Broadcasting emerged in Texas on the campuses of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M in College Station. In 1911 J. B. Dickinson, manager of the Texas Fiscal Agency at San Antonio, constructed wireless facilities at both schools to teach electrical engineering students about radio transmissions. As part of his experiments in high-frequency radio, University of Texas physics professor S. Leroy Brown built radio equipment and began broadcasting weather and crop reports from a physics laboratory on the UT campus in 1915. Brown had delivered talks on “wireless telegraphy” as early as 1913; he taught the first radio course in late 1917.
During World War I, the equipment was used by a government radio school in Austin, but in 1919 it was housed on university grounds and the “experimental” station was “well equipped and capable of receiving messages.” In February 1922 UT planned to broadcast market news to other radio receiving stations throughout the state. On March 25, 1922, the U. S. Department of Commerce assigned the call letters WCM to the radio station at the University of Texas for “entertainment and distribution of market reports.” The station actually employed two sets of call letters: WCM when “broadcasting marketing reports” and music, and 5XU when “experimental work” was carried on at the university station. With a 500-watt power rating, WCM was one of the best-equipped and most powerful stations in the nation. The usual broadcasts were from 8 to 10 P.M. on three nights a week; programming consisted of music, lectures, and agriculture and marketing reports. In addition, a church service was aired on Sunday. In the fall of 1925 the station received its broadcast license, as announced in the November 13, 1925, issue of the Austin Statesman, for the call letters KUT (using the slogan “Kum to the University of Texas”) and operated until 1927.
On November 24, 1921, possibly the first broadcast of a football game in the country aired from the Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University) via call letters 5XB, which is now WTAW. The station operated as a ham relay station at 250 watts. Originally, the station was to air the final score of the Texas–Texas A&M Thanksgiving game, but Frank Matejka, W. A. Tolson, and others decided to send a play-by-play account of the game via Morse Code. Student Harry Saunders and assistant coach D. X. Bible designed a set of abbreviations to fit every possible football situation and sent the list to every station that would broadcast the contest. The game aired over the ham relay stations; the Morse Code was decoded and announced to fans over a public-address system.
One of the earliest broadcasting stations in the United States and the first in Texas was WRR of the City of Dallas, initially established for fire and police dispatch in 1920 by Henry "Dad" Garrett. The station was issued the second broadcast license in the United States by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1921. During these early days of broadcasting, many small, homemade radio stations went on the air on a non-commercial basis, primarily for the amusement of the operators and their neighbors. By the end of 1922, the year that commercial radio broadcasting began in Texas and before there was a federal agency to regulate radio broadcasters, twenty-five commercial stations were in operation in the state. Among them were WBAP, Fort Worth; KGNC, Amarillo; WFAA, Dallas; WOAI, San Antonio; KFJZ, Fort Worth; KFLX, Galveston; and WACO, Waco.
Radio Station WBAP in Fort Worth established the basic format for country music variety show broadcasting (a format since taken over by Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and Chicago's National Barn Dance) with a "barn dance" program that began on January 4, 1923, featuring fiddler, square-dance caller, and Confederate veteran Capt. M. J. Bonner. As of January 1931, KFJZ in Fort Worth was the first station to broadcast the Light Crust Doughboys. The group, sponsored by Light Crust Flour, played popular ballads, blues, and jazz of the day and was considered a pioneer of the western swing sound. They eventually moved to Fort Worth's WBAP, the more powerful station, in late 1931. These broadcasts gained statewide popularity, and the Light Crust Doughboys radio program continued into the early 1950s.
WFAA in Dallas, operating on 150 watts, held many firsts in radio broadcasting in Texas. It began operating on June 26, 1922 . It was the first to carry programs designed to educate; first to produce a serious radio drama series, one titled Dramatic Moments in Texas History and sponsored by the Magnolia Petroleum Company; first to air a state championship football game; first to join a national network (1927); and first to air inaugural ceremonies, those of Governor Ross Sterling in 1931. WFAA was the property of the Alfred Horatio Belo Corporation, publisher of the Dallas Morning News; Adam Calhoun, the first announcer, at times read to his listeners from that newspaper when there was nothing else to offer. Gene Finley was the first manager until Robert Poole replaced him in 1924. The station carried no newscasts; entertainment enjoyed top priority. Early programs carried the voices of the Early Birds—Eddie Dunn, Frank Munroe, Jimmie Jeffries, Pegleg Moreland, the Cass County Kids, and Dale Evans (then the wife of piano player Frank Butts and later the wife of Hollywood Western star Roy Rogers). The Folger Coffee Company was WFAA's first paying advertiser, sponsoring the Bel Canta Quartet.
