Tim Singleton, shown below, is general manager of WBAA at Purdue University in Indiana. The station is about to note its 90th anniversary; I emailed with him to learn more.
How is the station celebrating?
We’ll be holding our spring pledge drive, one day, on April 4, the day WBAA was licensed. We have two major public radio personalities coming in, but that info is embargoed for now. The event in May will be released as soon as the contracts are signed. The fall event won’t be released until the end of April. We’ve had a major article published in the January/February issue of the Purdue Alumnus magazine (there’s a link to it on our website, wbaa.org, in the History section). We’ll be holding a number of other events throughout the year.
When did the station go on the air, and under what circumstances?
It was licensed April 4, 1922, but the first broadcast didn’t occur until April 21, 1922. It consisted of a message from the secretary of agriculture on “Arbor Day” that was broadcast by Professor R.V. Achatz at 9 p.m. The same message was sent out by all broadcasting stations in the U.S. simultaneously.
Was there a particular person or people who are seen as the founders?
It developed out of experiments in the Electrical Engineering Dept. by faculty and students. A detailed history is here: http://www.wbaa.org/post/beginning-wbaa
What frequency and power did the station use at first, and how have those evolved over the years?
1922: 834 kilocycles (360 meters) (less than 250 watts until January 1923)
1925: 1100 kilocycles (500 watts)
1928: 1400 kilocycles (500 watts)
1934: 890 kilocycles (1000 watts)
1941: 920 kilocycles (5,000 watts daytime, 1,000 watts directional night)
Radio World readers are engineers and technically minded managers; many appreciate radio history. What interesting technical facts about the station might they want to know?
Prior to 1941, the transmitters were all constructed by faculty and students. The antenna was a “T” held up by two 88-foot towers on top of the EE building (photos on the website). In 1941 when the station increased power to 5,000 watts, a new transmitter site was constructed south of town with a three tower directional array. The transmitter was a Collins 21A which is still located at the transmitter site and has been used as a backup transmitter within the past 5 years, although it is disconnected at present. The original purchase cost was in the neighborhood of $20,000. We have the original invoice in our archive files. Much correspondence, along with details of the measurements for the radials and other data, still exists.
You’re building out a history section of your website, how can readers find that?
Some colleges have made news in the last year or two by selling their radio stations, in some cases for a lot of money. What’s your sense of the commitment that Purdue has to its radio operations?
Purdue is fully committed to continuing the operation of WBAA AM and FM.
Anything else we should know?
We began FM service to the community on 101.3 in 1993. Power was increased from 5,000 to 14,000 watts and HD-2 was added in 2009.