History of Broadcast Radio in Las Cruces

Oct 15, 2017

Commentary: Today, Las Cruces has  9 Commercial AM and FM radio stations with a Spanish language FM format that began broadcasting the first of this month. There is also KRWG-FM, a Public Broadcasting Station on the  campus of New Mexico State University and KRUX-FM located at Corbett Center. Las  Cruces did not always have such a variety of radio stations. When we attended NMSU in the 1970s, our choices were  KGRT-AM, contemporary rock, KGRT-FM country western, KOBE-AM,  adult contemporary, and KOBE-FM, elevator music. The roots of radio in Las Cruces date back to 1919 and Dean Ralph W. Goddard.

Goddard was born in Waltham, Massachusetts April 30, 1887.  Shortly thereafter the Goddards moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where Ralph attended Classical High School and graduated in 1907.  He continued his education by going to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In 1911 Goddard received his degree in electrical engineering. Ralph married Frances Gascogne August 14, 1911. 

After graduation, Goddard worked in Boston a few years before heading west to teach at Nebraska. He taught one year before accepting a position as Professor of Engineering  at New Mexico Agriculture and  Mechanical Arts in Fall, 1914.  

Goddard was hired to implement included  a 

prosperous Engineering Department.  In 1920 the title of Dean was  bestowed upon Goddard and he was known as 'Dean Goddard" by one and all. The year prior, 1919, Goddard was granted a license to broadcast with call letters 5XD., later changed to KOB. A Radio Club was established with engineering students to improve and discover items that would help broadcasting.

Dean Goddard was a innovative thinker both with his radio station KOB and with the various local and national organizations.  During his tenure as President of the Las Cruces Schools, he voted to segregate the schools in Las Cruces. This affected about 33 black students.  Goddard said he was pressured by Southern farm owners to segregate students. In 1954 segregated was discontinued in the Las Cruces Public Schools.

On October 14, 1922 New Mexico Agriculture and Mechanical Arts played Albuquerque Indian School and Dean Goddard  did the play by play on KOB. The Aggies won 56-0 and this became the first play by play of a football game west of the Mississippi River. The Dean would continue to broadcast home games through 1929 on KOB the "Voice of the great Southwest."

During the 1920s, KOB was granted increase power from 1,000 watts to 10,000 watts. KOB could be heard all over New Mexico, the Southwest, and throughout most of the United States. There were only a handful of stations in the west and KOB did not have the airwaves clutter so KOB could be heard nationwide.

Dean Goddard's life came to a tragic end on December 31, 1929.  Dean Ralph Goddard  was at radio station at 5pmand it was raining.  The Dean was preparing for live, in studio New Year's Eve program and decided to make some modifications in the engineering room.  As Goddard  started the modifications, over 12,000 volts of electricity went through his body and he immediately died of electrocution. KOB radio went off the air until after Ralph Goddard's burial. 

New Mexico A&M Board of Regents tried keeping KOB operational  but decided to sell the radio station in 1932 to the Albuquerque Journal newspaper.  The Journal moved KOB to Albuquerque and Las Cruces was without radio for over 30 years.  

In 1955, KOBE started broadcasting from Las Cruces.  Later in the year KGRT began broadcasting.  Walt Rubens was owner of KOBE. Both stations were AM frequency with KGRT on 570 and KOBE on 1450.

Both stations evolved over the next 15 years.  Selected NMSU football and basketball games were broadcast. While I was a student, I met Mike Murray who told me he did play by play of the Aggies Final Four games on KGRT.  Murray went to The Mutual Broadcasting Corporation as a national news announcer.

In June, 1971, KOBE radio signed a 4 year agreement with NMSU Athletics to broadcast football and basketball games home and away.  Tom Dillion did all Aggie  football and basketball games.

Radio returned to New Mexico State University in 1951.  KNMA AM radio started broadcasting by telephone carrier.  One could listen to 630 AM if a telephone with a 646 prefix in a dorm room or office. 

In 1953, KNMA asked the English Department for operational funds.  The station limped along until Harvey Jacobs came to NMSU. 

The call letters were changed to KRWG-AM and moved to 660 AM.  More money was allocated as KRWG-AM was programmed to meet the musical tastes of the students. The call letters KRWG are in honor of the "Dean", radio pioneer Ralph Willis Goddard.

On October 3, 1964, KRWG-FM began broadcasting live from the campus of New Mexico State University. Journalism and Mass Communication Department Head Harvey Jacobs came to NMSU earlier in 1964 from Indiana. Jacobs spent the next 10 years at NMSU building up the Journalism and Mass Communication program. Under his direction, KRWG-FM became a NPR affiliate serving Southern New Mexico, West Texas, and Eastern Arizona.  But Jacobs had another dream; providing NMSU and Las Cruces with a television station.

I was a high school senior and drove from Salt Lake City to NMSU during my high school spring break.  I had made an appointment with Dr. Jacobs during my week visit.  While visiting with Jacobs, we were interrupted by his secretary, Margaret Holland. She insisted he take an important phone call.  It was the FCC telling Dr. Jacobs the television application was approved.  It seemed Jacobs was walking "on air" and very happy as he returned to the meeting.  It took two years before KRWG-TV began broadcasting  as a Public Broadcast Station affiliate.  

Dr. Jacobs assisted in having a 30 minute newscast broadcast daily at 6PMMonday-Friday.  The news broadcast during both summer sessions, spring break, winter break, and holidays. The only scheduled days off was Christmas and Thanksgiving.

After 10 years and  FM, TV, and AM all operating  well, Harvey Jacobs returned to his native Indians to work for the Indianapolis News. Dr. Jacobs led Journalism students through the "golden age " of broadcasting at New Mexico State University.