- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - For many, the radio call letters KFKX may bring back memories of eclectic music and silly or entertaining college radio shows from the campus of Hastings College.

Those call letters have a much deeper history than just the college station, which went off the air last week.

Chad Power, chair of the college’s journalism program, called it a “tough decision.”

“It’s been here for so many years and a lot of sentimental connections to it for students and faculty.”

Power said changes in student interest in the station and restructuring in the department led to the eventual end to KFKX at Hastings College.

“We know radio is not dead in the industry but, for us, the tools students need to learn to capture stories, write stories, capture and edit messages, we’re still from an academic standpoint able to do those things without having a distribution point of 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week radio station year round,” Power said. “That was some of the academic decisions we had to make at that point.”

The Hastings community was only about 50 years old in 1923 when the call letters KFKX first came to the Plains, the Hastings Tribune (http://bit.ly/29dpuqf ) reports.

Radio was still in its infancy and the Westinghouse company decided to put an experimental rebroadcasting station in Hastings. The idea was to see how far they could bounce the radio waves and share radio shows from one place to the next.

On the evening of Nov. 20, 1931, a program sent from station KDKA in Pittsburgh, the first radio station in the world, was picked up by KFKX in Hastings by short-wave and transmitted out. It was received in every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada.

This meant that short waves could rebroadcast a program simultaneously all over the world, which led to everything from news reports to the famous fireside chats of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Soon after that first broadcast, KFKX began locally produced programming from studios in the Gaston Music Store and later from the Clarke Hotel. Those programs included performances by the Ingleside band, Hastings College musicians, various singers and even stock market reports.

The first football game to be broadcast was the Hastings College-Nebraska Wesleyan game on Thanksgiving Day 1924 and was announced by Dean E. Shaffer.

Another early KFKX announcer was Will Hay, who later became the announcer for the “Amos and Andy” show, which was one of the most famous of the network programs during the 1930s.

KFKX broke ground again in 1927 by doing what many stations across the Midwest still do today: Giving a noon-day market report. It was the first one in the country to do so.

The station met its end in the summer of 1927 after the National Broadcasting Company bought the station from Westinghouse and had it shut down.

The Hastings Chamber of Commerce worked with station KMMJ out of Clay Center to ensure they would still have the market reports after KFKX went off the air.

Those call letters remained dormant until 1988 when Hastings College added a radio station to its journalism program with the opening of the Gray Center for the Communication Arts.

Many remember it as the day President Ronald Reagan, who was on hand for the building’s dedication, said “Radio station KFKX is on the air.”

In those days, KFKX was a carrier current station that delivered music, news and public affairs programming to the dorms and other college buildings through the electrical lines.

“If you plugged in a radio in any jack, you could get the station,” said Sharon Brooks, a Hastings College professor who oversaw the radio station. “It worked very nicely.”

In 1997, the college decided to get a license and operate over the airwaves and that’s when 90.1 KFKX was born.

“The idea for the station was not necessarily to give people a career path,” Brooks said. “Even then we knew there would be fewer and fewer news departments and DJs going live but they would learn what it meant to be of service to the community.”

Brooks’ retirement at the beginning of this year led partly to the restructuring of the journalism program and the ultimate decision to shut down the radio station.

Power said Brooks’ retirement and a declining interest among students in working for the station led to the decision.

“We’re still going to be offering audio production and things along that line but the distribution won’t be over the air,” he said. “We won’t have a streaming radio station.”

Brooks said one of the things that always made the college station unique was that it wasn’t locked into a certain market or style, meaning that they could do anything they wanted.

There were a few years when students would record The Listening Room concerts on Saturday nights and replay them the next day on KFKX.

Sometimes they would do live remotes from postseason games in different sports and even live remotes from different places in the community.

“The nice part about it is because it wasn’t locked into a market survey like so many public stations are and should be, they could do unique things,” Brooks said.

The radio station held a special alumni weekend event earlier in the month with KFKX alumni coming back for live and pre-recorded shows, which ran on its last day.

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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