KUOI History | Condensed
By Ben Kluckhohn
KUOI Radio’s story began like so many fairy-tales. From the obscurity of an attic in northern Idaho, several clever amateurs strung transmitting electrical wire through steam tunnels, thereby bringing two daily hours of music and Shakespearean drama to student residences. It’s fitting that the term “Broadcasting” comes from the farming word for spreading seeds in all directions. KUOI in its early years was not only an outlet for new wireless media but a experimental training ground for journalists and engineers.
1945 saw the en-masse return of young Americans to college campuses and the distribution of war surplus equipment for citizen use. An entity based on volunteerism from its beginning, KUOI initiated students into announcing, administration, drama, public relations, and writing. In the early years of operation, KUOI was producing three half-hour dramas per week and surveying the campus for a weekly top-hits program.
Partnership with national organizations furthered KUOI’s ambitions. Striking a deal with big tobacco, KUOI received an Associated Press teletype machine in exchange for pushing free cartons onto callers lucky enough to guess titles to popular Oldies songs like “Ole Buttermilk Sky” and “If You Were My Girl”. Simultaneously KUOI joined the Intercollegiate Broadcasting Company, an umbrella coalition that furthered administrative and technical collaboration among college radio stations. KUOI began broadcasting from 7a.m. to 9p.m. and by 1955 was operating on a meager $1100 yearly budget.
As universities nationwide expanded during the 1950’s, KUOI moved out of the attic and into its present offices in the then newly-built S.U.B. KUOI would be absorbed into the ASUI, thereby gaining access to student fees and the nasty bureaucracy of student politics. The Argonaut argued consistently on behalf of KUOI as the station suffered restrictive funding policies and phony, discrediting student surveys.
Despite such problems, KUOI staff brought the station safely through the technical developments of FM, the 33 1/3 Long-Playing record, and stereo broadcasting while maintaining KUOI’s semi-autonomous status as ASUI department and voice of the Vandals. Through the 50’s and 60’s KUOI provided live coverage of brutal university events like boxing matches and registration-day in the Kibbie Dome.
The 1960’s rise of radical student movements at universities UC Berkley and Kent were felt, if slightly, at the UI. KUOI played a rather straight role compared to the Left-favoring Argonaut. One protest movement culminated in an afternoon-long takeover of the station by the Black Student Union, which demanded the University end its foot-dragging on affirmative action. The administration defended itself on the grounds they had recently hired a single minority employee. Whether affirmative action reached KUOI at this time isn’t recorded.
In the 70’s KUOI was granted more autonomy and funding after leaving the ASUI to join the Communications Board. The station upgraded its equipment and expanded its musical library, so that by the 1980s KUOI was joining underground music movements and leaving the stagnant formats of mainstream radio. Station Manager Chan Davis allowed DJ’s to break from monolithic playlist systems and spin whatever records and cassettes they liked. Whiplash against her anarchical Free Format policy was strong but short-lived. KUOI today belongs to an extremely small minority of student and low-power stations, whose DJ’s total creative freedom is policy.
Today a department of the Student Media Board, KUOI continues its tradition as a music and news outlet for the students of the UI. In the mid 90’s KUOI affiliated with the independent media Left through the Pacifica Network. Pacifica programs Democracy Now! and the now replaced Pacifica Network News joined KUOI News’ home grown repertoire.
KUOI joined an ultimately successful boycott of Pacifica as its national administration moved towards the center-right. KUOI News, which in earlier decades had produced wire copy stories and covered local events, went live from the studio roundtable and Moscow’s bars to cover the 2000 national presidential election.
Today KUOI volunteers produce 56 weekly programs such as recent quasi-icons “The Gummi Breast-plate”, “The Guitar vs. The Machine”, and “The Screen Door”. KUOI owns the largest music library of any college station in the Northwest and broadcasts over multiple mediums. For decades KUOI has been one of the most respected college radio stations nationwide. As a pioneer in college radio and one of the most influential stations in promoting new underground artists, KUOI catalyzes music, media, and creative minds.