by Kymberly Joiré
During the early 1940s, radio broadcast was becoming more popular for entertainment purposes, creating a new field for college students to study. Although courses offering students experience in radio production began at Baylor University as early as the mid-1930’s, interest in the field picked up the most momentum on campus in the 1940’s. The combination of radio coursework offered through the Department of Speech and the weekly, half hour radio broadcasts from campus in the 1930s helped this field of study gain popularity among students and administration. The University President Pat Morris Neff’s belief that “Radio will be one of the greatest agencies connected with Baylor University through which to serve mankind” ([Radio Major Brochure, 1945) led to Baylor’s principal ownership of KWBU out of Corpus Christi, Texas. The success of KWBU combined with the growing interest in radio on campus resulted in the announcement of a newly created academic department offering a major in radio in 1944. Baylor first offered courses within the radio major in the summer of 1945 and allowed students the opportunity to gain practical, hands-on experience in the growing field of radio broadcasting. The creation of the radio major and purchase of a radio station during the uncertain times of the Second World War provides a significant example of Baylor University’s dedication to providing students with hands-on, vocational experience to compliment classroom .
Radio at Baylor University Prior to 1943
First offered in 1935, radio became a part of the curriculum at Baylor University within the Department of Speech with the addition of a course in radio acting (The Daily Lariat, November 3, 1948). Baylor University press released reports of students broadcasting sports scores, Baylor news, and music from the School of Music on the locally owned station, WACO, as early as 1933 (Baylor University Press Release, September 1933). In 1937, students began to broadcast a scheduled, half hour program over WACO by direct wire, meaning they had to use a physical telephone line to . Although there was not an actual radio station on campus at this time, the students and staff used the tower behind the stage in Old Main and used draped burlap to try to keep sound from bouncing in the two-story building (The Daily Lariat, November 3, 1948). Despite challenges such as these, radio related activities at Baylor University continued to increase in popularity as this form of communication continued to grow throughout the nation.
The 1940 – 1941 radio report outlines the programming broadcast by students during the academic school year. This was the sixth full year of broadcasting from campus and, over the years, programs were shared via telephone lines and re-amplified through a transmitter over WBAP (out of Fort Worth, Texas), the Texas State Network (16 stations in cities across Texas), and WACO in Waco, Texas. During this school year, faculty and staff produced 55 programs, most of which were 30-minute long dramas. The crew consisted of 92 students and 22 faculty members who broadcast from their makeshift station in Old Main as well as various buildings across campus. The ability to broadcast from other locations on campus such as Waco Hall came from the addition of a talkback system during this school year. The new system allowed broadcasters to communicate to remote points as well as within the studio (1940 – 1941 Radio Report, 1941).
In January of 1940, students involved in radio related activities at Baylor University organized the radio honor society, Lambda Lambda Mu. With Miss Sara Lowrey, head of the speech department, serving as sponsor of the society, students had the opportunity to serve as officers within the organization to continue to develop both radio and leadership skills. A Daily Lariat article announcing the formation of the organization states,
The primary purposes of the club is to preserve and add to the spirit of cooperation that exists between all departments of the University in relation to the radio department and to establish good will between the personnel of commercial radio and that of educational radio workers (The Daily Lariat, January 19, 1940).
Lambda Lambda Mu was limited to twenty members and new members had to appear on the radio for a total of five hours before they could join the honors society. The exclusivity of this honors organization shows the steady increase in students participating in radio related activities on campus. Since students were limited in the number of radio-related courses available within the Department of Speech, extracurricular activities and clubs such as Lambda Lambda Mu provided students with an extra hands-on approach to supplement their studies.
Acquisition of Stock-hold in KWBU in 1943
In 1943, Carr Collins, former Baylor Board of Trustees member, worked with President Pat Neff to connect Baylor to a large radio station. Collins was Operator of XEAW, a radio station out of Mexico and planned to move the equipment to Corpus Christi for the Baylor Radio station. The final financial agreement stated that Collins would make all purchases associated with the station, but Baylor University would reimburse Collins for the $75,000 loan using revenue from the station (Broadcasting: The Weekly Magazine of Radio, July 19, 1943). President Pat Morris Neff saw the opportunity for potential growth and, despite the major budget cuts made by Baylor University during this time of war, President Neff committed to the large purchase.
