What is now the Department of Telecommunications was originally established as the Center for Radio and Television in 1966. The academic program led graduates into a career in either teaching or commercial broadcasting. Ahead of its time, the center had an emphasis on practical experience over traditional textbook learning. Back then, students could serve as staff members at the 10-watt radio station WBST (now part of Indiana Public Radio) or could work on closed-circuit instructional TV programs.
When David Letterman was enrolled at Ball State, he had only 10 courses to choose from in radio/TV, and they were found in the curriculum of the Department of Speech and Mass Communications. The director of the Center for Radio and Television was Bill Tomlinson, and the first full-time faculty member was Darrell Wible. The department had two studio cameras, purchased used from Yankee Stadium.
As a decade passed, the degree program evolved into its own academic unit called Radio/Television/Motion Pictures, or R-T-M. The first student organization was the Broadcast Guild which, through the work of Professor Dave Smith, became an official chapter of the National Broadcasting Society, or Alpha Epsilon Rho. The national president of Alpha Epsilon Rho, John Kurtz, became the new department chair in 1980, and the current name of telecommunications (TCOM) was adopted.
The Appearance of Personal Computers
In the mid-1980s personal computers began appearing on desktops, allotted to faculty members by seniority. Wible worked with David Letterman to start a carrier current student radio station called WCRD. Letterman also established a scholarship competition for creative students. Freshman Kacy Andrews was founder of Campus Report Card, the first student-run television program. Now called Connections Live, that program has remained on the air for nearly twenty years and has won several Emmy awards.
In 1988, the department moved from the Arts and Communication Building to the then new Edmund F. Ball Communications Building. The community's public television station, WIPB, moved from its off-campus location to the Ball Building as well, enabling an active and working relationship between the academic department and the broadcast television station licensed to the Ball State.
The College of Communications, Information, and Media (CCIM) Is Formed
The 1990s brought Joe Misiewicz to campus, through a gift from Ed and Virginia Ball, to lead the department into the digital age. The Balls also endowed a chair position for a practitioner with a national reputation in the field. ABC newsman, Steve Bell, was hired as the first Ball chair and also served as department chair for a few semesters. The communication-related academic units formed their own college, called the College of Communication, Information, and Media (CCIM), in 1997.
In 2002, TCOM greatly benefited from a $20 million grant to the university from Lilly Endowment Inc., called iCommunication, resulting in digital field gear and nonlinear editing labs. A master of arts degree was reinstated and now emphasizes digital storytelling. WCRD became a real broadcast station with the $1 purchase of the 91.3 FM license from Muncie Community Schools. Nancy Carlson served as department chair during this time.
David Letterman Communications and Media Building Opens
In fall 2007, the department moved into the new David Letterman Communication and Media Building, with additional classrooms, audio production studios, a screening room, and faculty offices, designed to meet the demands of TCOM majors in the 21st century. Telecommunications shares the building with the Department of Communication Studies (formerly called speech), coming full-circle from the 1960s when the two departments were one. Indiana Public Radio (now a five-station network), WCRD, and the CCIM offices are also located in the Letterman Communication and Media Building.
TCOM has grown to serve nearly 1,300 majors and minors with 26 full-time professors. Nine student-run television programs air on WIPB, cable, or closed-circuit television. NewsLink Indiana provides daily, deadline news to people in East Central Indiana and serves as an immersive learning experience to news students. Student filmmakers win prestigious contests and have propelled Ball State to being named as one of the top broadcasting schools in the nation by Leonard Mogel in his book This Business of Broadcasting. From an off-shoot of the speech department to a nationally ranked program, the Department of Telecommunications has come a long way since 1966.