America in 1960. The Cold War was raging, Sputnik was orbiting, Kennedy had just defeated Nixon for the presidency, Elvis was getting out of the Army and AM radio was starting to play a new kind of music called rock and roll. Locally, that same year, a memo was presented to President John T. Wahlquist recommending that San Jose State College establish an FM broadcasting station. Back then, there were few FM stations in existence with only a handful licensed to colleges. In fact, a survey completed here in 1960 by radio and television students indicated that only 26% of our students actually had FM on their radios. Armed with this information and led by Drama Professor Clarence Flick, a committee of faculty, staff and administrators submitted a proposal for KSJS-FM which eventually became part of the license application.
In the proposal dated January 1962, it was suggested that for about $11,000, a transmitter and studios could be purchased and installed. Funds would come from both the instructional budget and Associated Students. It would be staffed and programmed by the faculty and students of the Speech, Drama and Journalism Departments and, while expected to provide an educational experience for students, it would clearly be under the control of the newly created FM Station Policy Committee. Programming goals as stated in the original proposal to the FCC were those designed to “reflect the quality and objectives of the college.” Indeed, several pages of programming policies were presented as part of the original application, all suggesting plenty of checks and balances on programming content. It should be noted here that all applicants for a federal broadcast license were expected to say these sorts of things.
On February 11, 1963, KSJS-FM went on the air. With a modest power of 85 watts, it was possible to hear the new station several miles from the College. Possible, of course if you had that rare FM radio. In fact, during these early years, it was even recommended that small AM transmitters be installed in the dormitories to rebroadcast KSJS-FM so that more students could receive the station. Programming in those early days was limited to the hours of 4:30pm to 8:30pm, Monday through Friday and only during the semester. It was a humble beginning with much of the programming on tape from the National Educational Network. KSJS students produced and presented news, sports, classical music and a variety of talk and interview programs.
Cut to the late 1960’s. Campus protests, takeovers of administration buildings, calls for change, calls for ouster of anyone in authority, most as a protest to the wars in Southeast Asia. And like every other institution during the latter 1960’s and early 1970’s, college radio both influenced and reflected the general social change in America. Attempted student takeovers of the station and over reaction by administrators divided KSJS and even caused one faction of students to defect from the station and try to start their own. Faculty reacted by calling for more control over the station administration and programming content. KSJS began broadcasting so-called “free-speech messages” and the campus had a “committee for open media.” It was a time of change at San Jose State College and its tiny 85 watt FM station.
The passage of the Public Radio Act in 1967 caused many educational stations to pause and reflect on their future and by the early 1970’s, there was plenty of discussion here surrounding possible affiliation with National Public Radio, NPR. With dissatisfaction over the operation of the station growing in proportion to the social and political events of the time, the College FM Policy Committee in 1973 recommended that KSJS apply for a power increase in order to qualify for NPR affiliation. In that same study “KSJS/FM, a Time for Decision,” it was suggested that KSJS might be taken out of the hands of students and run by administrators. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. KSJS-FM was able to increase power to 1000 watts by 1975 and remain as a student station in the Drama Department.
After almost 50 years of KSJS, we have reinvented the wheel at least a dozen times. We have also managed to withstand the plethora of well-meaning but largely ineffective committees and sub-committees, all with their own agenda for KSJS-FM. We are left today with a student-run, student-staffed, student-funded station, but with the programming expectations of a public radio station. It is an awesome responsibility for which we have been rewarded and recognized: In 1989 and in 1991, we were named “Station of the Year” by the National Association of College Broadcasters.