The Father of Public Broadcasting at UTEP

By on August 8, 2014

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The idea to add a radio station to Texas Western College first came about in the early 1940’s. Dr. Judson Williams arrived at Texas Western in 1940 to teach Journalism and to help establish and expand the program. In order to branch out and create a more robust Journalism Department, Dr. Williams recognized the need to add a radio program. He went to TWC president Dr. D.M. Wiggins in the hopes of adding the necessary faculty to teach courses in journalism and radio. While Dr. Wiggins thought the idea sound, his main concern was funding. Dr. Williams found the answer in Karl Wyler, a prominent KTSM radioman. Mr. Wyler agreed to lend TWC an instructor. Virgil Hicks, a program director at KTSM, was allowed to split his time between the radio station and the college. The first radio class consisted of nine girls, and Mr. Hicks turned out to be an excellent instructor. As Texas Western began monopolizing more of Mr. Hicks’ time, Karl Wyler let Mr. Hicks teach full-time, and continued to pay his salary. He also donated a substantial amount of equipment and lab material. Thanks to this tremendous contribution the program was able to develop in spite of the lack of state funding.

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Virgil Hicks, head of the Broadcast Department at Texas Western College at the KVOF controls

Virgil Hicks founded the program in radio/television broadcasting and served on the faculty from 1944 to 1971, when he retired as professor emeritus. He died in 1988. He is considered by his colleagues and students to be the Father of Public Broadcasting in El Paso. He studied at Drake University, earned his B.A. from Texas Western, and got his M.A. in telecommunications from the University of Southern California. Before joining the faculty at UTEP, he was a commercial manager of a radio station in Mason City, Iowa, then a program director for KTSM.

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Early KVOF control room, Virgil Hicks, head of Broadcasting on the right.

During his teaching career, Mr. Hicks had the privilege to act as instructor and mentor to many students who went on to have prestigious careers in radio and television. Members of his first class did such a good job in lab exercises that they joined KTSM for permanent careers. Nationally known news anchor Sam Donaldson served as student service manager of the station and hosted his own radio show. Donaldson considers Mr. Hicks one his most influential mentors.

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In an interview, television producer Rudy Tellez attributed his inspiration to pursue a career in the industry to Mr. Hicks. “Virgil Hicks was good. He allowed you to take chances.” He exercised his students on the use of the microphone and developing a proper radio voice, pointing out mistakes, and complimenting aptitude. All of this was done in an effort to develop the natural talents of his students. “He wouldn’t listen to local radio stations. KVOF was on his dial at all times. He’d come back the next day and say, ‘That’s not the way you pronounce that word.’ Or, ‘This is not what you do. How come there’s so much dead air?’”

1954 KVOF STAFF

1954 KVOF STAFF

One of Mr. Tellez’ favorite memories under Mr. Hicks’ tutelage involves the creation of special effects. It was the early 1950’s and Mr. Hicks instructed his students on how to create an echo effect using tape recorders. “I’ll never forget what he was able to get a couple of tape machines to do. We learned how to play with them, and we learned how to make an echo. What you do is K .K .K .K .K .V .V .0 .0 .F .F . Mr. Tellez used the lessons that Mr. Hicks taught him to go on to build a successful career in the broadcasting industry. He began at KTSM, moved on to produce “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” in the 1960’s, and later won two Emmy awards for creating “Both Sides Now” and “Barbour’s Half-Hour”. He and his wife also founded KASK-FM in Las Cruces. Throughout his 46-year career he never forgot his teacher and mentor Virgil Hicks. “I always felt as though he cared. He wasn’t just a professor who came and sat down and said, ‘Okay, here’s the lesson plan, go do it’ and then turn off.” Tellez was voted Outstanding Ex-Student in 1970. At the ceremony, Mr. Hicks presented him with same microphone he practiced on at KVOF-FM.

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Photo courtesy Special Collections

Over the years, in addition to his dedication to his students and radio station, Mr. Hicks was the chairman of numerous committees. He felt a deep interest in the welfare of UTEP students. In 1967, a few years before he left UTEP, the staff of the Flowsheet recognized his level of commitment and dedicated the yearbook to him. Mr. Hicks was missed when he retired by students and faculty alike. Former Communications Department Chairman Larry Johnson said that  KVOF-FM, and later KTEP, the “voice of freedom.”

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Souces:
Diamond Days glossary

Flowsheet 1967

ktephistory.org

Interview with Rudy Tellez,No. 772 Oral Histories

“Former TV producer Rudy F. Tellez dies at age 78.”By Stephanie Sanchez, April 29, 1971 El Paso Herald-Post-page 38

Facultysenate.utep.edu

Interview no. 684 Jackie Williams Judson Williams Digital Commons

“Radio Station has Played Part of UTEP’s History” By Daniel Perez

“FROM WTCM TO KTEP” By Matthew Liden July 22, 2013

“Donaldson shows city candid persona” by Ramon Renteria El Paso Times

“Campus once had two radio stations: KTEP, KVOF” by Eduardo Montes The Prospector

Posted in: History