Common Roots: OPB and OSU share their Oregon origins

Did you know that Oregon State University is birthplace of Oregon Public Broadcasting?


November 17, 2019

By Larry Pribyl

Did you know that Oregon State University is birthplace of Oregon Public Broadcasting? It started on December 7, 1922 when Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) was granted a license to begin broadcasting radio station KFDJ, after building a transmitter as a lab experiment by Physics Professor Jacob Jordan. The station’s first broadcast was on January 23, 1923 from the third floor of Apperson Hall (now Kearney Hall).

In December 1925, the station’s call letters were changed to KOAC (Oregon Agricultural College), its power had been boosted from 50 to 500 watts, and the Extension Service utilized the station for broadcasting several educational programs. KOAC-AM’s first broadcast of OSU Commencement was on June 6, 1927 which has continued for over 92 years and beyond.

Early radio programming included lectures, music and student variety programs, reports of athletic events, and the annual commencement exercise. New studios and a 1,000 watts transmitter were established in the new Physics Building (now Covell Hall) in 1928.

When the new State System of Higher Education was established in 1929, three years later KOAC-AM became the system’s radio station, under the purview of the General Extension Division, now broadcasting 12 hours a day.  Additional studios were ultimately established in Eugene, Salem and Portland. In 1942 a new broadcast transmitter building was constructed on Granger Road between Corvallis and Albany with transmitter power increased to 5,000 watts in 1942 to reach a broader audience.

KOAC television was established in 1957 and began broadcasting in November of that year from studios in Gill Coliseum. In its early years the TV station was used to broadcast courses from the State System campuses to its other campuses around the state. The Extension Service used the television station in the same manner that it had used KOAC-AM radio for the past 50+ years to broadcast educational programs to the citizens of Oregon.

In 1971 the KOAC network was renamed the Oregon Educational and Public Broadcasting Service. In 1979 the Oregon Commission on Public Broadcasting was established, and KOAC became a member station of the Nation Public Radio Network

In 1981, the State System of Higher Education divested its radio and television stations, including both KOAC-AM and KOAC-TV. These stations became the public corporation, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB). Administrative, TV studio, and production functions were moved to Portland.  KOAC-AM retained radio studios on the OSU campus until 2009 when all programming was moved to OPB in Portland, Oregon.

Even though OPB radio and television studios are now located in Portland, Oregon State University has the original transmitter location outside of Corvallis, Oregon near Hyslop Field Laboratory between Corvallis and Albany. The Corvallis site still transmits on frequencies for both KOAC-AM radio and television.

Oregon State University continues to be a strong partner with Oregon Public Broadcasting in serving its original “Land Grant Mission” to provide the citizens of Oregon and beyond with valuable educational programming.

Today OPB is one of the flagship stations for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). OPB programming is reached globally through radio, television and on-line services

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