Station History

A short history of WBST and Indiana Public Radio

Page: Station History

Onlookers smile as they peer into WBST’s tiny control room, circa 1967.

It all began in 1923, when two students at Indiana State Normal School, Eastern Division (i.e. Ball State’s earliest incarnation) built a “radiophone” in an attic of the Administration Building. A loud speaker in Assembly Hall allowed students to hear radio broadcasts from New York, Chicago, and Dallas.

In 1951, WBST began commercial broadcasting.

Ball State received its first FM transmitter in 1960. The 10-watt FM station was on the air for six hours a day, often silent on weekends and during quarter breaks and holidays. In 1961, a 162-foot, 10-watt tower was erected a short distance east of the WBST studios.

1966: David Letterman was part of a “9-man news team” announcing election returns. (He was later fired for his irreverent treatment of classical music.)

1978: In December, WBST switched to a 3,000-watt transmitter located on a new tower on Nebo Road. In September, before the station implemented the new transmitter, the new tower was struck by lightning – an inauspicious beginning.

1980: On September 12, after more than 50 years of experimentation and twenty years of broadcasting, WBST became a member of National Public Radio with substantially increased support from Ball State University and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

1997 was a most significant year for the station as its expansion plans came to fruition. WBSB 89.5FM (Anderson) went on the air in February. WBSW 90.1FM (Marion) was next, taking to the airwaves in August of the same year. The expansion into a five-station network was then completed in December with the addition first of WBSJ 91.7FM (Portland), and then WBSH 91.1FM (Hagerstown-New Castle), which was added on December 31. On the next day, January 1, 1998, WBST could legitimately go on the air with its new identity as a network: Indiana Public Radio.