University of Texas
Founding of Radio Stations at UT by Professor S. Leroy Brown



Simpson Leroy Brown

KUT's Beginnings

Broadcasting emerged in Texas on the campuses of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M in College Station. In 1911, J. B. Dickinson, manager of the Texas Fiscal Agency at San Antonio, constructed wireless facilities at both schools to teach electrical engineering students about radio transmissions. As part of his experiments in high-frequency radio, University of Texas physics professor S. Leroy Brown built radio equipment and began broadcasting weather and crop reports from a physics laboratory on the UT campus in 1915. Dr. Brown was working in the field of high-frequency circuits when radio was in its infancy and, later, when the vacuum tube was invented. He and his students built the first broadcasting station in Austin -- known first as WCM and later as KUT.

One of his students, Robert Shelby (photo at right from UT Cactus 1929, was the station operator and later became vice-president and chief television engineer of NBC. Quote from Zworykin, Pioneer of Television by Albert Abramson, copyright 1995: "There is some confusion about who was actually running the Empire State Building television project in 1931-32. According to "In Memoriam: Robert E. Shelby, He (Shelby) was placed in charge of NBC's first experimental television installation atop the Empire State Building. This probably means that Shelby took over from T. A. Smith, who had been in charge of studio operations. Thus Shelby was now in charge of its cameras (both live and film) and monitors for NBC while Engstrom of RCA was in charge of it radio transmitter and antennas (construction a technical) operations. RCA often did this with experimental projects, turning them over to NBC only when operationsl." Shelby won an Emmy in 1954. Shelby died in 1955 at the age of 49. He was awarded the David Sarnoff Gold Medal was awarded posthumously to Robert E. Shelby in 1956 for "For his dedicated interest and efforts in radio and television work, notably in the formulation of the signal specifications for compatible color television and his many patents concerning an electronic modulator for constant-frequency variable dot transmission." Shelby had 37 U.S. patents in radio and television, won three major awards from professional societies, and received two Emmy nominations and one award..

Others did the announcing, built equipment, played the piano and organ. Brown had delivered talks on “wireless telegraphy” as early as 1913; he taught the first radio course in late 1917.

During World War I, the equipment was used by a government radio school in Austin, but in 1919 it was housed on university grounds and the “experimental” station was “well equipped and capable of receiving messages.” In February 1922 UT planned to broadcast market news to other radio receiving stations throughout the state. On March 25, 1922, the U. S. Department of Commerce assigned the call letters WCM to the radio station at the University of Texas for “entertainment and distribution of market reports.” The station actually employed two sets of call letters: WCM when “broadcasting marketing reports” and music, and 5XU when “experimental work” was carried on at the university station. With a 500-watt power rating, WCM was one of the best-equipped and most powerful stations in the nation. The usual broadcasts were from 8 to 10 P.M. on three nights a week; programming consisted of music, lectures, and agriculture and marketing reports. In addition, a church service was aired on Sunday.

On November 24, 1921, possibly the first broadcast of a football game in the country aired from the Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University) via call letters 5XB, which is now WTAW. The station operated as a ham relay station at 250 watts. Originally, the station was to air the final score of the Texas–Texas A&M Thanksgiving game, but Frank Matejka, W. A. Tolson, and others decided to send a play-by-play account of the game via Morse Code. Student Harry Saunders and assistant coach D. X. Bible designed a set of abbreviations to fit every possible football situation and sent the list to every station that would broadcast the contest. The game aired over the ham relay stations; the Morse Code was decoded and announced to fans over a public-address system.

Beginning in 1923, though, funding concerns prompted a transfer of operational control to the University's Extension Division for extension teaching. One of the stipulations of the transfer agreement was that funds would be provided for operations and maintenance to put the station in a "first-class" condition. The funds, however, did not materialize and broadcasting suffered until a state agriculture official needed a means to broadcast daily crop and weather reports.

But by the end of 1924, the Physics Department decided it wanted the station back, and with the approval of the Board of Regents, the Physics Department regained control in the summer of 1925. They had a new license granted on October 30 and it bore, for the first time, the call letters KUT (using the slogan “Kum to the University of Texas”).

A deal between the official and UT's Extension Division allowed agriculture broadcasts for one hour per day in exchange for equipment maintenance. At other times of the day, the University would broadcast items of interest from the campus, including a number of faculty lecture series.

Professor Simpson L. Brown — in addition to his teaching and research work in the Physics Department — served simultaneously as general manager, technical director, and producer. Programs were aired 3 nights a week from 8 to 10 pm with no sponsors or commercials. Orlando Joseph Murphy, an engineering student and physics assistant, was an announcer for the station.

There were concerts by the University Symphony and other Austin musical organizations as well as discussions, lectures, and speeches by faculty, state officials, and agriculture experts. Weekly services were broadcast from St. David's Episcopal Church and, during football season, fans could listen to play-by-play descriptions of the Longhorn games.

