50 Stories for 50 Years: WKMS Joins NPR Just in Time For Watergate

Feb 6, 2020

Minority counsel Fred D. Thompson (left), Senator Howard Baker (center), and Senator Sam Ervin during Senate Watergate Committee hearings in 1973
Credit U.S. Senate Historical Office [Public domain]

In 1970 WKMS went on the air. In 1971, a then little known network aired its first broadcast. That was National Public Radio. WKMS joined the network in the fall of 1972. Alumnus Jay Landers recalls the spider web of technology it took to get NPR programming on the air.

“…and we didn't have a telephone line yet," said Landers. "We had very poor quality network offerings for our audience until late 1972, early 1973, when we could finally get from the phone company some decent lines to match the network, audio quality. Of course, all of NPR was interconnected by telephone lines for the next seven or eight years."

In 1980 satellite distribution  emerged as a reliable form of audio delivery.

It was a challenge getting NPR’s programs to the WKMS audience but, back in 1972 there was an unprecedented reason to make this leap at that time. 

“And NPR executives, were telling us there is a huge story that's going to break out of Washington DC, 

Jay Landers as depicted in the 1973 Murray State Shield Yearbook
Credit Murray State University

when we heard that we didn't really know anything about how big it was going to be,” said Landers. “And then of course, by the spring 1973 you had hearings, the Watergate hearings and then eventually brought down President Nixon in 1974.”

WKMS was the only radio station in the region to provide these hearings to the general public.

“That was history in the making," said Landers. “And you felt closer to that because you were broadcasting those hearings and broadcasting those news items to the public. They couldn't get them anywhere else in West Kentucky.”

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