Classical music, Jazz and Fine Arts are the focus of UTEP’s radio station KTEP 88.5 FM. Federal funding supports the station in its mission to provide a program schedule for a specific demographic that is “difficult to reach through traditional media.” Generally well- educated, affluent members of the community are the audience of the station with many of the listeners maintaining salaries above $50,000 per year and 40% of the demographic claiming over $100,000 per year. The listeners of KTEP tend to be professionals, managers and decision-makers that far outnumber the national average of 19%.
Although KTEP Radio is now a full power 100,000 watt station with studios on the UTEP Campus, the station grew from much humbler roots. The current cumulative audience of 44,000 began as WTCM and used a “carrier current.” This setup only allowed service to buildings on campus specifically wired to receive the signal. WTCM went on air in October of 1946 as its own station after severing ties with KTSM.
In 1950 WTCM became KVOF. The call letters in KVOF stood for Voice of Freedom. Licensed on September 14, 1950 KVOF became El Paso’s first FM radio station broadcasting at a meager 10 watts. Due to the proximity of nearby mountains and tall buildings the broadcasting range was very limited. Although the station had its limitations, it was used by local public schools for training aids and student instruction.
In 1954, UTEP alum Sam Donaldson served as student service manager of the station and hosted his own radio show. He credited KVOF as a “great training aid” on a career that made him one of the schools most prominent former students.
1967 saw the station go from KVOF to KTEP and the transmitter was moved from campus to the KROD tower on Mt. Franklin. The transition was not completely without incident, however. According to the current General Manager of KTEP, Patrick Potrowski, when moving the station from Kelly Hall (what is now Vowell Hall) KVOF attempted to maintain its status of informing the dormitory residents through closed current broadcasting. They did so until the mid-1980s when he and others responsible for the broadcasts realized that the signal was not being received in the dorms. Upon investigation by an engineer they were informed that the transmitter was inoperable and had been for some time. “That was the end of KVOF,” stated Mr. Piotrowski, “We never got it going again.”
Started by Virgil Hicks, KTEP’s mission is “to reflect the broad teaching research and public service assignments at UTEP.” Going beyond the stated mission, the station has won multiple awards including the Texas Katie Award, the Associated Press Award, the Houston Press Award and more.
The station gradually increased its broadcasting capabilities increasing operating power to 3,800 watts in 1970 and to 100,000 watts in 1980 as well as broadcasting in stereo for the first time in 1976. The familiar satellite receiver atop Cotton Memorial was installed in 1989 which allows for more efficient coverage of news and events.
KTEP offers students multiple opportunities for both volunteer work and internships. Volunteers can serve in a variety of roles. These include program hosts, board operators and pledge drive volunteers. Internships at National Public Radio are available sometimes available for broadcast communication majors at NPR’s headquarters in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Students at KTEP also produce local documentaries focusing on issues concerning El Paso and the surrounding area.
The wide variety of programming available on the station continues to expand. The opportunities the station provides for students to build a foundation in broadcasting is a real asset to the university’s ability to provide a well-rounded education for a wide spectrum of possible careers.
More information on programming and internship opportunities can be found at http://www.ktep.org/
Sources: UTEP: A Pictorial History of the University of Texas at El Paso by Nancy Hamilton, Interview with Patrick Piotrowski (7/22/13), The Prospector, Mr. Willie Quinn, www.ktep.org
Matthew Liden is a student in the history master's program at UTEP.