Monday, March 27, 2017

KPNI, KSMU, KCHU, KNON and KCBI

It's an urban legend told at Class D,  carrier current, and other micro-stations at Colleges and Universities across America. I've heard many versions of it... and even some that had some basis in truth. The story always starts with the college radio station having a big signal, and it ends with them having little or none. IN the middle of the story they always do something a bit naughty, and the school president, or board of regents punishes the station by selling off  or downgrading their license.

I'd heard this story about KPNI at SMU. The story was that they had a license and that after ill-mannered DJs ran amock, the license was sold to KNON. It's totally untrue. The other rumor that the call letters are a dick joke are also untrue. The PNI part of the call letters refer to the school mascot: a pony.

I recovered and posted their defunct website history here. According to that history on their old website, KPNI was founded as the carrier current station KSMU in 1947. (Other sources put the start in 1949) University of Wisconsin described them in a 1949 paper as a "carrier current station." That's the earliest date I can attest to. There is no agreement as to whether the station was operating on 760 or 640 AM initially. That history and another at dfwretroplex.com both concede that the station went dark for years at a time on multiple occasions 1958, 1989, and again recently.

But in the 1960s they even reported to the "What's Happening" column oat Billboard Magazine. They broadcast illegally in the early 1960s, and returned to carrier current status in 1964 with the assistance of Prof. H.Charles Baker. More here. They only began using the KNPI calls after 1987, over 10 years after 91.1 KSMU signed on in Springfield, MO.  There never was a license for KPNI or KSMU, no AM, no FM, no Class D license, no LPFM, not even a CP.

89.3 KNON however, does have a license. Their completely unrelated story actually begins at 90.9 KCBI, the Criswell Bible Institute station. KCBI first went on air in May of 1976 on 89.3 operating at 1000 watts. Our friends at KCHU started work in 1971, but didn't sign on until August 28, 1975. Sadly the free format 90.9 KCHU only operated until September 1977 when it went off air due to insolvency. It was one of the legendary stations connected to Lorenzo Milam and Dennis Gross.

In 1978 KCHU was approached by Criswell Bible College about a license swap. KCHU was not enthused about reducing power form 100k watts to 1,000 watts.  KCHU remained silent through 1980, while they organized a local like-minded group to assume their license as KNON.  KCBI applied to the FCC take over the 90.9 spot.  A legal struggle ensued. The FCC issued an order that if KNON was not on the air by July 31, 1983, the license would be forfeited. They made the deadline. Despite that, in 1986 a judge ruled against KNON and gave their license to KCBI.  KNON lost on appeal but the FCC advised the parties to complete the frequency swap offered 10 years earlier. For their trouble, KNON got a $75k payment which helped stabilize the station's finances. More here. You will notice that KSMU and KPNI do not appear in that story anywhere...