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College Radio Flashback: Covering Campus Disturbances in the 1960s and 70s

I’ve been thumbing through a couple of bound editions of IBS’ The Journal of College Radio from 1970 to 1972 and it’s an incredible look at college radio in that era. Concerns of the day included potential policy changes for carrier-current broadcasters, questions about the FCC’s rules on obscenity (not much has changed!), and excitement about the potential of cable FM. Women were still a college radio novelty as were people of color (there were token articles about each).

One area that I’d love to dig into more is the role of college radio in covering student protests in the 1960s and 1970s. For that reason, the April-May, 1972 article, KZSU Develops Technique in Covering Campus Disturbances, piqued my interest. Written by KZSU‘s Seth Neumann, the article not only outlines how the Stanford University station reported on protests, but also references occurrences at other stations.

KZSU and Covering Campus Disturbances article

Neumann writes,

When political militancy reached the point of direct action at Stanford in the spring of 1967, KZSU was in the almost unique position of having a plant ready made to deal with this new task in reportage. KZSU had an established network of remote broadcast lines and equipment designed for broadcast of speeches and sports events. Fortunately, most of this gear proved adaptable to crisis coverage.”

In addition to outlining equipment suggestions (including small remote boards, CB walkie-talkies, phones, and police scanners), best practices for sources, and safety tips (including “carry a gas mask or legal equivalent”). Neumann cautions:

One thing to watch is your own safety. When things get thick and the tear gas clouds the air, both sides (‘people’ and ‘pigs’) are likely to assume that anyone that they cannot identify belongs to the other side. That is not a ‘safe’ assumption for you. Radio KALX at the University of California at Berkeley had a man arrested that way last year. We have had numerous incidents (one involving the author) in which police officers have chased or beaten KZSU reporters or confiscated walkie talkies from them.”

Neumann also mentions a cautionary tale based on an incident that happened at University of California at Santa Barbara’s station KCSB, saying:

KCSB-FM at the University of California at Santa Barbara was shut down by order of the police in the spring of 1970 because of suspicions that radicals were getting information about police movements from KCSB-FM broadcasts.”

These radio stations in California weren’t the only college radio stations covering student protests in the late 1960s and 1970s. I’m aware of a record produced by Harvard University’s radio station WHRB called Strike: Confrontation at Harvard 1969, which documents the student radio station’s reporting of campus protests. 5/13/15 UPDATE: Listen to the audio here.

If you know of other examples of college radio stations covering student protests, please let me know.


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4 Responses to College Radio Flashback: Covering Campus Disturbances in the 1960s and 70s

  1. Jerry Drawhorn May 12, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    The UC Radio Network was formed on the eve of the Free Speech Movement and was explicitly intended to share information about protests and other student activities of “common interest” between campuses. UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, Berkeley and UC Davis all had carrier current systems by 1964. They hacked into the University “tie-line” systems to carry coverage. At times they had hours of continuous phone commuication with the administration (apparently) none-the-wiser. KCD (at UC Davis) established a studio within the Student Presidents office (Bob Black, a member of SDS) to find out what was happening at Berkeley and elsewhere.

    Several KAL(X) and other broadcasters were arrested during the FSM for simply giving speeches on campus regarding the need for freedom of inquiry and expression on campus. One of the key platforms in the FSM manifesto was the right of students to broadcast a range of different political and social viewpoints. Usually reporters used small cassette recorders for interviews and actualities and had to bring them back to the studios for broadcast.

    The Regents actually denied an FM license to KAL (Berkeley…later KALX) for several years because they were concerned that students would use it to broadcast political statements an cover the protests. Student engineers overcame this constraint by fabricating small transmitters that they would place at the junctions of campus-city electrical lines, which enabled the signal to jump into the city grid. This allowed student radio to be head some distance (about 1/4 mile) off campus into the area of major student density.

    Later the Regents (at the behest of Gov. Reagan and GOP Senator Canady) instituted “Media Boards” to supervise the newspapers and radio stations. Administrators at the campuses noted how difficult it would be to institute pre-publication censorship, not mentioning that the Courts might rule against a government Board censoring the Press under First Amendment grounds). In addition, it was thought that the students would simply move “off-campus”. Instead they tried to control things by the power of appointing the Media Directors and using a post-broadcast complaint/response process.

    Apparently at Sacramento State the students crept back into the studios of the closed campus [Gov. Reagan had closed campuses for a week] to broadcast protests after the Kent State killings in 1970’s. They took phone-in actualities from pay phones along the route of the march and protest.

    I believe that it was at that time that there was an effort to establish a national network of student radio stations and student newspapers to cover the National Moratorium…which included speeches and lectures, coverage of marches, concerts, etc.

    During the 1985 Anti-Apartheid protests KALX had set up a remote observation point with their “sports remote” equipment overlooking a group of protestors outside California Hall (the main Administration Building). The large mixed contingent of Alameda County Sheriffs, regional police and Campus Police moved in and a small group of them cut the power line to end the broadcast.

    • Jennifer Waits May 13, 2015 at 11:38 am #

      Hi Jerry,

      Thanks so much for all of this back story. It’s really interesting to find out more about the origins of UCRN. I had no idea!


  2. Jerry Drawhorn May 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    I should also mention that KZSU at Stanford had sent reporters with cassette recorders down to the 1965 Freedom Summer and hundreds of hours of interviews, live coverage of events, etc. are archived at the University. I don’t know if they called back reports as they occurred, or if tapes were mailed back for broadcast, or if the programs were only aired after the reporters returned. How that long-distance bit of reporting was negotiated would be interesting.

    • Jennifer Waits May 13, 2015 at 11:39 am #

      This is so fascinating! I’m hoping that this material is being cataloged for the Radio Preservation Task Force project. I’m glad to see that Stanford is already an affiliate.

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