Contact: Marla Holt, News Bureau Director
April 10, 1998
Story by Debbie Urbanski '98
CARLETON COLLEGE'S STUDENT-RUN RADIO STATION TURNS 50
Northfield, Minn. - Fifty years ago, Carleton College's radio station began with the help of 157 student volunteers, $1,000 in student donations, $800 in loans from the College-and a couple of shovels.
When the faculty gave its approval in January 1948 for a student-run radio station at Carleton, students faced the daunting task of building the studio (including digging out space beneath the library annex, where the station would be housed during its first few years), constructing the equipment, and assembling a staff. Nine weeks later, on April 14, 1948, the studio was built, the equipment designed and constructed, the staff trained, and KARL (now KRLX) went on the air.
So began a 50-year tradition of student-operated radio at Carleton.
"Students dreamed it up, students built it, students operated it,"said David Jewell, the station's first technical adviser and a 1948 graduate of Carleton.
"We felt we needed a voice of some sort, more than just The Carletonian," said Jewell's classmate Bob Gale, one of the station's founders and now a member of the Carleton Board of Trustees.
Much of the technical work of constructing equipment was left to Carleton students who were veterans of World War II. Gale, due to what he calls his relative "lack of technical qualifications," earned the duty of crawling through Carleton's underground tunnels to wire the campus for radio. "Some tunnels were big enough to walk through, but some of them were just these little things with 100 years worth of cobwebs-it was exciting," he said.
The first broadcast was a powerful one. When KARL went on the air, the station's sounds were picked up all the way in Iowa, which was a problem because the station held rights to broadcast only on campus.
"So we lowered the power," Gale said.
Originally KARL broadcast two hours a day, Monday through Friday, and featured sports, news, talk shows and music. In the late 1960s, the station changed its format to reflect what then station manager Edwin Danielson, Jr., called "the beginning of a new regime."
Previously KARL had played two-hour blocks of a specific type of music-rock, jazz, folk or easy listening. In 1967 or 1968, DJs began blending all genres of music during their shows. "Radio was changing and popular music tastes were changing. We were at the forefront of it," said Danielson, a 1970 graduate of Carleton.
In a 1969 letter he wrote to the program manager at Cornell College, Danielson described KARL as having "what I consider to be the most advanced programming of any college radio station I've come in contact with....a homogeneous mishmash of folk, rock, jazz, soul and blues-and even a little C&W-makes up all but a few hours of our programming."
That same description applies today. Station policy allows current DJs complete freedom in choosing what they play.
In 1974, KARL became KRLX when it moved from AM to FM. To comply with FCC regulations, the College hired John Rooks, who still serves as the station's chief engineer.
Rooks stressed that the students are responsible for keeping KRLX running. "They've required very little authority," he said. "They've been a good example of what self-regulation can do."
In 1985, KRLX moved into its current location in the basement of Sayles-Hill Student Center, which houses separate FM and AM studios and a 30,000-album library. Now a 100-watt station, KRLX can be picked up at 88.1 FM and 680 AM.
From its start, the station has consistently involved about 15 percent of the student body. Last fall KRLX produced more than 100 radio shows on both FM and AM, employing about 175 student DJs.
Many student DJs go on to have careers in radio and other media after they leave Carleton. Don Tuttle, a 1949 graduate who constructed the station's first console and amplifiers, is chief radio engineer for the Elgin Public Schools in Illinois. Garrick Utley, class of 1961 and a Carleton trustee, is a CNN correspondent who began his news career as a KARL news anchor. Danielson is a volunteer DJ on Saturday mornings
at a Denver public radio station. Susan Orandi Johnson, class of 1987 and a former newscaster, reporter, and associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio, also began her career at KRLX.
Today KRLX is run by a 15-member student executive board. Senior Andrew Kukura of Riverwoods, Ill., just ended his tenure as station manager, after being involved with the station since his freshman year.
"We've made great strides-from simple things like keeping the station in code to greater things like improving studio equipment," he said.
The most experienced DJs are given the best time slots on FM, while DJs who are just starting out are assigned to AM, or-arguably more painful-given a 3:30 a.m. time slot. Getting your own radio show on KRLX is so popular, however, that students are willing to put up with broadcasting during the wee hours of the morning.
"People at Carleton are very passionate and know a lot about what they're playing," Kukura said. "It makes for engaging listening."
KRLX, one of the oldest student-run radio stations in the country, functions without the help of a faculty adviser. Most college radio stations have a faculty member handle FCC reports and radio operations, but at Carleton, students hold their own licenses and file their own reports.
"There's strong support from the College and the community, [but] we're in charge of everything," Kukura said. "It's all student run."
For 50 years KARL/KRLX has persevered. While its format may have changed, student enthusiasm and initiative have remained. Senior Gavin Hammel of Owatonna, Minn., who is DJing his 11th show this spring, said "I can play music all I want in my room, but this way I get to share the stuff I like with the world."