KASU [Radio Station]

KASU, broadcasting at 91.9 FM, is a public radio station that was licensed in 1957 to Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County). Transmitting at 100,000 watts, the station features a format consisting primarily of music, news, talk, sports, and public affairs. As a source of information from the Emergency Alert System, it broadcasts messages regarding severe weather. Serving northeastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, and western Tennessee, KASU is the oldest non-commercial radio station in Arkansas.

The call sign “KASU” reflects the university where it is housed. When Dr. Carl Reng became president of what was then Arkansas State College (ASC) in 1951, one of his priorities was to establish an on-campus radio station. Since its inception, the mission of KASU has been not only to provide entertainment and information for listeners but also to be connected with an on-campus academic unit to train college students seeking careers in communications. Reng also felt that the radio station would serve as a public relations tool. In 1953, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was contacted for permission to create an on-campus radio station for ACS.

After FCC approval, an antenna was placed atop the college’s main building, the four-story Wilson Hall. On May 17, 1957, after the equipment was successfully tested on the frequency of 91.9 FM, KASU signed on the air with the words, “Good afternoon, everyone. KASU, an educational non-commercial radio station, now begins broadcast operations on this day, the seventeenth of May, 1957.” This was followed by an opening speech from Reng, who expressed his pride in the station. The call letters initially confused some people because the Jonesboro educational institution was called ASC at the time, but believing that the school would ultimately achieve university status, Reng approved the call letters KASU; ten years later, the institution did become a university.

From its space inside Wilson Hall, KASU’s original signal strength of 760 watts gave the station a coverage distance of twenty miles. At first, it generally broadcast eight hours a day on weekdays and four hours a day on Saturdays, with no programming on Sundays (aside from sports). Football and men’s basketball games originated from KASU, with the Indian Sports Network feeding live action to stations across the region, even as far away as Little Rock (Pulaski County).

From the beginning, per Reng’s vision, KASU was run by students and overseen by faculty. His support allowed the station to increase its hours of airtime; it also allowed it to move from Wilson Hall to a new campus building that was constructed in 1966. This location provided space for classrooms and offices related to KASU.

In 1971, KASU became the state’s first affiliate of National Public Radio (NPR), which had been created that year. As part of the public affairs network, KASU began carrying such NPR programs as the popular talk show All Things Considered. In the twenty-first century, KASU remains affiliated with NPR as well as American Public Media, which is second to NPR as a public radio distribution source.

Through the years, KASU steadily increased both its broadcast hours and its transmission power. In 1973, it reached its current strength of 100,000 watts. A new transmitting tower was constructed that same year about four miles north of Jonesboro. KASU moved to a new building on campus in 1982, and Governor Bill Clinton was on hand to dedicate the building in 1983. KASU began broadcasting twenty-four hours a day soon after.

The radio station has become known for a wide range of shows and podcasts, especially in the field of music. Its musical programming generally emphasizes a spotlight on blues, bluegrass, Celtic, classical, folk, jazz, and R&B.

Entertainment and arts programs with a local flavor have included Arkansas Roots and live musical performances recorded at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View (Stone County). Other popular musical offerings include Jazz Overnight, Jazz Profiles hosted by Grammy Award–winning jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Latino USA, Mr. Rogers’ Rock Collection, Music from the Isles, Rhythm & Grooves, Something Blue, and a broadcast from the annual Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

The station’s news and talk programming has included a series of KASU Originals. Public affairs programs have included COVID-19: Questions and Answers with Dr. Shane Speights, Here and Now, It’s Been a Minute, Talk Business and Politics, and Throughline, a narrative history series. The series 6 Degrees of the Delta combines music and history with a focus on the Mississippi Delta.

KASU has also sponsored regular live music series in nearby towns such as Bluegrass Monday in Paragould (Greene County) and Monster Nights Downtown Entertainment Series in Newport (Jackson County).

KASU has become known for a number of “firsts.” In 1973, it was the first local broadcast station in the Jonesboro area to preempt regular programs during severe weather by broadcasting tornado watches, tornado warnings, and tips to help people keep safe. KASU was the first station in the area to receive regular daily programming via satellite (1981), the first in the area to broadcast regularly scheduled live interviews with U.S. senators and representatives from Arkansas and the region (1998), and the first in Arkansas to offer daily programming in a show called Arkansas Roots that was dedicated to the Arkansas music scene and the state’s musical heritage (2013).

For additional information:
Doyle, Michael. “KASU Celebrates 60th Anniversary as State’s Oldest Public Medium.” Arkansas State University News, May 16, 2017. https://www.astate.edu/news/kasu-celebrates-60th-anniversary-as-state-s-oldest-public-medium (accessed May 11, 2023).

Hansen, Gregory. “KASU FM 91.9’s ‘Bluegrass Monday’: Performing Intangible Cultural Heritage and Fostering Historic Preservation in Arkansas, USA.” In Sustaining Support for Intangible Cultural Heritage, edited by Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, Mariana Pinto Leitão Pereira, and Gregory Hansen. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2022.

KASU. https://www.kasu.org/ (accessed May 11, 2023).

“KASU Celebrates 60th Anniversary as State’s Oldest Public Medium.” NEA Report, May 18, 2017. https://neareport.com/2017/05/18/kasu-celebrates-60th-anniversary-as-states-oldest-public-medium/ (accessed May 11, 2023).

Reaves, Johnathan. “60 Years: KASU’s History Part 1.” KASU, May 15, 2017. https://www.kasu.org/local-regional-news/2017-05-15/60-years-kasus-history-part-1 (accessed May 11, 2023).

———. “60 Years: KASU’s History Part 2.” KASU, May 16, 2017. https://www.kasu.org/local-regional-news/2017-05-16/60-years-kasus-history-part-2 (accessed May 11, 2023).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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