I’d like to wish a happy 25th Birthday to KFSR, 90.7 FM, the radio station at California State University, Fresno.
I know that if you check their website, it claims that they went on the air in the evening of October 31, 1982, but that’s dead wrong.
I can totally see how the mistake happened: in the early days, it always made total sense to combine the anniversaries with Halloween parties, and over the years, it just became accepted that the station was born on Halloween.
But it wasn’t: KFSR went on the air at noon on Saturday, October 30, 1982. I should know, I was there, having been looking forward to it since I got involved with the station in early 1981. And a quarter-century later, here’s what I remember for sure:
- It had been raining really hard.
- The first song played was Ramones “We Want The Airwaves.”
- Nothing was ever the same.
For the next several years — until I finally left in May 1989 (graduate? Ha! I was taking the scenic route!) — what I called “the radio station” was the exact center of my life. Because of KFSR, I made life-long friends — Kirk! Jay! — found lovers, interviewed bands and got to meet people and do things that I will never ever forget.
Of course, I had no idea about any of that 25 years ago. I had no idea about the craziness and politics — internal and external — that went along with being “that punk rock station.” Time and space don’t permit any stories, but suffice it to say that the early days of KFSR were chaotic, to say the least.
But no matter how weird it got, I could always go back to this: I was getting to do the one thing that I was certain I wanted to do — play music for people. Hey, it wasn’t like I had lofty ambitions. Because the only thing that I know for sure that is hard-wired directly into my soul is this: “Hey, have you heard that song?” Being able to do that on a regular basis when I hadn’t even yet turned 20 was pretty amazing.
Which was why I was on the air as much as I possibly could be. Pretty early on, I had snagged myself a plum regular shift — Fridays from 3:00 – 7:00, when people were gearing up for the weekend — and, for years, I arranged my entire life around being at the radio station during those hours.
But it wasn’t just 4 hours a week. That was the baseline: I got on the air every possible moment I could — when people were sick, or bored, or didn’t show up. Just because I was so crazy in love with doing it. Because it was my way of asking dozens or hundreds or even thousands of people: “Hey, have you heard this new Replacements album?” “Hey, have you heard The Jesus and Mary Chain? They’ll blow your mind.”
Or “hey, it’s been six months, here’s the new one from Hüsker Dü!” No band ever sounded better on the radio than Hüsker Dü. Maybe some 14-year-old kid would turn on the radio at the exact moment I was playing “Keep Hangin On” or “Ice Cold Ice” and have his or head rearranged forever in the same way mine was the first time “Safe European Home” came roaring from my turntable just a few years prior.
That was the point. And that was the difference: I bought that Clash album almost on a dare. I had never heard any of their music on the radio — in Fresno? in 1978? — when I bought it. But with KFSR, and dozens of like-minded stations in places large and small all over the U.S. of A, suddenly this music had a home.
I can’t even imagine how foreign this all sounds to today’s indie kids, especially the ones who weren’t even born when we went on the air. It’s like that scene in The Princess Bride when Peter Falk says: “When I was your age, television was called ‘books.” Well, when I was your age, the Internet was called “College Radio.”
That’s an oversimplification, of course, but College Radio stations like KFSR helped to catalyze a loose network of rock fans all across our country who had no other way of hearing The Dream Syndicate or The Pixies or Sonic Youth or a million other bands, great and crap.
You can get a glimpse of this in books like Ann Powers’ Weird Like Us or Michael Azeraad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life — and I’ll bet that it will come back to me hard while I read Jim Walsh’s brand-new oral history of The Replacements — but of course, everybody’s story is different, and back in Fresno, at the very least, KFSR helped to create a local music scene.
In the end, that’s probably the best thing all — yes, it was fun to meet R.E.M.; and the closest thing I’ll ever had to meeting a hero was interviewing Paul Westerberg; and gods know that there was no point in trying to stop the Beastie Boys or Camper Van Beethoven run roughshod over the studio — but nothing was more fun than being part of the local scene that crystallized around KSFR.
In my not-so-humble opinion, I think that scene sprouted several amazing bands, some of which — Capital Punishment, Let’s Go Bowling and my close personal friends, The Miss Alans — had regional, national or even international followings. And because of my association with KFSR, I was lucky to be smack dab in the middle of all of that until I finally escaped Fresno in the mid-1990s.
By that time, of course, I had left KFSR (and even graduated!), and the local scene was mutating — as local scenes are supposed to do — into something completely different. As it has no doubt continued to do.
So Happy 25th Anniversary KFSR! I know that your mission has changed in the last quarter-century, and your website indicates that you are now a respectable member of the community. But hopefully, that’s not totally true, and there are some echoes of the crazy distant past still reverberating around the hallways of the Speech Arts Building. Even if it’s not called the Speech Arts Building anymore.