KSUU: Tuning in for 55 Years

Students have danced to Justin Bieber playing over the speakers, professors have pretended not to know the words to that Taylor Swift song, and high school students touring SUU for the first time couldn’t help but sing along to Post Malone.

Even international students have felt more at home as they’ve listened to their native language playing on the radio. 

 It’s true SUU’s radio station is well known, but Thunder 91 has done much more than just provide music. The station and its leaders have embraced the concept of diversity and helped students gain experience for over half of a century now.

Broadcasting on the frequency 91.1 KSUU-FM, the radio station has been around for 55 years, and it’s deep heritage planted roots on June 24, 1964. Later, in 1965, it became the first FM station in Southern Utah. 

It began when alumni Lance Jackson, who is now the chief engineer, wired the station and got it started.

The current station manager and faculty advisor Cal Rollins came to SUU in 1974 because of the radio station. He has held his current position since 1989 and will be retiring this year.

“[KSUU’s] philosophy has always been hands-on for students,” Rollins said. “It was a light to provide real-life experience for the radio, and it’s still what we aim for.”

Rollins has seen firsthand how this radio station has prepared his students for their future careers and the success it has given them. 

He recently received an email from former student Tim Beery, who was the station manager when the radio station turned 50 years old. Beery expressed his excitement, saying he landed a new job as a public information officer in Cottonwood Heights, where he oversees and manages all media and public relations for the city. 

The current student station manager is junior Jadon Lamphear, who has held the position for a year and a half. Rollins praised the communication major, saying, “He’s the best student that we’ve had in this position. He’s in charge when I’m not here.”

Lamphear plans to pursue a career in radio and education. He feels more than qualified to find a job in this field because of the experience working for this radio station has provided him with. 

The shows are often produced by students taking Audio Production (COMM 1560). Following this course, they can move on to take advanced classes or put together volunteer shows.

Students have a great deal of freedom when it comes to producing their shows, choosing music that varies from Indie to death metal. 

“We’ve had people play everything you could think of,” Lamphear said. 

Not only do students have the ability to express themselves through diverse music, but their shows are competing with not just other college stations, but “big-time stations,” as Rollins puts it. 

The APEX (Ask. Ponder. Educate. [X].) Hour, which airs at 3 p.m. on Thursdays, is hosted by Dr. Lyn Vartan and has become one of the station’s most listened to show, as it allows listeners to hear from the guests who come to speak at SUU. 

KSUU has seen a mountain of success. In 2009, alumni Chris Holmes won the national championship at Broadcast Education Association. Thunder 91.1 regularly competes in the BEA Festival of Media Arts and have currently submitted to compete for the station of the year.

“We are now competing against the commercial radio stations. We aren’t just competing against other college radio stations,” Rollins said.

Not only has this Thunder 91.1 seen unprecedented success and recognition, but throughout it all, they have kept the students at the center of their efforts. 

“‘More music, more variety, more SUU’ is our current motto,” Lamphear explained.

KSUU is more than just music. Thunder 91 has played a considerable role in giving students the experience they need and offering diverse music for over 55 years and will continue to do so.

 “We are trying to reach everyone and provide something for everyone. That’s so unique in radio, especially today,” Rollins said.

This statement couldn’t explain the radio station better. The students select their music strategically, all targeted toward a mixed student body. 

The most unique aspect of this station? George Strait, Ariana Grande, and Drake can all be heard within minutes of each other. So yes, all ears, no matter how different, can tune in.


Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos by: Christopher Dimond