|First air date||December 15, 1924|
|Last air date||December 21, 1987|
|Callsign meaning||Kansas University|
|Former frequencies||1090 kHz (1924–1927)|
1180 kHz (1927–1928)
1220 kHz (1928–1940)
|Owner||University of Kansas|
KFKU was the radio station of the University of Kansas, broadcasting from Lawrence, Kansas. It operated primarily at 1250 kHz AM, though it was on other frequencies prior to 1940, and shared time with another station, WREN, which broadcast from Lawrence and then from Topeka (now Kansas City-based KYYS).
KFKU, in its later years on the air for as little as 30 minutes per day, broadcast its final programs in 1987; its closure occurred as a result of its time-share partner going off the air and had been preceded by the university focusing on its FM station, KANU, which began broadcasting in 1952. KFKU relied on WREN's broadcasting equipment to transmit for almost all of its history, effectively making it a phantom radio station. WREN returned to the air in 1991, but KFKU did not, and its license was later canceled by the Federal Communications Commission.
KFKU came to air December 15, 1924 and aired on 1090 kHz. Its first program was a concert by the KU band and a speech by Chancellor Ernest Lindley; the station had been set up thanks to a $20,000 grant from the engineering faculty for a tower and transmitter. In 1927, it was paired with newly licensed WREN, which had been set up to promote Jenny Wren flour, for the first time; both stations moved to 1180 on June 1. It was licensed for 500 watts, but broadcast at 1,000 using WREN's transmission equipment, located in the storage room of the Bowersock Mills and Power Company. Radio reallocations moved KFKU/WREN to 1220 kHz in 1928 and 1250 kHz in 1940. By 1935, KFKU and WREN were broadcasting during the day with 5,000 watts. A nighttime power increase followed in 1948, with adequate protections to 1250 kHz in Milwaukee.
Initial programming on KFKU ran on Monday and Thursday nights and included lectures complementing correspondence courses in areas such as philosophy and Spanish, as well as special events such as commencement and basketball games.
By the late 1940s, the KFKU-WREN time sharing agreement was described as "not a happy one"; KFKU broadcast for just an hour daily by the late 1940s. A defunct FM station in Hutchinson donated its equipment to the university, and in 1952, the sign-on of KANU created a new and primary outlet for KU's radio programming output. Ultimately, KFKU's broadcasts were diminished to an hour, and later thirty minutes, with WREN operating at all other times, and after 1959, KFKU's programs were merely simulcasts of KANU. WREN was unwilling to give the university more airtime, having noticed that KFKU's programs portended ratings drops for WREN.
Shared time operation ended after more than 60 years when financial difficulties claimed WREN on December 21, 1987. The university indicated at the time that it intended to return to the air alongside WREN, but on December 9, 1991, WREN returned to the air alone on 1250 kHz. In 1996, owing to the length of silence and the university's failure to respond to FCC letters, potentially thinking it had already surrendered the station, KFKU's license was designated for hearing and ultimately canceled.
In 2006, one of the last physical vestiges of KFKU, the tower behind Marvin Hall used for early transmissions and later to transmit student-run KJHK, was damaged by a wind storm that bent some of the tower's supports and damaged the feed line to KJHK. KJHK's antenna was relocated, and the university dismantled the tower as a result of the damage sustained.
- Cohen, Todd (17 March 2006). "KU to dismantle original 1924 radio tower due to damage from Sunday's wind storm". KU News Release. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
- "Lawrence newspapers existed before there was news". Lawrence Journal-World. 26 September 2004. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
- "History of WREN". Route 56. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
- "Hearing Designation Order, MM Docket No. 96-109" (PDF). FCC. 6 May 1996. Retrieved 29 July 2017.