Before KRPS signed on, the only source of NPR programming in the area was a translator of KSMU in Joplin. In 1977, just after Pittsburg State gained university status, the Department of Speech and Theater proposed to build a 10-watt station, but it was rejected by the Kansas Board of Regents due to an FCC freeze on new 10-watt applications. Later in 1977, Pittsburg State and the University of Kansas proposed to jointly operate a public radio station, but that proposal died due to a failure to meet Corporation for Public Broadcasting requirements for public funding. In 1984, Pittsburg State supported a proposal by KU to build translators in Pittsburg and Joplin, but that proposal collapsed when KU was unable to come up with funding.
When Donald W. Wilson became president in 1983, he launched a concerted effort to build a public radio station for one of the few areas of the country without public radio. After a two-year fundraising effort, Pittsburg State decided to buy KJWR, a small 380-watt educational station in Weir and operated by the Weir Public Broadcasting Foundation since 1984. The license was transferred on September 4, 1987 and the call letters changed to KRPS. It would have been KPSU, but those calls were already in use by the student radio station at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.
The station was set to go on the air on April 29, 1988. However, it looked like that goal would not be met after rain moved into the area in early April. Eventually, KRPS signed on for the first time at 4 pm on April 29.