Radio and Television Take Off
As a specialized offering, Radio-Television was launched in 1936-37 with an upper division course in Radio Speaking taught by William McCoard, and the next year by Dorothy Kaucher. (In 1939-40 the title was changed to Radio Production.) The class actually was more involved in writing and producing rather than speaking, and it engendered great interest and enthusiasm for actual telecasting experience. In as much as the department had no facilities other than basic classroom microphones, contact was made with the officials of KQW, a local commercial station that had opened in 1926. The station managers were supportive, and a cooperative plan was developed in which students contributed short programs and several on-going series, ranging from campus news through educational programs to radio dramas. In most cases, these programs were written, cast, and directed in the department, KQW furnishing only the broadcasting facilities. By far the most popular program, from the standpoint of the students, was the radio drama.
Edgar Willis, a true radio specialist, was hired in 1946 to develop curriculum in the Radio-Television field. He combined three smaller offerings into a one-year course called Elements of Broadcasting and, two years later, submitted a proposal for a special two-year Trial Curriculum in Radio Speech, which was approved as an emphasis in the major leading to a BA degree.
Between 1937 and 1940, the work of one student was conspicuously superior. Jean Holloway wrote, directed, and produced many scripts broadcast over the local station and over KYA in San Francisco. Among these scripts were several award winners, and at least one radio drama received a national award as the best dramatic script of the year. Jean Holloway later was hired to write the Kate Smith Hour scripts and later wrote several television programs, such as The Maytag Hour and Mr. President. It was only natural that eventually the motion picture industry would purchase her services as a scenarist, a position she was still holding in 1962.
The official Department Brochure of 1947 describes the early Radio program:
For students interested in radio the Department of Speech and Drama provides studio rehearsals and live broadcasts. Programs are presented by the college each week over local stations. In addition to actual experience on the air, the department offers a complete group of courses which provide a concentrated training in radio writing, radio speaking, and radio production. This year's outstanding series included Short Story Playhouse, a dramatization of the world's great short stories; Drama Time, an outlet for the production of original scripts; and News and Interviews, which presented news of the college and introduced student and faculty members to the public. The college radio studio is completely equipped with sound records, recording machines, etc., and gives students of speech and drama the opportunity to record their work for study and improvement.
Alumnus John Wulzen (class of 1957) remembers the early days of SJSU radio drama:
One of my early remembrances as a student at SJSU was the day I first heard my own voice coming out of a tape recorder. I guess my response was the usual one. “That's me?” The first time one hears his own recorded voice he probably says the same thing. It took place in a class run by Courtney Brooks, I believe. That same day I learned to correctly pronounce the word “theatre.” I had pronounced it with emphasis on the “a” in the word as though it had three syllables. I learned to pronounce it like Sir Ralph Richardson, not a yokel from some country town in the South.
I read somewhere, or someone told me, that when listening to a radio drama, your mind becomes the “silver screen of your imagination” that you use to conjure up the setting and characters. As a boy I would sit by the radio every night listening to the comedy of Jack Benny, and dramas such as, The FBI in Peace and War, and one of my favorites, I Love a Mystery starring Jack, Doc, and Reggie. Three undaunted hero-types who defeated all the bad guys before the end of the thirty minutes of the unbounded situations they found themselves in.
So when I went to college, with the help of our government, I found myself in the Radio and Television department started by a young professor named Bob Guy. Our first class rooms were in one of the barracks next to the Men's gym. I think the barracks were constructed for the use of aeronautical students, but I can't be sure at this late date. I hooked up with a couple of students, one a writer and the other a big guy with a deep rumbling voice. They were (and still are) named Jim Ahern (the writer-director) and Jim Hutchens (the voice). We had a ball. By then we were in the new R/TV building (Gillis Hall) with our own studio and everything!
One day we were rehearsing a show outside the building. Ahern wanted the “realism” of people walking by. Another student, who I believe is still there, was doing the engineering chore in the booth inside. His name is Glen Pensinger and I believe he's the TV engineer at Gillis Hall.
Hugh Gillis was a character also. A big tall gangling man, he was more of an administrator than a teacher, I believe. (We used to call him “Huge” Gillis. Behind his back of course).
We also studied Oral Interpretation, the lifting of the words off the page and giving them blood and bone. I had one Oral Interpretation professor who would stop a student in mid-sentence and shout, “What?” Of course this would put off the reader who would just look mystified. “What are you trying to say?” the professor would ask. He'd keep this up until the student would finally get it. Then he'd continue, a little worse for wear, but with a stronger sense of what he was doing.
I'm really sorry that radio drama is no longer in fashion. It was so gratifying to act in radio shows. To put to use that “silver screen of the imagination.”
With the appearance of commercial television in 1948, it became obvious that production in television would have to be included if broadcasting training was to be complete, and since the early 1950s more and more emphasis has beenplaced upon this aspect of broadcasting.
