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John E. Fetzer papers

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 6, Placement: 15
Identifier: MSA 110

Scope and Contents

"Radio and Television Historical References (A Treatise on Personal Experiences)," by John E. Fetzer, circa 1975.


  • circa 1975


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Access Information

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Some material in this collection are in the public domain, while other material copyrights are held by Purdue University. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

John Fetzer was born in 1901 in Decatur, Indiana. After his father passed away when John was two years old, he moved with his mother to Lafayette, Indiana. There, John was introduced at a young age to wireless communications by his brother-in-law, who was a telegraph operator for the Wabash Railroad.

In 1917, John built his first radio transmitter-receiver, which he used to communicate with a man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1922, John enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. There, he began operating a radio station for the school, which in 1923 was granted a full license as a noncommercial full-service station under the calls KFGZ. In 1925, its name changed to WEMC.

By the Great Depression, Emmanuel Missionary College was running out of money to operate WEMC, prompting John to purchase the station for $2,500. He would run the station himself, as the sole technician, engineer, announcer and salesman. In 1931, he moved the station to Kalamazoo, where he signed the station under the name WKZO. John’s wife joined the business in Kalamazoo, serving as program director and secretary, while John continued selling advertisements and working the technological aspects of the job.

During the second world war, John was appointed the national radio censor for the U.S. Office of Censorship, which oversaw the censorship of more than 900 radio stations in an attempt to prevent compromising information from being broadcast to enemy nations. During the same time period, John also expanded his personal radio holdings, branching out across Michigan and acquiring stations in other states like Illinois and Nebraska. By 1958 he formed the Fetzer Music Corporation and acquired the Muzak franchise.

John also entered the television market in the 1950s, founding Fetzer Cablevision, now Charter Communications, to service Kalamazoo. In 1953 he also purchased KOLN-TV in Lincoln, Nebraska, to service the rural areas of the state.

In 1956, John purchased partial ownership of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, becoming full owner in 1961. He sold the team to Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan in 1983.

John passed away from pneumonia in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1991. Much of John’s wealth by that point was used to fund and endow the Fetzer Institute.


0.025 Cubic Feet (One folder)

John E. Fetzer papers
In Progress
Mary A. Segp
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
Third edition

Revision Statements

  • 2020-03-26: Collection description updated by Adelle Rogers.
  • 2024-02-05: Biographical information note updated by William Niner.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States