Licensed to The Ohio State University, WOSU has been a vital community resource since 1922. It has evolved into multiple services consisting of Classical 101 (FM); 89.7 NPR News (FM); WOSU TV and its sister station, WPBO TV; and regional FM stations in four other Ohio communities. WOSU television covers a quarter of Ohio reaching over 900,000 households.
The Birth of WOSU
In March 1920, the first radio license was issued to The Ohio State University to start an experimental station called Radio Telephone 8XJ (also referred to 8XL). By the next month, its first program was broadcast with a whopping 1.8 watts.
In April 1922, the call letters WEAO (Willing, Energetic, Athletic Ohio) were assigned to the station, and its power was raised to 100 watts, making it the first radio station in Columbus and one of the oldest earliest education radio stations in America.
University President William Oxley Thompson commented in his inaugural address: “We are starting tonight the first of a series of programs of entertainment and instruction for the citizens of Central Ohio. These programs will be of the highest type, including music, science, and other subjects of popular interest. Happily, Columbus’ first radio program is being broadcasted from Ohio State University.”
In September 1924, WEAO began regular play-by-play coverage of football games at Ohio Stadium:
“Sport broadcasts occupy a favorable spot on the WEAO program. For the past five years football games have been put "on the air" and for the past three years WEAO has broadcast all Ohio State grid tilts both at home and abroad. It has been key station in a number of hookups. Basket ball also has its place, with the station giving its ether-audience play-by-play descriptions of all at-home games. Incidentally it is one of the few stations in the country radiocasting basket ball.” (The Ohio State University Monthly, March 1931)
In 1928, WEAO partnered with WKRC (WLW) in Cincinnati to produce “Ohio School of the Air,” which was sent via telephone lines to Cincinnati and rebroadcast through WLW radio. As WEAO continued its broadcasts, a financial report completed in 1932 indicated that the operating cost for one year was $17,531 ($289,894.92 in 2012 dollars).
On September 1, 1933, the Federal Radio Commission granted the call-letter change from WEAO to WOSU-AM.
In the fall of 1934, the Ohio Emergency Radio Junior College began broadcasting courses for students unable to live on the Ohio State campus during the Depression. This approach was a resounding success, with more than 1,000 students enrolling for the first quarter.
Ten commercial stations rebroadcast many of WOSU-AM’s programs from 1935-1936. The radio station’s development and willingness to experiment were evident in the services it offered to the local community, including The Radio Junior College, agricultural programming, drama and music presentations, School of the Air broadcasts, athletic broadcasts, and the development of a radio workshop.
The tower and transmitter for the station were moved to the Ohio State University Golf Courses in 1938.
As the station’s reputation and growth continued, Youngstown’s WKBN paid for WOSU-AM to move its frequency from 570 to 820 kilocycles in March 1941.
During World War II, WOSU radio played an important role in relaying military information to the Central Ohio community. Fifteen percent of the station’s broadcast hours were devoted to war-related stories and issues.
WOSU FM Premiers
In 1946, Ohio State University President Howard Beavis recommended to the board of trustees that the school should proceed with an application for an FM station, at a cost of $42,000. The application was accepted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1948, and WOSU-FM went on the air for the first time December 13, 1949. A program bulletin from 1949 for the radio stations contained a brief statement of station policy, including the following information:
“The Ohio State University operates WOSU primarily as an extension of University facilities to the people of Ohio. The great resources of the University on the campus are extended into your homes through WOSU. It is our policy to present education and information as well as other usual broadcast services in as attractive a manner as possible. Discussions of public questions in an unbiased, complete manner are regularly scheduled, as well as news and events of importance occurring at the University. We feel that it is the duty of WOSU to bring to the listening public as much of the campus and University activities as it is possible to do by radio. We use many programs of good music to surround the educational activity in an attractive manner.”
During the 1940s, Alfred Vivian, dean of the Ohio State Agriculture Department, brought his personal collection of 78-rpm records to WOSU and hosted weekly programs, including “Treasured Music,” a longtime Sunday-morning favorite. Until this time, all music broadcasting was live in the studio, in classrooms, in concert halls, or from the networks.
Several popular on-air personalities came to WOSU during the 1950s. In 1955, Gene Gerrard, who had joined the staff three years earlier, became host of "In the Bookstall", one of the station’s most popular programs. Fred Calland, who later became cultural-programming editor and host at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., became the WOSU-AM/FM music director.