The following information from an online history of KUT is in direct conflict with the account given in The American Statesman article below. KUT's early years were ambitious but, by 1927, ambition had outrun the funding. The expense of operating and maintaining the station had simply become too great for the Physics Department to sustain. University President Harry Benedict appointed a committee to study the matter, and the committee recommended that the project be discontinued. The station was dismantled and the equipment returned to the Physics labs for experimentation.

KUT would not re-emerge for 30 years.

The catalyst for the rebirth of radio at the University was Robert F. Schenkkan, who came to the University in 1955. Schenkkan saw that obtaining funding was an obstacle and set the stage for a station that would be partially funded by the University and community. KUT-FM went on the air in 1958, broadcasting at 90.7FM with an old transmitter built in 1939 and 4,100 watts of power, a 268-foot antenna, and total signal radius of 15 miles.


This appeared in a Houston Radio History Blog.

This is an update to remarks included in previous posts concerning the history of KTRH, Houston.

The fact is known that KUT, Austin, became KTRH, Houston in 1929/30 but the information available from government sources has left it open to question whether KUT was a continuation of WCM or a new station, i.e., whether KTRH can trace it’s history to WCM licensed March 22, 1922, and therefore qualify as the 35th oldest radio station in the country, or only from KUT, which was first licensed under those calls as a new station, operating on a different frequency and with different power authorization than WCM, in October, 1925.

I have corresponded both with Barry Mishkind and Thomas White on this question. While both see the possibility of interpreting the records either way White points out that in the Active Stations file at the FCC, the WCM, KUT and KTRH licenses are all kept in the same folder; in other words, the government considers them the same station even if some of their records indicate otherwise.

Over the years, WCM had funding problems which led to some lapses in the license (it was an era of 3 month licenses and lapses were commonplace, especially among university owned stations that might not have any staff at all in the summer). S. E. Frost’s Education’s Own Stations indicates a lack of funding was the reason the license lapsed in 1924 and the Markets and Warehouses Department made arrangements to refurbish and use the equipment to continue broadcasting market reports while the university was allowed to use the facilities, also. A lack of funding also led to the cessation of operations and lapse of the license in 1925 for several months before KUT was authorized.

Still, the government considers the 3 stations to be continuous.


The Austin American; September 25, 1927

University Radio Has New Studio Equipment.

When on or about Oct. 1, radio station K.U.T., official broadcasting station of the University of Texas, broadcasts for the first time during the long session of 1927–28, it will be to proclaim to the world the existence of the university, according to Prof. S. Leroy Brown, head of the university physics department, who declared that the station would give its initial fall program about that date.
The station which is operated under the direct supervision of the physics department is to be operated under the direction of R. R. Shelly, a licensed radio operator, Prof. Brown stated.

Physics Lab

K.U.T. is part of the high frequency and radio currents laboratory of the physics department; and students in the university who enroll for classes in connection with high frequency currents and radio currents will have ample opportunity to study the workings of the station and all its equipments, it is announced. Students who enroll in the physic's department along lines pertaining to radio, Prof. Brown pointed out, will at times have opportunity to help operate the sets.

New Piano

A new Baldwin grand piano has been placed in the K.U.T. station studio on the second floor of the main building by the Baldwin Piano company, Prof. Brown said. He also added that the piano would be a permanent fixture of the studio as long as the broadcasting station is in use; and that members of the physics department deemed it a great courtesy of the Baldwin Piano company to give the university the use of the grand piano. The studio is said to be one of the most modern kinds, being echo proof. The floors, ceilings and walls are padded to keep out all interfering noises, as well as to eradicate the possibilities of the sounds echoing through the studio.
Radio station K.U.T. was built in the shops of the university physics department and was put into operation for the first time during the school year of 1925. It has been in operation for the two years since that time. The broadcasting set is a 500-watt machine operating on a 2000-voltage, Prof. Brown said, and a wave length of 233.4 meters.

Regular Programs

Prof. Brown said that regular programs are to be broadcast from K.U.T. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, the regular broadcasting hour being from 8 o’clock until 10 o’clock. The regular programs given over the university station consist principally of musical presentations, though short talks are usually given at each program. University talent and talent from the city of Austin are engaged to entertain at the programs and indications in the form of messages from “listeners-in” are that the programs in the past have been to the credit of the university.

That the university station K.U.T. is a broadcasting station with great transmitting power is to be seen by the fact that word once came from a ship in the mid-Atlantic Ocean that it had intercepted a program from K.U.T. However, it is pointed out that extraordinary weather conditions must prevail for the station to be heard at such a great distance.

KUT Photo and Document Album

Founding of KUT by S. Leroy Brown in the UT Physics Department


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