In 50 years of existence radio station KUOW has evolved from a training lab for the UW’s broadcast journalism students to a mostly independent news and information station, says station manager Wayne Roth.
“But though our official ties to the University have weakened, our unofficial ones remain strong,” Roth says. “We continue to draw on the wonderful resources of the campus and expect to continue doing so.”
The station quietly celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday with the declaration of “KUOW 94.9 FM Public Radio Day” by the governor, King County executive and mayor. A small party for donors was also held.
“We hope to have an anniversary open house for the public sometime in the spring,” Roth said.
KUOW began in 1952. It increased its power and changed frequencies in 1958 when KING Broadcasting mogul Dorothy Bullitt donated a radio frequency to the University. At the time, the station was used to train students who wanted to work in radio after graduation, and programming included classical and folk music, University lectures, local headlines, and UW basketball games. It was on the air eight to ten hours a day.
The story since then has been one of constantly shrinking revenues from the University balanced by increasing support from other sources. And along with the outside support has come a greater obligation to serve the larger community, not just the campus.
“KUOW was one of the original members of National Public Radio, joining in 1970,” Roth said. “NPR’s parent organization, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, offers funding to stations, but it requires professional staffing and service to the larger community in exchange.”
So it has been professional staff and not students who over the years have run KUOW, although once, in 1970, students decided to “liberate” the station. They swarmed in, locked out the staff and proceeded to broadcast their own ideas for a day or two.
That episode isn’t the only connection students have had to KUOW, however. Although the idea of using the station to train broadcast journalism students went out in the ’60s, students have always worked for KUOW, both in work-study and internship positions, Roth says.
“These days, students don’t typically come to us because they want a career in radio, though,” he says. “It’s more about the content. They’ve grown up with public radio and they’ve heard the informational programs. They have something to say, and they want to know how to do it.”
By the time Roth joined the station in 1983, only the manager’s salary was still paid by the University. Since then the station has become even more independent, forming Puget Sound Public Radio as a nonprofit corporation to take over its management and operation.
But Roth says the ties to the University are still strong. He is still a UW employee, reporting to the vice president for university relations. And his staff often calls upon University faculty and staff as experts on their informational programming.
“Some of them are regulars, like (Atmospheric Sciences Professor) Cliff Mass, who does the weather for us once a week,” Roth says. “So unlike the public TV station that completely bailed out of its association with the UW, I don’t think we’re going anywhere. The University contributes greatly to our programming.”