WOSU TV Signs On
Both the WOSU radio stations and the television station were founded on lofty principles. In his opening remarks for the initial WOSU-TV broadcast February 20, 1956, Ohio State University Vice President Frederic Heimberger predicted:
“This is a very significant day in the history of The Ohio State University. The beginning may be small and may attract little public attention. But from this seed which is planted here today there will surely come growth and productivity beyond our dreams and beyond our ability to foretell today. (The University’s) goal is to make the most of educational television and radio as a means for extending to the people of Ohio the best that can be offered – and in the most effective ways.”
And consider these words, from an editorial in the WOSU Program Bulletin, published in 1945: “Only by putting to worthy use the communication developments science has produced can a university hope to give leadership to a great people.”
These sentiments are in contrast to WOSU TV’s humble beginnings, in a modest building off of North Star Road; the antenna stood in a farm field. Its 10-kilowatt signal could be received only within a 42-mile radius of the station, and then only if households had installed UHF converters in their sets. Televisions in central Ohio were chiefly programmed to receive VHF networks, because all of the commercial stations in Columbus were on the VHF band. At the time of sign-on, perhaps 3,000 homes in WOSU’s viewing area were equipped with UHF antennas.
WOSU originally requested VHF channel 12. A resubmitted permit to the FCC was finally approved in November 1951, but at UHF channel 34, not VHF 12. The first broadcast included the pre-filmed speech by Heimberger, a performance by the Ohio State University Symphonic Choir, and a station-produced documentary entitled “The University Story.”
1949: September program bulletin:
“The Ohio State University operates WOSU primarily as an extension of University facilities to the people of Ohio. The great resources of the University on the campus are extended into your homes through WOSU.
“It is our policy to present education and information as well as the other usual broadcast services in as attractive a manner as possible. Discussion of public questions in an unbiased, complete manner are regularly scheduled, as well as news and events of importance occurring at the University."
Under the guidance of Director of Radio-Television Richard B. Hull, WOSU earned national recognition for educational television. The station received the 1958 George Washington Honor Medal Award for its series entitled “Essentials of Freedom.” It was during this year as well the TV station’s first remote production van was outfitted to cover broadcasts on location.
Most of the programming on WOSU-TV was strictly educational in nature, focused on extending Ohio State into the community with formal educational courses. At first, Ohio State professors were reluctant to use television in their classrooms, allowing only one freshman mathematics class to use an open-circuit system, in 1958. By 1962, however, demand had increased to the point that the university installed a multi-channel, closed-circuit system.
The 1960 – 1980s: A Time For Growth
With two radio stations and one television station, WOSU was thriving and continually developing new programming. The radio stations reached a milestone in 1960: Both the AM and FM frequencies adopted a new policy that allowed them to operate on a full-time basis, 365 days a year.
WOSU-FM offered over 100 hours of programming each week with some duplication from WOSU-AM. The FM station broadcast all forms of serious music – from jazz to chamber music – with commentary, history, and interpretive information. Sources included recordings from an LP library of over 8,000 records and the Dean Vivian Library’s more than 16,000 recordings on 78-rpm discs. The music staff arranged for tape recordings of outstanding artists and concert groups locally and throughout the State of Ohio to build a growing tape library.
In 1964, Dr. William Steis was appointed general manager of WOSU Radio, and Mary Hoffman became the new music director in 1966.
On October 1, 1968, WOSU-AM and FM became separate stations that offered different programs throughout the broadcast day. FM devoted most of its programming to music, while AM expanded its schedule of informational and educational programs.
On November 7, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, giving a boost to WOSU-TV and all educational stations across the country. The legislation was intended to create and fund “a strong and active nationwide alternative to commercial broadcasting.” The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was formed in 1968, and funding was provided for educational stations such as WOSU.
Color television came to WOSU-TV when it broadcast the Ohio State – Michigan football game in November 1968. The game in Columbus was uninterrupted and carried as a public-service feature.
The broadcast began a buying frenzy for UHF converters at local electronics stores. Nationally, on the new PBS network, an experiment in children’s television began in 1969, when Sesame Street hit the airwaves.
WOSU-TV played an important role on the Ohio State campus during the riots and demonstrations of April/May 1970. Closed-circuit discussions between students, faculty, and administrators defused some of the early tensions, but after disruptions flared out of control, OSU President Novice Fawcett used WOSU on May 6, 1970, to announce the closing of the university. TV34 signed off the air later that day, not to return for 13 days.
A Move to the Fawcett Center
The radio stations relocated to the Fawcett Center for Tomorrow on the campus of The Ohio State University in 1970.
