Best of the CRANDIC Spotlight: KRUI 89.7 FM

Inside KRUI 89.7 FM’s studio in the Iowa Memorial Union, Iowa City. — Jason Smith/Little Village

KRUI 89.7 FM was voted Best Radio Station in Little Village’s 2020 Best of the CRANDIC awards.

Things are constantly changing in Iowa City as students move in and move on and familiar parts of the landscape disappear, replaced by new apartment buildings. Sometimes nothing seems permanent except the flocked wallpaper at George’s. But at the left end of the radio dial, KRUI has been a consistent voice as “Iowa City’s Sound Alternative” for 36 years.

That’s not as long as George’s has had that wallpaper, but for Iowa City, it’s impressive.

KRUI is an independent, nonprofit radio station run by University of Iowa students. It wasn’t the first incarnation of student radio at UI, but it was the first that could be heard as far away as Coralville.

The awkwardly named KWAD was launched by students in 1952. The studio was a converted broom closet in the now-gone Quadrangle Residence Hall. The audience was limited to Quadrangle, because that was as far as its signal reached.

Over the years, the station expanded into all the dorms and changed its name, first to KICR and then in 1975 to KRUI. The station’s reputation grew too. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, it was the only reliable source of rock music for UI students.

But KRUI almost didn’t survive the ’70s. It relied on funding from the Associated Residence Halls, and by 1976 that money dried up. The station shut down. However, some students never gave up on KRUI. The Student Government replaced the residence halls as a funding source, and a student-run corporation took over responsibility for its license. By the time the fall semester began in 1980, KRUI was available again in all the dorms. And there were plans to finally reach listeners beyond campus.

After years of preparation and paperwork — KRUI not only needed permission from the Federal Communication Commission to broadcast, it needed permission from the Coast Guard to use those letters, because a ship had once used them as a call sign — KRUI began broadcasting at 89.7 FM on May 28, 1984 at 7:18 p.m.

Since then, it’s been a steady source of new music for Iowa City and Coralville, with public affairs programs addressing issues important to students and area residents. In 1996, it became the first college radio in the country to switch to an all-digital broadcasting format. That’s a big change from a studio in a broom closet.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 289.

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