View History of WSUI, 1919-1999
by Sara Epstein, FYI
The station call sign issued by the United States Department of Commerce in 1915 was 9YA—the "9" denoting the geographical area into which Iowa fell, and the "Y" denoting a Technical and Training School
license. The call sign had been assigned to the State University of Iowa over a year after the installation of the University's first Morse code transmitter in 1913. See: Radio Service Bulletin (The United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation) April, 1915, No. 4, p. 4
and A. H. Ford writing in the Iowa Alumnus, January, 1922
In the September 26th, 1913 issue of The Daily Iowan
, plans are laid out for installation of a new transmitter at the State University of Iowa. "The electrical engineering department of the university is shortly to install a complete wireless set, costing in the neighborhood of $500 — It will be one of the largest in the state, possibly the largest in the state. It will be able to communicate with the Rock Island arsenal station over the Mississippi river, and there are a number of private stations in the state with which it can talk. The Ames set will be able to receive the signals from Iowa, the same as most low powered station[s] can, but its transmitting apparatus is small and unable to send messages this far."
In the March, 1916 issue of QST
, 9YA is listed as a member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) under SUI "Prof. A. H. Ford". See: wsui.info/historicArchives/QST%20March%201916-ARRL%20membership.pdf
—from "QST View: 1915-1929" - CD - ARRL, Newington, CT - 1996 - ISBN 0-87529-700-8
The 1916 issue of The Transit, the technical journal of the University of Iowa College of Engineering, reveals that by 1916 a rather conspicuous aerial stretched from the "Hall of Physics" to the Old Capitol dome for the use of the SUI wireless station, 9YA. The transmitter was a 2 kilowatt Clapp-Eastham (spark) device operating at 400 kHz, and the receiver utilized an Audion vacuum tube similar to the one invented by Lee De Forest in 1906.
"News of the University of Iowa is now [in October, 1916] sent out regularly by wireless from the station operated by the department of electrical engineering. Students in journalism furnish the news and students in engineering send it on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. ... On Wednesday brief bulletins giving important news of general affairs at the University are sent, while on Saturday the results of football games and other athletic events are 'wirelessed.' " — The State University of Iowa News Letter, Vol.2 No.2, October 4, 1916
Special Collections University Archives, Records of University Relations ( RG-23-05-02 )—The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa
In November, 1916, The State University of Iowa announced in a press release
that, "Now man may go to school by setting up a wireless outfit, learning code, and listening at the stated times. There is no tuition, no registration, laboratory, gymnasium, or graduation fee ... Hereafter on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:15 the University radio station will send lessons of about 300 words each designed to give amateurs a practical and technical course in wireless telegraphy."
QST, January, 1917, page 46 (PDF)
—Also reported by The Wireless Age, October 1916, p. 65
"RADIO LESSONS BY WIRELESS"
—A broadcast schedule for "a short radio lesson" and "University news" is publicized by 9YA, the Technical and Training School call sign for the station that was later to become WSUI. "9YA was licensed to the State University of Iowa — the 'Y' in the callsign signified that it was operating under a Technical and Training School license.
1919—Station 9YA, which will be named WSUI in 1925, begins regular broadcasts of news and recorded music—the first educational radio station west of the Mississippi.—
"When radio telephony was first conceived the [State University of Iowa] engaged in considerable experimental work in the field. The result was the installation in 1919 of what is believed to be the first radiotelephone transmitter broadcasting on a regular schedule west of the Mississippi River." S. E. Frost, Education's Own Stations—The History of Broadcast Licenses Issued to Educational Institutions
© 1937 by the University of Chicago, University of Chicago Press, p. 131(WSUI.info is not necessarily representing this assertion as uncontested fact.)