WOSU-AM became a charter member of the new National Public Radio and began broadcasting All Things Considered in 1971. WOSU-FM aired five hours of educational programming, 19 hours of informational programming, 10 hours of instructional programming, and 92 hours of cultural programming each week. Karl Haas’ Adventures in Good Music became part of the FM broadcast in October 1971.
In 1972, WOSU-TV joined the radio stations by relocating to the Fawcett Center. The new facility was equipped for color transmission and featured two production studios.
In 1973, a new tower in Westerville and transmitter allowed WOSU to reach a radius of 60 miles, serving 24 counties and two million people.
Federal public-broadcasting funding cuts prompted the creation of The Friends of WOSU, which focused on support fundraising for the station. In conjunction with the first “Friends-a-Thon” on TV34, the Sesame Street characters came to WOSU to kick off the event. TV’s broadcast community grew in 1974 with the addition of WPBO-TV in Portsmouth.
WOSU-FM began broadcasting in stereo in 1973. In 1975, the station made its sub-carrier available to the Central Ohio Radio Reading Service (CORRS), a nonprofit service broadcast on a sub-carrier of WOSU-FM for blind, visually impaired, and otherwise physically handicapped persons. In 1977, Don Davis, after serving many years as the WOSU news director, became the WOSU-AM/FM station manager.
The Friends of WOSU was officially chartered on October 29, 1973 and its first fundraising effort netted over $5,000. The purpose of the Friends of WOSU is to further the mission of WOSU through activities that support, complement and enhance the efforts of management, staff and the university. In support of this, the Board of Directors of the Friends of WOSU:
- Serve as a link to and from the community-at-large, gathering and sharing information and opinions on area issues, needs and strengths with the community, staff, and management, and board.
- Cultivate sources of funding while promoting memberships, sponsorships and donations through special events and other activities.
- Support communication of WOSU goals among members of the Friends of WOSU, the larger community, The Ohio State University, and WOSU Public Media.
The late 1970s and early 1980s brought new programming and important developments to the WOSU Stations. WOSU-FM added expanded versions of the Morning Show and Sun-Up Symphony to its on-air repertoire. WOSU-TV was the first television station in Columbus to provide closed-captioning for its hearing-impaired viewers.
Technological advances allowed WOSU-AM/FM to receive national programming via satellite, instead of by telephone lines or audio tapes.
In 1980, WOSU-FM became “Classical 89.7,” with 19 hours of classical music each day, which separated the station in format programming from News 820 WOSU-AM. FM was now all music, and AM became a news and public-affairs station, and debuted NPR’s Morning Edition.
By the mid-1980s, WOSU-FM expanded its broadcast service to 24 hours a day. Open Line made its debut in March 1982 with Lynn Neary as host, to be replaced by Fred Andrle.
General manager Dale Ouzts began a professional exchange program with the Beijing Broadcasting Institute in the People’s Republic of China in 1980. Ouzts and other staff members taught classes as well as hosted Chinese broadcasters during visits to the United States.
In 1984, WOSU-TV held its first Auction34 and won the Best First Auction Award from PBS. Auction34 raised more than $200,000 to help fund station initiatives. But, perhaps most important, WOSU stopped simply covering events and started creating them.
Blacks and the Constitution was honored in 1987 when the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution acquired the award-winning production for its permanent archives. According to Ed Clay, who had become television’s station manager in 1981, “It was the first time we put together a special that wasn’t just coverage of an event.”
A string of station-produced documentaries and specials soon followed, including The Front Porch President (1988), on Warren G. Harding; Son of Heaven (1990), about the Chinese art exhibition; House of Glass (1992), on Franklin Park Conservatory; the four-part Jazz Voices (1996), about Ohio musicians; the 11-part Voices from the Village (1995), with black leaders talking about minority issues; Echoes Across the Oval (1996), a history of Ohio State; The Man Who Had Everything (1998), a look at the life of Louis Bromfield; The Birth of Ohio Stadium (1999); and Many Happy Returns to Lazarus (2004).
In 1988, WOSU-AM’s 40-year-effort to secure permission from the FCC to expand its broadcast day into night finally succeeded. News 820 was able to broadcast an average of 16 hours a day.
The decade from 1990-2000 marked numerous changes for the AM and FM stations. Sam Eiler was named radio station manager for WOSU-AM/FM in April 1991. WOSU-AM’s broadcast schedule was increased to 24 hours a day, but eventually reduced from 24 hours to 18 hours a day in 1992 due to state and university budget cuts.
