KTCU Celebrates 70 Years

The campus radio station offers students a chance for real-world experience.

(This story by Trisha Spence is in the current issue of TCU Magazine.

Spiral cords trail beige phones with gray cube buttons in the radio studio for KTCU. One is the “bat phone,” a sticker indicates. A soundboard lined with buttons, knobs and sliders sits beneath a worn microphone that has captured countless hours of broadcast voices. The equipment looks frozen in time, but KTCU is on the cusp of reinvention.

Illustration for KTCU

Illustration by Mary Kate McDevitt

“We should evolve like everybody else has to evolve,” said Chris Cox, a senior sports broadcasting major, as he adjusted a white slider on a soundboard. He said he supports the radio station’s revamp: “I think it’s beneficial.”

In 1948, KTCU launched as a closed-circuit station on campus. It became an FM station in 1964, giving it a wider range in Fort Worth. Now 88.7 FM, the station started as a training ground to provide students with real-world radio experience. KTCU hosts shows relating to news, sports and music, such as Radio Sputnik, which features tunes from Dallas-Fort Worth’s independent music scene; Curtain Up!, a weekly look into the world of musical theater; and the Riff Ram Sports Show.

“I feel it makes it better if I don’t script things,” Cox said as the automation system WideOrbit played “Sweet Disaster” by Dreamers. “If there’s going to be a safety net, for me, it’s the off button on the microphone.”

A broadcast career has been on Cox’s mind for a long time. “My dream, since I was a little boy, was to be the radio play-by-play guy for the Tennessee Titans,” he said. After high school, he dabbled in the audio industry with a Titans podcast and was a regular contributor to the professional wrestling podcast East Coast Cast.

But he deferred his broadcast dreams to support his daughter as he worked as a mechanic, then served in the U.S. Army. As a Patriot missile operator, Cox moved 2,000-pound canisters onto trucks. One day a crane operator’s error slammed the canister into a truck Cox was working on, lifting it up and catching his knee in the process. Cox fell 15 feet. After less than five years in the military, he was medically retired and decided to get a college degree.

In his first week as a DJ at KTCU, Cox didn’t speak much on air. Looking to longtime radio hosts such as Mike McAbee and his Sunday show, Bayous & Backbeats, Cox realized he could do more with his opportunity.

“If someone is going through the motions, why would I listen to you? There are a million-and-a-half different things I could listen to on a daily basis,” Cox said. “I think [listeners] remember people if they bring a lot of emotion and energy.”

Cox launched a KTCU segment called “Primary Complaint.” Through social media and phone calls, listeners respond to prompts such as “Are refried beans acceptable for breakfast?” or “Do college baseball games last too long?” Then Cox treads through the public feedback.

The experience at the radio station is all about what a student puts into it, Cox said.

Read more in TCU Magazine.