Narration of KUNM History to 1987 by Claude Stephenson
KUNM FM signed on the year in October 1966, but its roots go back to the AM Carrier Current Station KNMD, which signed on in April of 1960. KNMD was created and operated by UNM students, and its signal could be heard only on the UNM campus, and then only in the several buildings that were specially wired. Its format included classical and easy listening music, a little folk and jazz, dance music, news, and campus events. KUNM was preceded by an AM station called KNMD. This Carrier Current Station used phone lines to carry the signal to small transmitters located in a dorm building into fraternity houses on the UNM campus. Due to a mistake, probably made by the phone company, KNMD was heard in its first week every time anyone on campus picked up a telephone. The economics of operating a radio station have long been a challenge. When KUNM's precursor, Carrier Current Station KNMD was initially proposed in 1959, it was projected that the station
would cost less than $1,000 to start up. In less than a year, that estimate had increased to $12,000. Shortly after its premiere in the spring of 1960, KNMD shut down for the summer. Unfortunately, the transmitter was inadvertently left on, resulting in a substantial repair bill that fall. KUNM's colorful past goes all the way back to its early days as Carrier Current Station KNMD. The first dispute on record goes back to the spring of 1961, and KUNMD aired a recording from students at the University of California, explaining their side of the free speech demonstrations that were occurring there. Some board members felt that all future programming should be reviewed by the board to keep such material off the air, while others held out for a maximum degree of editorial freedom. KUNM's predecessor, KUNMD, saw its share of controversy in the early 60s. The issues ranged from the weighty to the mundane. In the fall of 1961, the station went off the
air in an argument with the student union over fire escape access. But some say the real issue was after hours access to the restroom facilities. The subject came to light when a KNMD DJ was caught after hours in the sub-theater restroom, having picked the lock in order to answer the call of nature. KUNMD has long been known for its eclectic music programming. That eventually became known as Freeform Programming may trace its roots back to November 1962, when KUNM's predecessor, KUNMD, aired an all-night program called A Great Festival. According to one description, the DJs played all types of music, taking requests from listeners before and during the show. KUNM's predecessor, KUNMD, was an AM carrier current station. At the time of KUNMD's inception, FM technology had not yet become the standard. In 1964, interest in developing an FM broadcast station was renewed, partly in response to
complaints from students who lived off campus. They were paying for the service but could only hear it in the student union building on campus. Their arguments found a more sympathetic ear with KUNMD's current station manager, who was an electrical engineering major. In 1964, the move toward developing an FM broadcast station began in earnest. The initial proposal included an antenna on Sandy Acrest. The project's cost was estimated at $19,500. The university administration declined to split the cost of the proposed upgrade of KUNMD on fiscal grounds. Reassessing costs, the student senate decided it would be cheaper to first establish an antenna on the roof of the student union building. The proposal moved forward with a funding allocation from student fees. In 1965, the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico agreed to apply for a non-commercial educational FM broadcast license from the Federal Communications Commission. On behalf
of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico and KUNMD, the new station was to be a medium of communication between the University of New Mexico and the people of Albuquerque and vicinity, with programs on a high educational and entertainment plane. In the summer of 1966, with construction of its FM facility well underway, KUNMD applied to change the station's call letters. KUNM was the preferred designation, but it turned out these call letters were assigned to a ship. Since the ship was no longer sailing under the U.S. flag, a request was made to the customs bureau to release the call sign to the FCC. With the issue still unresolved, some 20,000 program guides were printed, bearing the call letters KUNM. On October 17, 1966, a brand new non-commercial educational broadcast service signed on the air at 90.1 FM. It was KUNM, but the call letters weren't
yet official. One source has it that a local commercial station sued to bar the station from using the call letters KUNM on the grounds that they were too similar to their own. Another source contends that there was a glitch in transferring the call letters from the Liberty ship that held them previously, requiring the intervention of Senator Anderson. Either way, the problem was soon resolved, and KUNM was on the air. KUNM published its first program, Guide in October 1966, in it was this statement of purpose. KUNM will not operate as a mass appeal radio station, programming to attract the greatest possible number of listeners. Neither will it be strictly an educational operation for the convenience of curriculum planners. KUNM will function as a service of the student body of UNM. Unburdened by commercials, providing the University family and the Albuquerque public with radio programs on a high cultural and entertainment plane.