News 820’s popular program BodyTalk, a health-information call-in program, premiered and aired nationally. Also during the 1990s, readers of the Columbus Guardian twice selected Fred Andrle of Open Line as “Best Radio Talk Show Host.”
In the 1990s, WOSP-FM in Portsmouth, WOSE-FM in Coshocton, WOSB-FM in Marion, and WOSV-Mansfield all partnered with WOSU-FM to form The WOSU Classics Network.
In 1993, DVS (Descriptive Video Service) made select public-television programs on WOSU-TV accessible to people with visual impairments. At the time, WOSU-TV was the only local station to offer DVS service. The station also took steps toward digital technology in 1994 when it acquired five new digital-videotape machines. The station signed on for digital transmission January 22, 2004, and WOSU begin to broadcast all-digitally in 2009.
In November 2002, GM Dale Ouzts retired after 23 years and Tom Rieland became the fourth general manager of WOSU.
On April 5, 2005, Classical 89.7 WOSU-FM became the first station in central Ohio to broadcast a digital radio signal, officially starting the digital “HD Radio” era in Columbus.
In February, 2003 WOSU-TV went digital and provided the first multi-cast digital signal in the Columbus market which provided more than one channel using digital broadcast technology).
As part of the digital transition, WOSU had to transition to purchasing digital production equipment including high definition television recording. The impetus to invest in digital equipment and expand its community impact led to an agreement with the COSI Columbus (Center of Science and Industry) in downtown Columbus to share space and build new broadcast studios and outreach space.
With initial seed funding from Ohio State University, WOSU@COSI opened in September 2006, after three years of planning and renovation.
WOSU had success in major gifts to fund the facility, including the largest single gift in history from Battelle ($1.6 million) and other major support from AT&T, Nationwide, Scotts Miracle Gro and AEP, along with a number of individual gifts. The unique nonprofit partnership was lauded across the country and the PBS related NETA Conference was hosted in Columbus to showcase the facility.
WOSU@COSI houses a state-of-the-art digital media center, and has been designed as community space; a local gathering place for civic engagement, forums, performances, events, and meetings; an interactive exhibit area; and television and radio studios. The media center occupies approximately 12,000 square feet of space in COSI’s former Gallery 1.
In an effort to expand its news and public affairs audience, on January 14, 2008, WOSU-FM switched to a mixed news/classical format, introducing NPR news magazines during morning and evening drive-times along with several popular NPR weekend programs such as Weekend Edition, Car Talk, and Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, plus This American Life from Public Radio International. Many of these programs were simulcast with its AM sister station WOSU-AM.
In December 2010, WOSU purchased commercial station WWCD. That station was given new call letters – WOSA – and switched to a full-time non-commercial classical music station.
WOSU-FM switched to a full-time NPR news/talk format, simulcasting with WOSU-AM.
WOSU also converted four of its repeater stations: WOSB in Marion, WOSE in Coshocton, WOSP in Portsmouth and WOSV in Mansfield to all classical music services. This established all day public radio news and public affairs and all day classical on two FM stations in central Ohio for the first time.
“Columbus Neighborhoods: Short North” debuted in March 2010, the first part a documentary series. “This project is the largest in WOSU’s history and we’ve been gratified by the community response and support,” said WOSU Public Media General Manager Tom Rieland. “We believe Columbus Neighborhoods, running through 2012 and beyond, helps us understand who we are, so we can understand where we’re going as a community.”
Television staff regularly produces Columbus on the Record, In The Know, and ArtZine, and continues to document local treasures such as the Ohio State University marching Band (“Pride of the Buckeyes”) and the now-closed Lazarus department store “” Many Happy Returns to Lazarus ”).
The radio side remains busy, earning No. 1 radio news operation in Ohio for 2010 and 2011, while the classical folks produce the Amadeus Deli, Saturday on Stage, Saturday with the Pops, Serenata, Symphony at Seven, and live broadcasts of Columbus Symphony, Columbus Jazz Orchestra (including the first broadcast from the newly renovated Lincoln Theatre using robotic cameras), ProMusica Chamber orchestra, etc.
On December 15, 2011, WOSU concluded a transaction to sell the 820 AM frequency, which served the University and community well for over 89 years.
1920: 8XJ, an experimental station, signs on under the license of Ohio State. Professor C. A. Wright of the Department of Electrical Engineering, was the first director of the station.
1924 (April): WEAO signs on, the first radio station in Columbus.
