KSUA-FM didn’t go on the air until the mid-1980s, but the station’s roots stretch back for two decades before that, to the first UAF radio station, KUAC-FM. KUAC, the North Star Borough’s public radio station, went on the air October 1st, 1962, operating out of the Constitution Hall studios KSUA now occupies. KUAC was the first non-commercial radio station in Alaska, and also the first FM station serving the Interior, blazing the trail for the other stations to come (especially us!). Eventually, they moved their broadcasting facilities into their current home in the depths of the Great Hall.
KUAC was joined a decade later by KMPS-AM, the precursor to KSUA, which came online March 5th, 1972. KMPS was a “Progressive Rock” station broadcasting on a carrier current; only people in the dorms and other campus buildings wired into the system could hear its signal. KMPS, like the present KSUA, was owned and operated by the students of UAF, through a governing body called Student Media, Inc. (SMI). KMPS quickly tired of its limited listener base, and by the mid’70s, the push to become an open-air broadcaster had begin. In 1981, the process that would soon lead to KSUA had begun.
THE COMMERCIAL EXPERIMENT
On September 6th, 1984, KSUA-FM came on for the first time, on a frequency of 103.9 MHz. Rising out of the freshly reformatted KMPS, KSUA had a new transmitter and a license from the FCC, but was still operated by SMI. Playing what was referred to at the time as “album-oriented rock” (the standard college radio format, focusing on full albums, rather than Top 40 singles), KSUA-FM began as one of the few commercial college stations in the country, an experiment sadly doomed to failure. The early KSUA operated in a state removed from the University, with few ties to anyone outside of the student body, and so eventually turned from an educational service to a source of profit.
KSUA quickly became the most popular station in the Borough, with a format of playing a wide range of music and mostly (and most importantly) what is now called indie rock, and stayed very popular until the end. However, financial troubles plagued the station, until the staff finally couldn’t afford to pay their DJs. The formerly-paid DJs were asked to volunteer, but in protest, one of them filed a wage claim with the Department of Labor, and KSUA was forced to give out almost $45,000 in unpaid wages. Out of money, KSUA shut down March 8th, 1993.
TRANSFORMATION, TRANSITION AND GROWTH
The station stayed off the air until the end of 1993. During its downtime, SMI was dissolved, and the license for KSUA was transferred to the UA Board of Regents, to be held in trust for the students of UAF, and in September a ASUAF bill, the “Governance Agreement For The KSUA Media Board”, was passed, recreating KSUA as a non-commercial, educational station, under the authority of the new KSUA Media Board. The station’s chief engineer brought the broadcast studio up to FCC standards, and after serious difficulties with the transmitter, a new antenna was purchased, placed on the Moore Residence Hall on Upper Campus.
When KSUA came back online, they had new equipment, were under new management, a volunteer basis, and a brand-new format: ‘edgy’ Alternative rock! The new KSUA came on the air on December 2nd, 1993, playing the same song the station had shut down with: Pearl Jam’s “Alive.” The only thing that was the same was our frequency, which was soon to change also.
When KSUA first went online, it was a commercial station, and so was placed on a frequency in a section of the FM band reserved for commercial radio. Now that the station was operated on a volunteer basis, Borealis Broadcasting, a major local media company, wanted our frequency for a new commercial station. Borealis ended up purchasing the 91.5 frequency from a small local Christian station that had once used it, and ‘trading’ it to KSUA for their old frequency, which they used for their new station KUWL. KSUA got a non-commercial frequency, stronger broadcasting equipment, and $10,000 out of the deal.