An early station in South Texas, WOAI in San Antonio, went on the air on September 25, 1922. Founded by G. A. C. Halff, with an initial power of 500 watts, it was increased to 5,000 watts in 1927, considered powerful for the time. On February 6, 1928, WOAI joined the world's first network, the National Broadcasting Company. It eventually became a clear channel operating on 50,000 watts. WOAI was one of the first stations to employ a local news staff. One of its greatest achievements was a regular Sunday broadcast of Musical Interpretations, featuring Max Reiter, conductor of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra. Reiter also conducted the orchestra for NBC's nationwide Pioneers of Music, originating from San Antonio's municipal auditorium.
In Houston an amateur radio club was organized in 1919 for amateur builders and operators of crystal sets, with James L. Autrey as president. The first local commercial station was WEV, owned and operated by Hurlburt Still. On May 21, 1922, the Houston Post broadcast a Sunday concert from the radio plant of A. P. Daniel, 2504 Bagby Street. Later that year the Houston Conservatory of Music sent out programs over station WGAB. In 1924 the Houston Post–Dispatch absorbed a station operated by Will Horwitz and established it as KPRC, which made its debut in May 1925. In November 1928 there were thirty-two broadcasting stations in Texas. Several new stations were licensed in the next few years. KXYZ, which had first broadcast on October 20, 1930, was taken over by Jesse H. Jones in 1932, increasing its power to 1,000 watts two years later.
In 1934 the state's four largest stations, WBAP in Fort Worth, WFAA in Dallas, WOAI in San Antonio, and KPRC of Houston, formed the Texas Quality Network. The stations were connected by telephone lines, established the capacity for simultaneous broadcasts, and commanded a combined night-time power of 101,000 watts. A major factor in the push to share programming was the popularity of the Light Crust Doughboys radio show. The Texas Quality Network (or TQN) also featured other regular programs such as Riding with the Texas Rangers sponsored by Kellogg and the Pepper-Uppers for Dr Pepper. TQN eventually included stations in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana and continued broadcasting into the 1950s.
When stations KPRC and KTRH installed one broadcasting plant for sending out waves simultaneously in 1936, the plant was the second of its kind in the world. Each station increased its power to 5,000 watts. KTRH became the Houston Chronicle station in 1937. In 1946 Raoul Cortez established KCOR-AM in San Antonio. KCOR was the first Spanish-language and Hispanic-owned radio station in the United States. In Houston KNUZ/KQUE was also among the first radio stations to employ minorities—in 1948 the station hired the first female account executive and the first black disc jockey. Other KNUZ/KQUE firsts include a remote broadcast studio, helicopter reporting, wireless microphones, a computer traffic system, a full-dimensional FM antenna, and a solid state AM transmitter.
With the advent of television during the second half of the twentieth century the number of radio stations decreased, and by 1971 there was a combined total of 392 standard radio broadcasting (AM) and frequency modulation (FM) stations. During the next two decades there was an upswing, however, and by 1993 Texas had 311 AM and 420 FM radio stations with valid current operating licenses.
During the 1990s and into the twenty-first century a Texas-based communications company had a major impact on national and international radio markets. Clear Channel Communications, Inc. (which became iHeartCommunications, Inc., in 2014), headquartered in San Antonio, traced its beginnings to 1972, when businessmen Lowry Mays and Red McCombs formed the San Antonio Broadcasting Company. They purchased then KEEZ-FM and in 1975 acquired WOAI-AM. Through the 1980s and 1990s Clear Channel purchased radio stations in San Antonio, Austin, and Houston, other stations nationwide, and stations in Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico. The company, named by the Wall Street Journal as having the fifth best-performing stock in the 1990s, also acquired television stations, advertising billboards, and concert promotion companies.
By 1998 Clear Channel owned and/or programmed 204 radio stations. In 1999 the company bought Dallas-based AMFM, Inc., thereby making Clear Channel the largest radio station operator in the nation with some 830 stations, reflecting a trend of mass consolidation in the radio industry. In 2000 Clear Channel Communications, under CEO Lowry Mays, owned or had interests in more than 1,300 stations worldwide. Some smaller concert promoters and radio operators charged the company of monopolizing the industry, and in 2001 Clear Channel faced an anti-trust lawsuit by a Denver concert promoter. The case reached a settlement in 2004. Clear Channel, a publicly-owned company, became private in 2008 but remained a leader in radio station ownership. By 2015 the company, then known as iHeartCommunications, Inc., owned 850 radio stations in the United States.
In the early 2000s satellite radio, that consisted of digital signals broadcast by communications satellites, became increasingly popular throughout the United States. Its variety of features included commercial-free music channels. Satellite radio, however, was available only through paid subscription. In 2002 Texas had 295 AM and 555 FM radio stations with valid current operating licenses. Those numbers had increased to 300 AM and 697 FM stations in 2013. See also SPANISH-LANGUAGE RADIO, BORDER RADIO.