1927: Robert C. Higgy, who had received a degree in Communications Engineering and had been serving for a period of three years as radio engineer, takes over direction of the station.
1930: The first Institute of Radio Education was held at OSU. Here for the first time in the history of American education, the leaders in educational broadcasting spent 10 days in discussing the problems of education by radio.
1931: WEAO becomes WOSU.
1938: The tower and transmitter for the station are moved to the Ohio State University Golf Courses.
1941: WOSU changes its frequency from 570 to 820.
1943: Dr. I. Keith Tyler, member of the Ohio State faculty since 1935, is been named acting director of radio education for the university
1949: WOSU-FM signs on.
1949: An appraisal finds that within the primary listening area of WOSU, two out of every three elementary class rooms listened to one or more of the school’s programs each week.
1956: WOSU-TV signs on.
1957: WOSU-AM and FM originated the first live “stereophonic” music program in this area.
1959: WOSU-TV is awarded a grant from the Ford Foundation to buy Ohio’s first videotape recorder, which allowed the station to record programs with better clarity and sound.
1960: AM and FM begin to operate 365 days a year.
1964: Dr. William B. Steis is appointed general manager of WOSU Radio, AM and FM.
1968: WOSU-TV’s first color broadcast was the Ohio State – Michigan football game.
1970: WOSU-AM and FM moves to the Fawcett center. AM becomes News 820.
1970: During the campus riots at Ohio State, one WOSU reporter was hit on the head by a tear gas container and knocked out. A student reporter and Don Davis were overcome by tear gas. The stations were forced off the air when the university closed for a few days.
1972: WOSU-TV moves to the Fawcett Center.
1972: The Friends of WOSU Board is formed.
1973: WOSU-FM begins broadcasting in stereo.
1973: A new TV tower is built in Westerville.
1973: The Friends of WOSU was officially chartered on October 29, 1973, and its first fundraising effort netted over $5,000.
1974: WPBO-TV in Portsmouth signs on.
Mid 1970s: WOSU-AM airs the first broadcast of live sessions of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate, when the Equal Rights Amendment was trying to be passed.
1977: Don Davis, after serving many years as the WOSU news director, becomes the WOSU-AM/FM station manager. Davis joined WOSU in September 1956, and retired in 1989. He started as an actor who auditioned for an announcer’s position. He was assistant program director, news director, and station manager, and oversaw the move from educational broadcasting to public broadcasting in 1967.
1978, A January blizzard shuts down most of the Midwest. WOSU’s Howard Ornstein barely makes it in to the station, has had to feel his way on the outside of the building to find the door. There is no power, so the crew uses a portable board and has to use engineers as announcers, reading news by candlelight. Bill Cohen lives in the State House for a week so that he can run the equipment that gets the Governor’s news conferences on the air.
1980: WOSU-AM becomes “News 820” and WOSU-FM becomes “Classical 89.7.”
1982: In The Know (originally a live production on WBNS-TV) moves to WOSU.
1989: WOSV-FM in Mansfield signs on.
1993: WOSP-FM in Portsmouth signs on.
1993: DVS (Descriptive Video Service) makes select public-television programs on WOSU-TV accessible to people with visual impairments.
2002: GM Dale Ouzts retires after 23 years and Tom Rieland became general manager of The WOSU Stations.
2003: WOSU-TV goes digital and provides the first multi-cast digital signal.
2004: WOSU-FM becomes the first radio station in central Ohio to broadcast in HD Radio technology. WOSU-TV begins digital broadcasting.
2006: WOSU opens its digital media center at COSI.
2005: Classical 89.7 WOSU-FM becomes the first station in central Ohio to broadcast a digital radio signal.
2008: New radio studios open at Fawcett center for AM and FM.
2009: WOSU is designated as a regional help center by the FCC to field questions about the transition to digital television. WOSU-TV begins broadcasting in digital in March, and begins multicasting WOSU Ohio and WOSU Plus. WOSU -TV shuts off its analog signal in July, becoming all digital.
2009: “All Sides with Ann Fisher” debuts, taking over the spot in the day where Fred Andrle’s “Open Line” aired for two decades.
2010: Around-the-clock classical programming begins at 101.1 FM (formerly WWCD).
2010: “Columbus Neighborhoods: Short North” debuts.
2011: WOSU offers the first all-day FM service in central Ohio with National Public Radio and local news; WOSU (89.7 FM) makes the switch to 89.7 NPR News.
2011: WOSU sells the 820 AM frequency, which served the University and community well for over 89 years.