strengthened as the station began to broadcast performances by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Canterbury Choral Society and the Oklahoma City Chamber Music series.Public service announcements publicizing Oklahoma arts organizations’ events became an important part of KCSC’s overall mission.

Periodically, public radio stations face funding cuts and competition with other non-profits for dollars as happened in 1995 when Ferguson said CPB and UCO both made budget cuts that affected the station.  The CPB’s federal matching grant funds the station about 20% of the amount raised during fund drives. The University provided about 10% of KCSC’s annual budget.

Fundraising made Ferguson even more uneasy that year in light of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building bombing, a year when donations were focused on understandably different community needs.  Money raised during fund drives, which are now scheduled each spring and fall, is spent on salaries, program expenses, compact discs, the purchase and maintenance of equipment, and everything else it takes to operate a station.

By 1995, KCSC’s weekly audience was reported at 60,700 from that year’s Arbitron ratings.  According to Anderson, program director in 1995, “our share of the Oklahoma City market exceeded that of public radio stations in larger markets, like Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.”

A highlight that same year was when KCSC became the recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award for its support of the arts in Oklahoma and achievements in contributing to the cultural climate of the state.

Two one-hour weekly programs produced and written by KCSC personnel—Barbara Hendrickson’s “Filmscapes” and Nan O’Neill and Lane Whitesell’s “Bravo Baroque”—were nationally syndicated in the late 1990’s.

“Bravo Baroque” ran for eight years and "Filmscapes" ran for five years. Hendrickson went on to produce a shorter version of her film music-focused program called “Filmscapes Intermission.”

The end of the millennium gave way to the construction of KCSC’s new radio tower which joined the vast neighborhood of antennas just east of Broadway Extension at Britton Road.  After several legal struggles, the new tower—funded by donations from Sarkey’s Foundation, Kirkpatrick Foundation, individuals, and a grant from the Dept. of Commerce—was built twice as tall as the former antenna giving KCSC a clearer signal and greater coverage.

Wanda Bass, President of First National Bank of McAlester and patron of the arts and education, opened a new door for public radio when she called Ferguson about starting a classical station in the McAlester area.  In 1999, with financial assistance from Bass and the Dept. of Commerce, a repeater station, KBCW, 91.9, began airing on Aug. 27, extending KCSC’s classical music programming throughout southeast Oklahoma.

Another special hand extended to KCSC in the winter of 2001 was that of Forrest Johnson, a classical music fan and long-time listener who donated the bulk of his estate, $272,000, to the station, the single largest donation KCSC had ever received.

“I had been told about the donation the year before by the attorney attending the estate that the amount would be $60,000 or $70,000,” Ferguson said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather when they told me the amount was $272,000.”

KCSC then established an endowment called the KCSC-FM Classical Radio Foundation, and UCO President Roger Webb gave the station permission to set up a separate 501c3 foundation that fall.

All in all, the staff who run KCSC are dedicated and judging on their longevity at the station, have no interest in leaving.

Ferguson greets listeners at 6 a.m. and plays shorter and lighter pieces of music and as the day moves on the music played becomes longer and heavier in the early afternoon returning to lighter fare again in the late afternoon.

KCSC’s other announcers include Teresa Brekke, Dave “the voice” Stanton, Tory Troutman, Ralph Wise, Martin, and Whitesell. Except for Brekke, all of the other announcers began working at the station between 1969 and 1988.

Anderson, who later left the station to pursue writing goals, was one of those many students who mastered the airwaves at KCSC. He left KCSC after graduation but returned as a professional staff member in 1991.  Hendrickson, who joined the staff in 1997, was promoted to Operations Manager/Membership Director and Susan Clark was hired as Development Director in 2003.

All of these individuals have one goal and that is to do their part in providing the best in classical music programming and to continue KCSC’s strong support of the Oklahoma arts community.

There are many major cities and states in the country where classical music fans have to search far and wide to find Bach and Brahms on their radio dial.

Oklahoma is not one of those places.

KBCW Ten Year Anniversary

By: Susan Clark

  The late Oklahoma banker and philanthropist Wanda Bass’s love for classical music took on a new face ten years ago when a $ 50,000 gift from Wanda and her late husband, Clark Bass, coupled with a $ 96,275 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce paved the way for the installation of satellite-uplink equipment and the introduction of a classical music radio station in McAlester and southeast Oklahoma.

     Public radio station KBCW 91.9 FM, a repeater station based in McAlester, commenced broadcasting at noon on Fri., Aug. 27, 1999, and continues to provide classical music 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

     The call letters for KBCW stand for “Bass, Clark and Wanda.”

     All programming originates from KCSC 90.1, Oklahoma’s only all-classical public radio station, located on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.  KCSC aired its first program in 1966.

     One of Oklahoma’s five public radio stations, KCSC stays true to public radio standards to keep itself non-commercial and while many other stations have changed formats, KCSC has remained steadfast to its roots and focus on classical music.

     The station receives financial support from listener contributions, foundation grants, business underwriting, the University of Central Oklahoma, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  

     It was one of Wanda Bass’s dreams to provide McAlester and southeastern Oklahoma with classical music and today, the station has acquired many members from the area.

      Station manager Brad Ferguson and his staff often think of their former board member and speak of her during their two annual on-air fund drives, especially in their appeals to classical music enthusiasts in the McAlester area for help in funding.

     “There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think of Wanda and the legacy she left both in McAlester and here in central Oklahoma, especially in the area of classical music,” Ferguson said.

     “We are determined to keep and improve the service KBCW renders to McAlester well into the future.”

     Programming on KCSC/KBCW includes St. Paul Sunday, Sing For Joy, From the Top, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Retrospective, Exploring  Music, Hearts of Space, With Heart and Voice, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera.

     Locally produced programming includes Filmscapes, a film lover’s delight; the acoustical, folksy Different Roads; and Performance Oklahoma, a Sunday afternoon program highlighting Oklahoma concerts including the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and OKMozart. 

     In 1995, the station was named as recipient of the Governor’s Arts Awards for its support of the arts in Oklahoma and achievements in contributing to the cultural climate of Oklahoma.

     The staff who run KCSC are dedicated, and judging on their longevity at the station, have no interest in leaving.

     Ferguson greets listeners at 6 a.m. and plays shorter and lighter pieces of music followed by afternoons when listeners will hear longer and heavier pieces until the drive time home and the return to lighter fare.

     Other announcers at KCSC include Teresa Brekke, Kimberly Powell, Tory Troutman, Ralph Wise, and Lane Whitesell.

     The station’s mission is twofold:  to provide the best in classical music programming and to continue its strong support of the arts community.

     The people who work there smile a little when they walk through a station hallway and see a photo of Wanda on a framed memory of a past fundraiser.

     She considered it her gift to lay down the foundation for KBCW a decade ago.  She considered it an investment in the future.

     As Mark Parker, dean of the Bass School of Music once noted, “she felt that music was an essential element in being human.”

     Towards the end of Wanda Bass’s life, as she faced many health-related challenges, her love for KCSC and classical music never wavered.  She kept the radio by her bedside until the very end.

     It was tuned to 90.1 FM.

 (Reprinted from the McAlester News Capital)