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KGOU History

KGOU was licensed to the University of Oklahoma in early 1970 and began broadcasting on September 21, 1971. KGOU operated at 106.3 FM. During this time, the university also operated WNAD AM and FM (90.9) out of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. A closed-circuit “wired-wireless” radio station, KUVY, which was operated by the University of Oklahoma Speech Department disappeared around 1970 when the university obtained the license for KGOU. KUVY operated out of studios located on the third floor of Kaufman Hall and its programming was directed to the university dormitories only. It served as a teaching laboratory for the broadcasting program at the Speech Department.

The demise of KUVY was hastened by the building of the Walker Tower dorm, which did not provide closed circuit capabilities. When KGOU went on the air its tower was located on the roof of Walker Tower and its studios were located in the space vacated by KUVY, on the third floor of Kaufman Hall. After KGOU began broadcasting in the early 1970s, the university sold WNAD-AM, which became WWLS, and WNAD-FM, which became KOKF.

KGOU was operated by the H.H. Herbert School of Journalism and Mass Communication as a commercial station with some professional, but mostly student staff. KGOU’s first station manager was Linda Durbin. She was assisted by full-time professional staff – program director T. Roy Carmichael and sales manager Doyle Paden. Students served as department chiefs and assisted with sales.

The format was primarily rock ‘n roll and album-oriented rock, but also included news, weather and sports. Student staff produced regular news- and sportscasts during the day and provided extensive coverage of University of Oklahoma sporting events. Students produced a pre-game program called Stadium Talk before home football games and student crews also delivered play-by-play broadcasts of OU football, basketball, baseball and wrestling and started a tape-delayed call-in sports talk program. This hands-on broadcasting experience allowed many students to pursue careers in commercial and public broadcasting, including jobs at television and radio stations throughout the nation and at networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, ESPN, and The Weather Channel.

By the late 1970s up to 250 students worked at KGOU each semester. Linda Durbin left KGOU and the university on July 1, 1979 to take a job at Security Bank in Norman. She was succeeded as station manager for a short time by Roy Lamberton. By the early 1980s, public radio’s popularity was spreading nationwide and there was an interest in the University of Oklahoma also providing a public radio service. Then President William Banowsky supported the move and appointed a committee of students, faculty, staff, and community representatives to discuss the future of KGOU and whether it should become a public radio station. The recommendation was: “Yes, it should.” The Board of Regents approved the change in 1982. The University traded its commercial license for a non-commercial one, and KGOU began broadcasting as a public radio station on January 1, 1983.

Bruce Hinson, a faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication was the general manager from 1981 to 1985 and managed the change to a public radio service. This included construction of a new broadcast tower, installation of new transmitter and studio equipment, and a change of staff.

In 1985, the station was transferred from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication to the Provost’s Office, with administrative responsibility given to Dr. Joseph Ray, who was Associate Provost.

Patricia Wente became the next general manager of KGOU and served from 1985 to 1987. She continued to refine the program schedule and introduced audience-based fundraising.

In 1987, Dr. Ray became Associate Vice Provost in the College of Continuing Education and brought KGOU with him to CCE, under the direction of Dr. James P. Pappas.

David White, the station’s chief engineer since 1983, was interim manager from 1987 through July 1988.

Karen Holp became KGOU’s general manager in July 1988.

In 1993, KGOU expanded into the Oklahoma City metro area through KROU, licensed to operate from Spencer, Oklahoma. KROU was built and began broadcasting on June 28. The station was first requested from the FCC in 1985, awarded in 1989, and finally constructed in 1993. The cost of adding KROU was funded entirely by listener contributions.

In 1996, after a yearlong study, KGOU changed its program schedule from a mix of news and classical and jazz music to one primarily devoted to news and information programming with jazz in the evenings. This was possible because the public radio station at the University of Central Oklahoma, KCSC, had increased its coverage area and provided classical music 24 hours per day. KGOU’s change provided more public radio diversity in the marketplace and enabled KGOU to serve a unique niche as the stations agreed to adopt non-competitive programming schedules. These new schedules were adopted on September 2, 1996, with KCSC (now KUCO) featuring classical music and KGOU shifting to a news/talk and jazz/blues music format.

A year later, in 1997, KGOU changed from a manual operation to computer-based automation for the daily operations, which began the move from analog-based audio to the new technology of digital audio.

For many years, it was clear that KGOU had outgrown its location in Kaufman Hall that provided nearly 1,500 square feet of space. November 2006 saw KGOU move to nearly 4,400 square feet of studio and office space in Copeland Hall.

In 1983, KGOU had an average of 9,000 listeners each week and raised about $4,500 in private donations. By the summer of 2006, KGOU was averaging about 52,000 listeners each week and, in FY06, raised $447,000 in private gifts for operations and $89,000 for the capital campaign for new studios.

The move to Copeland Hall was made possible by a loan from the university and through listeners who supported the station’s public service mission of using the mass medium to present high-quality program content that provides education in the broadest definition of that word. In the beginning, it was seen as an alternative to commercial broadcasting, both in the quality of the content and in the method by which it was funded. Over the years, the highest tenets of journalistic ethics have been adopted by public radio, working to fulfill President Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that a free press is essential to an informed electorate in a democracy.