Regular communication between Carr Collins and President Patt Morris Neff show both the passion and creativity they poured into KWBU. Both men saw the potential in the radio station and wanted it to continue to grow. Collins later stated that the station “is one of the finest assets that Baylor has for service to the public and its students” ([Radio Major Brochure], 1945). In a written correspondence between the two men in April of 1944, President Pat Neff explained the growing popularity of radio broadcasting already occurring on campus and his excitement and dedication to the opportunity for Baylor University to purchase the radio station. President Neff states,
We are enjoying very much here at Baylor our opportunities for broadcasting, I am “at the bat” with my chapel programs twice a week, Tuesday morning and Thursday morning. As you know, we have programs on the air many times during the week. I am indeed delighted with the opportunity this radio station gives to Baylor. I would not part with it for any consideration. It holds big possibilities in many ways. Thanks to you for it all ([Letter to Carr Collins], 1944).
President Pat Neff was extremely committed to the idea of bringing more broadcasting opportunities to Baylor University students and worked on the contract with Collins and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) until the purchase was finally official.
Collins states in the brochure for the radio major, “In 1943, I conceived the plan of establishing a large radio station at Corpus Christi and arranged for Baylor to become the principal owner. The application for a 50,000-watt station was granted and the station started broadcasting in February of 1944” ([Radio Major Brochure], 1945). Baylor became the second university to own a radio station (The Daily Lariat, September, 26, 1944) and now had studios both on campus and in Dallas, connected to the main transmitter at Corpus Christi by a special leased telephone wire ([Radio Major Brochure], 1945). This allowed students to broadcast on KWBU from Baylor University’s campus without having to travel to Corpus Christi. Although the station was technically out of Corpus Christi, only the transmission of the airwaves occurred there, not the actual programming. Access to such a large radio station created the opportunity for students to learn more about the field and continue to gain hands-on broadcasting experience to compliment the limited number of courses on radio offered through the Department of Speech.
One major reason for President Pat Morris Neff’s decision to purchase shares of the KWBU radio station out of Corpus Christi was due to his dedication to hands-on, vocational experience for Baylor University students. When the owners and operators of station WSM out of Nashville, Tennessee wrote to President Pat Neff requesting a statement on the advantages of a college education, he considered two different responses. One focused on the importance of hands-on experience complimenting academic coursework as the key to success. President Neff stated,
A well-rounded education gives the young man and woman starting out in life a 50 to 1 better chance in getting a worthwhile job. The climb up the ladder of success is made easier with academic work as a basic background. Experience is a great teacher, of course, but experience plus an education in a modern university, where one gets a touch of culture and the finer arts, opens the doorway of opportunity where the uneducated laborer has no chance ([WSM Response Options], 1943)
Despite the unknown end date of World War II and the unpredictable economic or societal outcomes that could arise because of it, President Pat Neff was dedicated to providing students at Baylor University with practical experience to enhance their classroom studies.
It is rather remarkable that during around the same time Baylor University purchased shares of KWBU it was the “only Southwest Conference school to drop football” (Baker, 1987, p. 201) due to financial hardships brought on by World War II. Eugene Baker (1987) explains, “In spite of the limitations the war placed on many areas of the University’s life, it did not crimp the creative nature inherent in the majority of the students who regularly found different ways to keep entertained” (p. 201). Radio was thriving on campus during this otherwise depressing time that provided students with entertainment as well as developing vocational skills for a future career in the field. Although students were still limited to a few radio courses within the Department of Speech, the popularity of KWBU contributed to the introduction of a Radio Department and major in 1945.
Introduction of Radio Department and Major
Baylor University announced the introduction of a new academic department offering a major in radio in fall of 1944 (The Daily Lariat, September 26, 1944), making Baylor “the first university in the Southwest to offer a degree with a Major in Radio” ([Radio Major Brochure], 1945). President Pat Neff’s belief in the “agency of service” ([Radio Major Brochure], 1945) that radio could provide contributed to Baylor’s stock-hold in the 50,000-watt station, KWBU, out of Corpus Christi, Texas. The 1945 Baylor Bulletin gives a brief description of the major and states, “The aim of radio instruction is to develop the personal power of the individual and to foster a creative impulse as well as to administer a complete and comprehensive course in the ever-developing field of practical radio.” Baylor’s connection to KWBU allowed the radio department on campus to offer more opportunities for practical experience within the field of radio. The Baylor Bulletin of 1945 displays the fall, spring, and summer radio courses as its own section with credits applying to the new radio major instead of the speech department.
