From 100 to 100,000 Watts, KUAF Celebrates 30 Years
by Tara Grubbs
As part of its celebration of 30 years as an NPR affiliate, KUAF hosted a discussion with panelists Rick Stockdell, P.J. Robowski and Dan Ferritor and moderator Kyle Kellams. The group reminisced about the station’s history. From starting in 1973 as a campus radio station with 10 watts in a small house, to becoming part of NPR, through several moves and fund raising drives, to the state-of-the-art studios and100,000 watts of power it has today, KUAF has had a long and storied past on the University of Arkansas campus.
The only source of national and international news from NPR, it also offers classical music during the mid-morning and night time hours and a variety of locally produced and public radio programs on the weekends. In 1989, the station reached its current strength of 100,000 watts and 15 years later was named among the top 10 percent of all public radio stations in the United States for community service and financial stability by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Station manager Rick Stockdell was hired by the University of Arkansas in 1980 to teach broadcast journalism. In 1985, with the help of a group of crusaders and support from the university and Fulbright College, he brought NPR to northwest Arkansas. Stockdell started in radio during college at Northwest Missouri State University. During the fall semester of 1969 he helped establish the school’s NPR station, which was among the nation’s earliest affiliates. After college, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a freelance radio reporter for more than a year producing stories for a Canadian radio network, a group of commercial stations in New Zealand and a variety of U.S. stations from Miami, Florida, to Kansas City, Missouri.
News director Kyle Kellams is celebrating 25 years with KUAF. He has produced Ozarks At Large, KUAF’s locally generated news magazine, since March 2009 and has served as the radio play-by-play voice for the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team and occasionally the baseball team. Kellams worked at KTLO 97.9 FM in Mountain Home, while in high school and later as news director at KKIX 103.9 FM in Fayetteville for a year.
P.J. Robowski was KUAF’s music director for 27 years and its first full-time employee. After retiring from KUAF, she moved to New Mexico where she is a glass artist and hosts Local Flavor, a program on KURU 89.1 FM Gila/Mimbres Community Radio in Grant County. While living in Fayettevielle, Robowski was well known by her voice. Ferritor recalled being in public when he heard her voice and said, “That’s P.J.” without even knowing what she looked like.
Ferritor was the chancellor of the University of Arkansas from 1986-1997 during the growth of KUAF. Ferritor believes that the station would not be what it is today without the tremendous community support it had from the beginning, which continues today.
“They did two fundraisers, raising about $120,000-140,000 during each one from people who don’t have to pledge,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the loyal listening public, we wouldn’t have KUAF – no matter how good Rick and the staff are.”
KUAF now operates with the mission “to be a broadcast leader serving our listening area with programs that challenge, entertain, educate, and inform,” according to the website. It started in an old house on Duncan Avenue then moving to a former apartment complex that was torn down in 2009. The staff had raised more than $2 million to buy property and build its current facility near the Fayetteville Public Library and the Fayetteville Square.
During the panel, Robowski told a story about the many times people would call her when they had a problem while on the air:
“People would call me, students or whoever was on the air, usually students, and they’d go, ‘I have a problem, something’s not working.’ And I’d go, ‘Hold on.’ and run and get my car keys and run out to the car and turn it on so I could hear the radio ‘cause I couldn’t get it in my house. It was 100 watts. So I’d check, and then I’d run back in – you know, they didn’t have cell phones then – and I’d pick up the phone and go, ‘OK, how is it now?’ And I’d go, ‘OK, hold on.’ So I’d run back out, you know, get the car turned back on. It was pretty hilarious.”
“Today, 30 years later, nine out of the 10 full-time people at KUAF are Fulbright College graduates,” Stockdell said. “That wasn’t something I’ve necessarily done on purpose, but my connection with Fulbright College as a journalism professor has put me in touch with so many quality young people over the years who were interested in public radio that it’s just worked out that way.”
KUAF 91.3 FM is a listener-supported service of the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and School of Arts and Sciences. The station has more than 3,300 annual donors and receives nearly 70 percent of its annual funding from membership and underwriting. It reaches a weekly audience of 60,000 listeners throughout Northwest Arkansas, southern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma and the River Valley.