KSAC Radio Towers
Backstory and Context
The two KSAC radio towers are located to the west of Nichols Gymnasium on the Kansas State University campus. They are about 140 feet high and stand about 300 feet apart. The towers themselves have not been visibly altered since their construction in 1924. There is no longer any antenna hung between the two towers. The KSAC radio towers were constructed in 1924 by the Wind Engine and Pump Company of Batavia, Illinois, a company that made and sold wind mill towers. The towers supported a flat top antenna, a design copied from a ship radio. It consisted of a number of parallel wires stretched horizontally between the towers with the transmitter line from the studio fanning out to join these wires midway between the towers. The towers themselves were four sided open-frame metal structures. The appearance of the towers was changed slightly toward the end of 1929- when a new antenna was installed. The flat top antenna was replaced by a more advanced T-cage antenna. The T-cage consisted of a number of parallel copper wires stretched between metal rings, one mounted on each of the two KSAC towers. This gave the appearance of a "cage" or tube of wires stretched between the two KSAC towers with the studio link adjoining the "cage" at the mid-point between the towers. Currently there is no antenna connecting the towers. The north tower is being used to microwave the KSAC studio signal from the campus to the KSAC transmitter on Denison Avenue. At the base of this tower is a memorial to Grover C. Cobb, a pioneer Kansas broadcaster.
The KSAC radio towers on the Kansas State University campus are an excellent example of early radio' towers built in the United States. At the time of their construction in 1924 they represented the finest available radio technology. The original towers remain intact, virtually as they were when. constructed. They are now the only remaining towers of their type in Kansas, and are among a very few left in the United States. They are appropriate symbols of broadcasting history and of KSAC's place in that history.
The history of broadcasting at Kansas State Agricultural College (as it was known until 1959) began 12 years before the KSAC radio station was constructed. In 1912 the physics department of Kansas State licensed or one kilowatt transmitter and began daily weather broadcasts in morse code. Radio technology was not advanced to the point that voice transmissions were possible. Many farmers and farm boys had crystal detectors and learned code well enough to receive these Weather reports. These broadcasts were reported to have been received more than 150 miles away in Winfield. They are now believed to be the first fixed radio broadcasts of weather reports in the United States. Professor Hamilton of Kansas State brought these broadcasts to the attention oi the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and a similar service was soon inaugurated by the Army and Navy.
In 1922 Professor Eric Lyon established a new 100 watt radio telephone station (WTG) capable of broadcasting the human voice and music. The occasional broadcasts from WTG were heard by Kansas listeners with crystal receiving sets within a radius of 150 miles.
Ten years after the first morse code transmissions the first commercial broadcasting stations began operations, notably the Kansas City Star station WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri and KFKB, owned and operated by Doctor John R. Brinkley at Milford, Kansas.
Remote broadcasts from Kansas State Agricultural College began on February 11, 1924 on Dr. Brinkley's KFKB station. Three far sighted K-State faculty each contributed $50 of their own money to lease telephone wires to link the university's remote studio with that of KFKB. Programing for so much radio time had become by this time a severe burden to the physics department so it was decided that the extension division would assume control of programming duties.
Construction of a new 500 watt radio station with call letters KSAC began on August 20,1924. The towers that were put up then are those that stand today. By special permission of the Acting Secretary of Commerce, station KSAC' began broadcasting with a five hour nation-wide "Aggie" program. The operation of this station has been continuously the responsibility at the extension division.
In 1926 KSAC made radio connection. with commercial radio station KFAB, then in Lincoln, Nebraska, when full time broadcasting of quality programing became too great a burden on KSAC staff. It was felt that each station could share the same frequency, each broadcasting at separate fixed times in the day. Considerable difficulty in time sharing resulted from this union. Trouble originated over KFAB's refusal to allow KSAC to broadcast the Kansas basketball games in their entirety. In addition, KSAC officials received numerous complaints from their listeners concerning the weakness of the station's signal. KSAC engineers also wished to change to a lower frequency to provide a better signal. For these reasons KSAC ended its affiliation with KFAB on Oct. 30, 1928.
After the break from KFAB, KSAC changed its frequency to 580 and began a time sharing with WSUl, a sister educational station at the University of Iowa at Iowa City, Iowa. KSAC was licensed to operate at 100 watts daytime and 500 watts at night. The time sharing with WSUI was quite satisfactory. However, the Federal Radio Commission preferred time sharing stations to be located close to one another. As a result of the F.R.C. policies KSAC switched from time sharing with WSUI to time sharing with WIBW, a commercial station located in Topeka, Kansas on November 30, 1929.
The radio signal
generated by KSAC was modernized in 1947 when the station built a new 424 foot
1/4 wave vertical antenna on Denison Avenue just north of the main campus. The
connection between the campus studios and the transmitter was by phone lines. From
1947 both towers were non-functioning. In August, 1974 the north tower of the two
original KSAC Radio towers was pressed into service once again. Since that time
it has been used as a tower to microwave the studio signal on campus to the
transmitter on Denison Avenue.