Starting in the spring semester of 1945, students could begin taking classes towards a degree in radio. Degree requirements for a major in radio included forty quarter hours within the department and twenty-five quarter hours for a minor in radio. The 1945 radio course offerings included: Introduction to Broadcasting, Radio Announcing, Radio Newscasting, Music for Radio, Station Management, and a Teacher-Training Course in Radio, to name a few ([Radio Major Brochure], 1945). There were also multiple courses on various aspects of station management, giving students a well-rounded radio education to prepare them to either broadcast or teach within the field. The curriculum placed emphasis “on radio as a means of education as well as on the responsibility of the listener” (Baylor University Bulletin, 1945).
The first semester of radio coursework offered within its own department during the spring of 1945 had four teachers: Professor Joseph Gifford (Department Chairman), Mr. John Woodworth, Miss Marie Battey, and Miss Mina Margaret Wheeler. Professor Joseph Gifford graduated from Emerson College of Oratory in Boston, Massachusetts and came to work at Baylor in 1944 with professional experience in radio and drama (The Daily Lariat, April 24, 1945). Mr. John Woodworth came to Baylor in March of 1945 with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and experience in radio plays and free-lance writing (The Daily Lariat, April 24, 1945). Miss Marie Battey received her B.F.A. from the University of Oklahoma and arrived at Baylor in spring of 1945 with experience in radio music, advertising, and teaching (The Daily Lariat, March 9, 1945). Miss Mina Margaret Wheeler graduated from Baylor in the summer of 1943 and began working for the Baylor radio station, KWBU, as the Radio Coordinator upon graduation (The Daily Lariat, April 28, 1944). The combination of the instructors’ knowledge with that of the employees at KWBU prove that President Pat Neff was successful in hiring experienced and qualified teachers for the new department of radio at Baylor University. President Neff was intentional in his hiring of professionals who all had a great deal of experience within the field of radio. Although he wanted to radio station to be successful for financial reasons and for the sake of Baylor University’s reputation, the desire to provide students with the most practical experience as possible remained important to President Pat Neff.
The growing popularity of radio in the United States provided an opportunity for college students to engage in the new career field of radio production and broadcasting. Despite Baylor University cutting back nearly all programs on campus in the early 1940s due to financial problems from World War II, the importance of practical, vocational learning remained crucial. In order to provide students with an additional opportunity to gain hands-on experience and compliment their academic coursework, President Pat Morris Neff teamed up with former Baylor Board of Trustees member, Carr Collins, to initiate Baylor University’s purchase of the radio station KWBU, out of Corpus Christi, Texas. Students were still able to broadcast from campus in Waco, Texas, but the purchase allowed for more opportunities for students to study production and broadcast throughout the day. The success of KWBU in addition to the growing interest in studying radio on Baylor University’s campus led to the creation of a new academic department and major focusing specifically on radio. Students continued to gain valuable experience producing their own radio shows, but were now able to take a large number of classes focusing on the details of working in the field of radio.
Although President Pat Morris Neff had a passion for providing practical learning experiences in order to compliment students’ academics, he was also planning for the unpredictable, post-war future. Despite making the relatively risky decision to purchase KWBU during the uncertain times of World War II, President Neff was constantly thinking of what was best for the institution in the end. Buying the radio station in Corpus Christi, Texas provided an opportunity for Baylor University to make its mark as an innovative institution of higher education. As only the second university to own their own radio station, President Neff knew he was making history and potentially increasing enrollment by gaining extra publicity for the university. Furthermore, the creation of the new radio major and being able to offer students a hands-on approach to learning while working on a brand new radio station could have also contributed to increasing enrollment. Regardless of the intentions of President Pat Morris Neff in his purchase of KWBU and creation of the academic Department of Radio and radio major, both provided opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in the growing field of radio production.
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