We hope UNM attracts a loyal audience, not out of loyalty to UNM, but because it presents programs that are unavailable elsewhere, programs that enlighten and stimulate as well as entertain, programs with content absent elsewhere. KUNM's broad mission is subject to differing interpretations, and different readings have given rise to controversy. KUNM's first major programming controversy came in 1968. More students were listening to the station now, but some of them didn't like what they heard. One group demanded that KUNM devote at least 75% of its programming to pop music. The radio board drafted a policy statement directing the station to more directly reflect what the students wanted. The station manager and 11 other staff members resigned in protest and the station shut down. In the programming controversy of 1968, some feared that KUNM would start sounding like a commercial station if students dictated programming. Station management felt it unwise
to leave open the record library under a policy of announcer's choice. Up to this point, the station sound was certainly distinct from commercial stations, but tended to lean toward elevator music. The new programming policy opened the door to changing times, and KUNM began to evolve as a free-wheeling, free-form alternative. By the fall of 1968, KUNM had gone underground. The station was turning more toward underground rock and folk music, and programming that reflected the rhetoric of the times. Students returning to school that fall were greeted with a full-page psychedelic ad in the UNM Daily Lobo, welcoming them back to the cool sounds of KUNM. As the 1960s were drawing to a close, various groups were becoming more vocal in their desire for access to KUNM's airwaves. The United Mexican American students insisted that the station play nothing but mariachi music during the week of fiesta. A group called the Strike Committee
forcefully demanded air time. In an effort to keep them away from the control room microphone, the DJ who was on the air backed into the transmitter switch, accidentally shutting down the station for the night. KUNM's program guide for September 1969 clearly reflects the mood of the times. Public affairs specials included titles such as militancy on the campus, law and order and civil disobedience. The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco sound, conference on marijuana, female liberation front, and crises in the piece movement. Much of this timely and topical material came from the Pacifica network. KUNM's music mix was decidedly eclectic by the fall of 1969. Seven plus hours per day featured a music format called the Boneyard, described as a general mix of rock, folk, jazz, blues and soul. This program can be surprising in its content. Freeform was featured late
night and overnight and was then described as rock, hard rock, and hard hard rock. Other new specialty music shows featured soul and Native American music. In May of 1970, UNM students staged a strike to protest the killings at Kent State. KUNM broadcast live from the student union building, giving literally a blow-by-blow account of the ensuing battle. Although KUNM was not yet affiliated with the fledgling National Public Radio System, tapes of the broadcast were sent to NPR and were used in their national news broadcasts. In the early 1970s, FM's potential in the Albuquerque market was under developed, and KUNM was one of the most listened to FM stations. But apparently it wasn't for everybody. In November 1970, the director of the student union building replaced KUNM with KRST on the building's public address system, responding to complaints from some students that they
couldn't study to the outrageous sounds on KUNM. The change generated an even greater number of complaints from KUNM supporters and the decision was reversed. In 1972, KUNM was broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station was growing, and so was the university. But as new buildings went up, KUNM's signal was getting boxed in. KUNM's antenna was still on the roof of the student union building, and its signal traveled by line of sight. With the construction of Pope Joy Hall and other university buildings, it was getting harder to pick up KUNM's signal even in the immediate area. The original plan to put KUNM's antenna on Sandy a crest postponed due to cost back in 1964 was about to be revived. The decision to move KUNM to Sandy a crest was made in 1972. Though the plan was still four years from completion, the university radio board was already considering its implications.
Such a move would give KUNM a signal radius of 70 miles and more, and a whole new constituency would be able to tune in. But the move to the crest was still many obstacles away, and the issue had little urgency. KUNM continued through the early 70s with its free-wheeling format, primarily by and for students.
- Producing Organization
- Contributing Organization
- KUNM (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- Highlights from KUNM's history including conflicts regarding free speech, free form programming format, the move toward developing an FM signal, different interpretations of KUNM's mission over the years, and more.
- Created Date
- Asset type
- Media type
Narrator: Bokuniewicz, Mary
Producing Organization: KUNM
Writer: Stephenson, Claude
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
KUNM (aka KNME-FM)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-38453c0c243 (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Narration of KUNM History to 1987 by Claude Stephenson,” 1987-06-18, KUNM, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-207-23612mxn.
- MLA: “Narration of KUNM History to 1987 by Claude Stephenson.” 1987-06-18. KUNM, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 29, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-207-23612mxn>.
- APA: Narration of KUNM History to 1987 by Claude Stephenson. Boston, MA: KUNM, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-207-23612mxn