Murrow College to launch new jazz radio station

PULLMAN, Wash. – A new jazz radio station honoring the legacy of broadcast pioneer J. Elroy McCaw will go on the air at Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication on Nov. 1. The launch of KJEM 89.9 marks the 76th anniversary of the day McCaw, a WSU alumnus, flipped the switch on his first radio station, KELA in Centralia, Wash.

Recordings of performances by jazz ensembles at WSU, the University of Washington, the University of Idaho and others will provide a unique regional flavor to the station’s programming, as well as help foster jazz in the Pacific Northwest.

The station is made possible through a generous gift from McCaw’s son Bruce. An ongoing fundraising campaign is planned to support a variety of programs and operations.

KJEM, whose call letters are derived from J. Elroy McCaw’s initials, is the newest of the 19 stations in the Northwest Public Radio (NWPR) group, the largest National Public Radio network in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike other stations in the group, KJEM will be run by students but under the guidance of NWPR’s professional management team.

It is part of the Murrow College “teaching hospital” model, which provides students with hands-on training in real-world environments.

“This station will serve as a pivotal learning ground for our students to report on pressing regional issues while offering up an entirely new listening experience for jazz fans in the Palouse and online around the world,” said Lawrence Pintak, Murrow founding dean.

“My grandfather came to WSU in 1899 to study civil engineering,” said Bruce McCaw. “My father attended WSU 1931-33 to complete a degree in broadcast engineering and business administration.

“He particularly loved the opportunity to work at KWSC both on and off the air, eventually becoming station manager in 1934,” he said. “The first class radiotelephone operator license he brought with him from Aberdeen qualified him as a broadcast station chief engineer so he could legally operate the station alone.

“His experience at WSC was the cornerstone of the foundation on which he built a broadcasting empire,” he said. “I feel privileged to dedicate this new radio station at WSU in his honor.”

J. Elroy McCaw refined his skills in radio broadcasting during his college years at radio station KWSC in Pullman. Despite the dim economic climate following the depression, his vibrant spirit and technical proficiency led him to build his first station in Centralia at age 26. That station would become the basis of a radio and cable broadcasting empire.

Among his passions was the desire to create community-focused stations. In this spirit, KJEM will serve the rich and vibrant jazz community on the Palouse while also streaming online worldwide. The station will be a place where jazz students at the region’s universities, along with area high schools and middle schools, can hear their performances broadcast.

“With so many dedicated jazz fans and excellent jazz musicians in our region, I am thrilled that we will have a new jazz radio station broadcasting out of Pullman,” said WSU’s Gregory W. Yasinitsky, Regents professor and director of the School of Music.

“We are so pleased to be honoring the McCaw family to bring jazz and local news to the region and around the world,” said NWPR station manager Kerry Swanson. “Not only will this new station provide a musical treat for area residents and a place for students to learn, it also embodies the legacy of J. Elroy McCaw and his desire for serving a community with radio.”

McCaw’s commitment is part of the Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas. Since July 2006, the campaign has raised more than $844 million toward a goal of $1 billion to increase support for WSU’s students, faculty, research and programs and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation and world.

Kerry Swanson, Northwest Public Radio, 509-335-6512,