The Founding of KCR
by Jerry Zullo
The story starts in 1966. At that time, Radio-TV majors (later called Telecommunications & Film) were required to complete a Senior Project in order to graduate. A student named Martin Gienke decided to do a feasibility study, complete with recommendations, on setting up a student radio station at San Diego State. A little background info: At that time, KEBS-FM (later KPBS-FM) was considered a “student station;” that is, it was operated by students who were forced to work there as part of their Radio-TV curriculum. KEBS broadcast with 780 watts with an antenna on the roof of the Speech Arts Building. We were on the air Monday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., playing classical music and boring taped “educational” programs. Hardly anybody’s real idea of a student station.
Martin roped me into the project. He’d do the study, and then my Senior Project would be to get the station on the air. The ideal solution would have been to take over KEBS and turn it into a real student station, but after discussion with faculty we knew that wasn’t going to happen.
To complete the first part of the project, Martin and I took time off from school and visited every college radio station in California. We did interviews, found out what worked, what didn’t work, how the stations were set up, formats, funding, pitfalls to be careful of, etc. In the end, we ended up with a report about three inches thick. The
final recommendation was to make San Diego State’s student station a carrier current station, using electrical wiring in the buildings to carry the signal.
Martin got an “A” on the project and graduated. At the beginning of the next semester, I got a message that Ken Jones, Chairman of the Radio-TV Department, wanted to see me in his office. When I arrived, Ken was joined by the entire department faculty. I was told to sit down and listen, and not ask any questions… and there would be no explanations. Ken put Martin’s report on the desk and said, “This report does not exist. If you go ahead and try to establish a student station, you will fail. You’ll also never graduate and there’s a good chance you’ll be thrown out of school. This meeting never took place… don’t tell anyone about it… and forget about a student radio station. You may go.”
As ominous as this all sounds, what I didn’t know at the time was there were major secret political dealings going on in regard to establishing a national network of non-commercial radio stations (National Public Radio) and San Diego was one of the major players in the effort. The Radio-TV Department had to be very careful, since they planned to take SDSU’s “student station” and turn it into a “public station.” The timing for starting a station like KCR was very bad.
Then in 1968, I got called back into Ken Jones’ office. The department had lost Martin Gienke’s project and they wanted to know if I had a copy (I did), and could they have it (NO!). Ken said it was extremely important that a student station be established as soon as possible.
Since I had Gienke’s project and had worked on it, I was put in charge of getting the station on the air. Jones said I would have the full cooperation of the Radio-TV Department. They would provide what little money and equipment that was available and would provide the physical space needed for the station. I enlisted the help of Ken Kramer and we started working on the project. For engineering and technical help we brought in John Strieff, and he enlisted Norb Gallery and Mike Stark to work with him.
We pieced together enough equipment for an air control room and a production control room. With what little money we had, we bought three low-power carrier current transmitters. We installed them in the three dorm buildings near the baseball field. That left two dorms on the other side of campus unconnected. When the Dean of Housing heard about this, he asked that we put transmitters in all the dorms. We said we didn’t have the money, so he issued a check to cover the other two transmitters. Then he convinced the owners of El Conquistador, the private dorm, to give us money to buy a transmitter for them as well.
We started engineering tests and found that not only did we cover all the dorms, but the signal sort of leaked (kind of on purpose) and we covered the entire campus. In fact, if you were driving, you could listen to KCR on Interstate 8 between San Diego Stadium and College Avenue. On Montezuma Road and over to El Cajon Boulevard, you could hear the station from about 54th Street to 63rd Street.
We needed to get KCR recognized as an official on-campus entity. That meant we had to have officers, a constitution, and by-laws approved by the Associated Student Council. I took care of that by creating an organization called Aztec Broadcasters. I named myself president, Ken Kramer was vice-president, and John Strieff was secretary-treasurer. I wrote all the legal junk to satisfy the AS Council, and as part of the constitution it was stated that Aztec Broadcasting would operate as a student radio station.
Then we started spreading the word (through the campus newspaper, fliers, and on-campus signs) that we needed students to work at the radio station (for free) as disc jockeys and other positions. The first official meeting of Aztec Broadcasters brought in about 500 interested students. We were on our way. Within weeks we had elected a station general manager, a sales manager, and a program director. About this same time (1969) KEBS-FM was becoming a public station, and Ken Kramer and I were hired there. It was our intention to leave KCR to the other students and bow out gracefully.
As it turned out, everything went fairly smoothly, except KCR couldn’t get any jocks for Saturdays. I volunteered to do the morning show, Ken Kramer did midday, and a friend of ours, Jim Hancock, took the late afternoon shift. The Saturday morning lineup consisted of The Nobody Show (me), followed by kcrmusiccontinueswithkenkramer (all one word), and The Late Jim Hancock, the All-American Boy. We kept these shifts for a year or so and that was the extent of our involvement with KCR.
It had been our intention that KCR would be self-sufficient and would sell advertising to cover operating costs. That scenario never really developed and the station was forced to petition the AS Council for funds. I believe the station got some money in the form of loans from the AS, and I’m not sure if those loans were ever paid back.
Just a side note… I wanted the station call letters to be KAR (Aztec Radio), but I was soundly voted down at an Aztec Broadcasters meeting. The overwhelming majority voted for KCR (Campus Radio or College Radio).