KGOU’s mission fit well with that of the College of Continuing Education and the University of Oklahoma Outreach: providing lifelong learning through nontraditional methods. Moreover, while serving as a public service of Outreach and the University, KGOU also continues to provide professional experience for OU students interested in the various aspects of a broadcasting career. KGOU staff has provided instruction to OU students, primarily at the H.H. Herbert School of Journalism and Mass Communication and later at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. This instruction included classes in Radio News, Practicum and Independent Study.

In 2007, KGOU completed two translator stations in southeast Oklahoma, expanding service to an area of the state that had limited public radio access. Translator K276ET broadcasts on 103.1 FM in the Seminole listening area, and K250AU broadcasts on 97.9 FM in the Ada listening area. A third translator station, K295BL in Chickasha at 106.9 FM was added in August 2010.

After ten years of planning, KWOU in Woodward at 88.1 FM entered program testing on December 29, 2010. KGOU added a fourth transmitter, KOUA in Ada at 91.9 FM, in January of 2011.

In August 2011, KGOU entered into an agreement with KOSU-FM, KWGS-FM, KCCU-FM and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) to form a collaborative journalism project, StateImpact Oklahoma. KGOU became the lead operational partner in StateImpact Oklahoma, which focused reporting on energy and environment in Oklahoma. StateImpact Oklahoma reporters were housed in the KGOU newsroom. The project was funded for three years by NPR but was able to continue and grow after the NPR grant term concluded due to contributions from the partner stations, underwriting revenue and listener donations.

KGOU further extended its reach by adding a fourth small translator in Shawnee in March 2015, K286BZ at 105.1 FM.

KGOU experienced significant and steady growth in coverage area, service, ratings and influence due to Karen Holp’s dedicated and visionary leadership. Holp retired in October of 2016, after more than 28 years as KGOU general manager. She was succeeded on November 12, 2016, by Dick Pryor, who had served for 25 years in news and management at the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) following more than 15 years as a sportscaster in radio and television. Pryor began his journalism career as a student at KGOU in 1974.

Dr. James Pappas retired at the end of 2016 and Senior Associate Vice President for Outreach Dr. Belinda Biscoe succeeded him as director of OU Outreach/College of Continuing Education.

In the fall of 2017, KGOU and its licensee the University of Oklahoma, struck an agreement with KCCU Radio and Cameron University to assume operation of a transmitter and signal in Clinton at 89.1 FM, renamed KQOU, effective Dec. 1, 2017.

In 2017, KGOU launched a new original weekly segment and podcast, Capitol Insider, hosted by Dick Pryor, to provide news and information about Oklahoma politics, policy, and government.

In 2018, KGOU debuted a new original feature and podcast, How Curious, hosted by Claire Donnelly, which focused on Oklahoma history, myths, legends and oddities.

In June 2020, KGOU debuted a new locally produced music program Tonic: The Funky Groove Show featuring instrumental funk, groove, hip hop, soul, disco and jazz. Airing on Friday nights, Tonic (hosted by Michael Bendure) complemented KGOU’s other original music shows – The Weekend Blues (hosted by Jim Johnson) and Global Sojourn (hosted by Chad Mitchell).

Since 1983, KGOU has grown from one transmitter with 9,000 weekly listeners and raising $4,400 in private funds to five transmitters and four small translators, with 70,000 to 90,000 weekly listeners and raising more than $900,000 in private funds annually.

By 2018, KGOU's terrestrial broadcast signal was reaching about 1,800,000 Oklahomans across 36 counties. In addition, by 2021 KGOU’s website (kgou.org) received more than 85,000 pageviews per month and the website for KGOU’s collaborative journalism program, StateImpact Oklahoma, received 30,000 pageviews per month. The KGOU live stream was also available on various “apps” including NPR One.

By 2021, KGOU produced 848 hours of original programming annually and across the KGOU system, KGOU’s audience listened to 852,300 hours of KGOU programs via streaming and a total of 25,252,500 hours via broadcast annually.

In addition to delivering news, information, and entertainment programming to its broadcast and digital audience, by 2021, KGOU staff taught skills needed to obtain employment in journalism to 3-5 University of Oklahoma students in its Practicum and Independent Study classes, served as faculty advisor for journalism graduate students pursuing master’s degrees and employed 3-4 University of Oklahoma students in part-time hosting and reporting positions each semester.

A research study conducted by University Station Alliance in October 2021 showed the total annual value delivered by KGOU to its licensee, the University of Oklahoma, exceeded $11,000,000. This calculation included student instruction, student scholarship contributions, university-related news and information, public relations, and promotional announcements.

By 2023, KGOU had expanded its content delivery beyond broadcast, online streaming, social media, two newsletters, NPR mobile app, and digital stories in the “river of news” to include podcasts for How Curious, Capitol Insider, and the KGOU AM and PM NewsBriefs.