Ben Henneke

Tulsa, OK – Ben Henneke, 95, president emeritus of The University of Tulsa, passed away on November 13. A celebration of his life and work was held in Sharp Chapel on November 20.

Dr. Henneke is the reason that KWGS exists. In the late forties, he was well-known as the host of "Going to College" which toured Oklahoma and neighboring states. This quiz show, heard over KVOO and KWGS, provided a four-year TU scholarship to the winner.

-- KWGS News Director John Durkee created this remembrance of Ben Henneke, which aired during Morning Edition on the morning of the celebration of his life on November 20, 2009.

-- Rich Fisher's personal reflections on what Ben Henneke meant to him, the stations, and the University of Tulsa.

-- This retrospective of Ben Henneke's life and work, produced by Frank Christel, features portions of a recent interview of Dr. Henneke by, together with a recording of Ben Henneke as quizmaster in a 1940s broadcast of "Going to College" and his narration of a historic TU film from the 1950s.

-- Hear a portion of "Going to College" 1947-48 finals. This recording features the voice of Ben Henneke as quizmaster and includes music by the University of Tulsa Radio Chorus, directed by Arthur Hestwood.

-- Listen to the KWGS groundbreaking ceremonies. R.K. Lane, president of Public Service Company and chairman of buildings and grounds for the University Board of Trustees, turned the first shovel of earth for the institution's new radio wing. Participating in the ceremony were Dr. C.W. Kerr, pastor emeritus of the First Presbyterian church; Dr. C.I. Pontius, university president, and Ben Henneke, speech arts director and head of the University theater.

A Short History of KWGS

During World War II several local radio stations informed Ben G. Henneke, then chairman of the University of Tulsa's Speech Department, of the need for announcer training at the University. A pamphlet, Six Reasons for Radio Education at TU, was prepared and submitted to the Board of Trustees. It outlined proposals for a new radio curriculum and for a "radio laboratory."

Dr. C.I. Pontius, president of TU, and Professor Henneke did not originally see the "radio laboratory" as a broadcasting station but merely as a practice tool for students. When the pamphlet proposals were submitted to the Board, they were enthusiastically accepted. Henneke came to realize, though, that for the developing radio curriculum to be truly successful, a real radio station, one that could provide practical experience, was needed. In 1946 William G. Skelly (president of Skelly Oil Company and owner of KVOO radio) donated to the University a tower and sixty thousand dollars to build a radio station. This donation by Mr. Skelly signaled the beginning of KWGS. His initials are found in the call letters in appreciation of his generosity.

The University had begun an ambitious fiftieth anniversary program of expansion in 1945. New classroom buildings, dormitories and renovations were planned. Among the first of the new buildings on campus would be an addition to Kendall Hall which would house an enlarged stage and costume and dressing rooms for the theater and state-of-the-art radio studios.

The University of Tulsa was a pioneer in the education of broadcasters, being in the forties one of the ten charter members of the organization which was to become the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. KWGS broadcast programs from the NAEB tape network until it was replaced by the live National Public Radio service.

On October 9, 1946 limited broadcasting began from makeshift quarters with a staff of only six students; the KWGS signal covered only the campus area. The initial schedule allowed for only two hours of programming daily. After the completion of the addition to Kendall Hall, some of the most modern equipment of the time was installed in the new KWGS studios. This provided for KWGS' first city-wide broadcasting. At first, KWGS operated at 90.5 megacycles with a one- thousand-watt transmitter from 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Over a dozen years later the station's spot on the FM dial was moved to 89.5 for technical reasons.

Henneke had wanted his to be the first voice to be heard over the station. However, his hopes were dashed by the chief engineer, Bill Rook, who intently opened the mike at the first sign-on and blurted out, "How does this damn thing work?" After this unplanned beginning, the KWGS Dedication was broadcast from the Kendall Hall Theater October 19, 1947, including a dramatic performance of "Is Radio Here to Stay?" and an address by Paul A. Walker, vice chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who was in attendance.

Within a year of its first transmission, KWGS had won several awards including the 1948 first prize from the National Public Relations Convention for the quiz show, "Going to College." This popular series, produced at high schools in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas and awarding thousands of dollars in TU scholarships, featured Ben Henneke as quiz master for eight years and Rod Jones for another eight.

In those days, KWGS broadcast not only music and news, but drama, classics, and a variety of other live productions. (An early program schedule is included below.) It was the third university station in the country to team up with the NBC network's educational sources. Many college courses were included in a regional network. As a matter of fact, one lady in Bartlesville completed her degree just by listening to KWGS! Among outstanding professors offering courses on KWGS was Dr. Beaumont Bruestle, who remained a popular voice on the station through his Sunday Night at the Opera broadcasts until retirement in 1970.

Another first in which KWGS took part was the implementation of the Fred Waring technique in collegiate chorus broadcasting. This developed under the leadership of Arthur Hestwood, a former member of Waring's Pennsylvanians, who was brought to Tulsa to form the Radio Choir (today's Modern Choir).

The policy of the station was (1) to train students in the broadcasting field through actual on-the-air experience, and (2) to provide Tulsans with the finest possible programming. Alan Beaumont was the first program director under Henneke, followed by John Keown; both of these men later moved to network radio direction. In 1950, F.M. (Jim) Randolph, former KOTV Program Director, became manager. He was followed by Bob Wells (later an Alaskan Chamber of Commerce executive) and Howard Hansen (who became Speech Department chairman of Ripon College.) Power was increased to 4,000 watts in 1955, thanks to the gift of a transmitter from KTUL radio.

In September of 1955, a man whose name continues to be associated with KWGS became manager of the station. Edward Dumit guided the development of Tulsa's educational radio station for seventeen years. The hours of on-air broadcasting were expanded, and the type of popular music the station offered changed as student tastes changed; but the goal of service to the community as originally set by the University did not change.

KWGS Program Schedule, September 1947

10:30 - First Presbyterian Church
11:30 - Hour of Saint Francis
11:45 - Sunday Music

6:00 - Dinner Music
7:00 - Classic Hour
8:00 - Sunday Dance
8:45 - News

2:00 - Matinee Musicale
2:30 - Origin and Principles of Christianity Class
3:25 - Interlude of Music
3:30 - The Little Concert
3:45 - News
4:00 - Music of the Masters
5:00 - The Children's Hour
5:30 - News
5:45 - Voice of the Army
6:00 - Dinner Music
7:00 - KWGS Pioneer Club
8:00 - The Concert Hour
8:30 - News
8:35 - World of Sports
8:45 - Feature Band
9:00 - Music for Dreaming
9:45 - News

2:30 - Music Appreciation
3:25 - Transcribed Music

2:30 - History of Christianity
3:25 - Interlude of Music
3:30 - Music Appreciation
5:45 - Eyes of the Future

2:30 - Music Appreciation
3:30 - The Little Concert
5:45 - Excursions in Science

2:30 - History of Christianity
5:45 - So Proudly We Hail

2:00 - Matinee Musicale
2:30 - Saturday Swingout
4:00 - Saturday Concert
5:30 - News
5:45 - Lest We Forget #1
6:00 - Dinner Music
7:00 - Folk Tune Time
7:30 - Echoes of a Century
7:45 - Football - TU v.s. West Texas State