Carl Menzer, who began work at the station—then 9YA—in 1917 as a student, went on to serve as WSUI station director after graduation, acting in that capacity from 1922 until retirement in 1968. Menzer brought vacuum tube technology to the station in 1919, building a wireless telephone transmitter. See ... Hugh Richard Slotten (2009)—Radio's Hidden Voice: The Origins of Public Broadcasting in the United States—University of Illinois Press. p. 17
Carl Menzer, around the time of his retirement as WSUI station director in 1968, tells us in an overview of the station's history
that he joined the predecessor station, 9YA, in 1917 when he entered the State University of Iowa as a freshman, but that the station was required to shut down in 1918 because of World War I. Indeed, Professor A. H. Ford, director of the SUI Electrical Engineering Department, had stated in a February 15th, 1917 story in the Daily Iowan
that 9YA was likely to be exempted from the impending wireless transmission moratorium that was to take effect on April 7, 1917. Any exemption must have come to an end the following year.
"Wireless messages from the University's wireless station to the station at Ames, giving a play by play story of today's game [on Saturday, November 22nd, 1919] will be a novel feature of the year's Homecoming. Kenneth Lambert, of the engineering school, will handle the key in the basement of the physics building, where he will receive the play by play story from the field by telephone. Carl Menzer also of the college of engineering will assist Lambert in the unique stunt."
The Daily Iowan, Volume XIX · New Series IV, Number 41, 11/22/1919, page 1
"Our first broadcast transmitter incorporated two experimental vacuum tubes sent to me by a friend and Iowa graduate who is employed by a large electrical firm which was then just starting experimental work with vacuum tubes. They required 500 volts direct current which, in those days, was hard to come by. We drove four direct current motors as generators. With all the attendant difficulties, we did get our 500 volts until the transfer circuits in the Physics Building broke down. ... [T]he microphone after 5 minutes' use used to become too hot to touch so we switched to a second microphone to allow the first to cool off. The quality must have been terrible but those who listened with earphones and cat-whisker detectors thought it was excellent." — Carl Menzer, "Fifty Years of Broadcasting"—The Transit, vol. LXXIII No. 2, November, 1968, p. 21
"In 1921 [Carl Menzer] was asked to become director of the station, a position he holds to this day [as of April, 1951] — In 1921 he was the entire staff of the station. He operated the transmitter, announced the programs, answered the mail, and laid lines for remote broadcasts. As only one example of his many duties, prior to football broadcasts Menzer would have to trace the broadcast lines to the stadium because students were in the habit of removing sections of the line for fishing line. And at this early date the broadcast schedule was interrupted before and after each football game while Menzer made his way between the studio and the field." — Richard C. Setterberg, "Educational Stations of the Nation—WSUI - KSUI", The Journal of the AER, Volume X No. 7, April, 1951, p. 78
When it came time for the State University of Iowa's Diamond Jubilee to be celebrated on February 25th of 1922, the university radio station was prepared to broadcast the proceedings and speeches for those who could not attend. The March, 1922 Iowa Alumnus
tells of an alumnus and owner of an Iowa City Buick garage who, with a friend, devised what must been one of the first car radios, and listened to broadcast while driving. Other reports of hearing the broadcast came in from as far away as Wisconsin. — View Iowa Alumnus March, 1922 story ...
"[T]he experimental work [1919 through 1921] came to the attention of President Walter A. Jessup, Dean William G. Raymond, and Professor A. H. Ford. These educators realized that although crude in delivery, the programs were popular and demonstrated feasibility of advanced work in the field. Accordingly a broadcast license was applied for and granted June 26, 1922. The call letters WHAA were received and the station was authorized to operate on a frequency of 834 kc with a power of 1000 watts ... reduced to 200 watts [in November]. In September the equipment was completed and a series of experimental transmissions were conducted ... October 17, 1922, the first official broadcasting station at Iowa was dedicated, and a talk by President Jessup and Dean Raymond commemorated the occasion. More than 75 letters were received in response to the transmission. It was a gala occasion." — Sylvanus "John" Ebert, "Radio History at Iowa"—The Transit, vol. XLII No. 5, February, 1938, p. 3
"WSUI can claim a number of 'firsts'—it was the first educational station on the air west of the Mississippi River (although it held a 'general' station license), the first radio station to broadcast live from a university classroom, and the first station in the country to offer a radio-only course for university credit." — Jeff Stein (2004)—Making Waves: The People and Places of Iowa Broadcasting—WDG Publishing, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. p. 11