Edgar Willis, a radio specialist, was without experience in television and resigned in 1951. He was replaced by Robert Guy, who developed new curricula, acquired equipment, secured practice space, and enrolled new majors who soon constituted one-third of the department total, all within his six years in the position. The department, in fact, was used by the state government in the mid-1950s as an experiment to decide what broadcasting training should be allowed in state colleges. After an affirmative decision by the state, the department's program was encouraged by a liberal infusion of state funds. About the same time, with the realization that there was much interdependence between drama and television production, the curriculum was shifted from the speech area to that of drama, where, to the present , it has remained.
To understand the basic curricular and administrative problems faced by the leaders in this area [Radio-Television], one must recognize several factors: the high cost of equipment for such an operation, the difficulty in securing instructors with a combination of high academic standards and technical proficiency and experience, and the tremendous student interest which is not always correlative with academic ability. These factors give reason first for the extremely rapid growth of offerings, and second for the almost continuous reorganization of those offerings.
Alumna Patricia Morris (class of 1956) remembers the first graduating class of Radio and Television majors:
Though there were no film degrees (my first love) when I came to San José State in 1951, I was privileged, as the first young woman, (among these nine young men: James Barry, David Browne, Louis duCharme, Richard Garcia, Richard Garvin, Charles Gingold, Frederick Hare, James Houston, and Alfred Tisch, Jr.), to earn a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1956 in Radio and Television.
The department was fortunate, on Robert Guy's resignation (1959), to secure the services of Clarence Flick, who brought to the work a background of commercial experience equal to or superior to Guy's, and an academic training and educational philosophy much needed in the development of radio-television training into a position of security, both from the standpoint of its occupational aims and of its academic standards. As curriculum supervisor, and coordinator for Radio and Television, Dr. Flick and his staff achieved in three years (1959-62) phenomenal success in coordinating these two basic and often opposing needs. The area constantly enriched its offerings with projects of various types, some bringing prestige to the department through winning of important awards and citations.
On March 19, 1960, the Radio and Television area of the department began a series of television productions entitled Perspective. More than fifty programs were carried by coaxial cable from the Speech and Drama Building for broadcast over KNTV's transmitter from 1960 to 1962.
For three years, beginning in the fall of 1958, the Radio-Television area broadcasted (on a campus-wired wireless system for one hour) radio programs produced by students. This sustained effort led to the development of policy and plans for a fifty-watt college FM station to be operated out of the department. Applications for an educational broadcasting license were placed before the FCC in early 1962 with FM service beginning in February 1963.
Professor Mike Adams tells the story of one of the first local college stations, KSJS-FM, 90.5 mhz at San José State University. Adams has been the station's faculty advisor since 1988:
America in 1960. The Cold War was raging, Sputnik was orbiting, Kennedy had just defeated Nixon for the presidency, Elvis was getting out of the army and AM radio had given drama, comedy and variety away to television and replaced big band with rock and roll. Locally, that same year, a memo was presented to President John T. Walquist recommending that San José State College establish an FM broadcasting station. Back then, there were few FM stations in existence with only a handful licensed to colleges. In fact, a survey completed here in 1960 by San José State radio and television students indicated that only 26% of the students actually had the FM band on their radios. Armed with this information and led by Drama Professor Clarence Flick, a committee of faculty, staff, and administrators submitted a proposal for KSJS-FM, which eventually became part of the license application.
The proposal, dated January 1962, suggested that for about $11,000 a transmitter and studios could be purchased and installed. Funds would come from both the instructional budget and fees generated by the Associated Students. It would be staffed and programmed by the faculty and students of the Speech, Drama and Journalism departments and, while expected to provide an educational experience for students, it would clearly be under the control of the newly-created FM station Policy Committee. Programming goals as stated in the original proposal to the FCC were those designed to “reflect the quality and objectives of the college.” Indeed, several pages of programming policies were presented as part of the original application, all suggesting plenty of checks and balances on programming content, i.e., the college promised to watch the students carefully. It should be noted here that all applicants for a federal broadcast license were expected to say these sorts of things.
On February 11, 1963, KSJS-FM went on the air. With a modest power of 85 watts, it was possible to hear the new station several miles from the college. Possible, of course, if you had that rare FM radio. During those early years, it was even recommended that small AM transmitters be installed in the Student Union and dormitories to rebroadcast KSJS-FM so that more students could receive the station. Programming in those early days was limited to the hours of 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Monday through Friday and only while the semester was in session. It was a humble beginning with much of the programming on tape from the National Educational Network. Students produced and presented news, sports, classical music and a variety of talk and interview programs.
Cut to the late 1960's. Campus protests, takeovers of administration buildings, calls for change, calls for ouster of anyone in authority, mostly as a protest to the wars in Southeast Asia. And like the institutions of higher education that sponsored them, in the latter 1960's and early 1970's, college radio stations both influenced and reflected the general social change in America. Attempted student takeovers of the station, one at gunpoint, and overreaction by administrators divided KSJS and even caused one faction of students to defect from the station and try to start their own. Faculty reacted by calling for more control over the station administration and programming content. KSJS began broadcasting so-called 'free-speech messages' and the campus had a 'committee for open media.' It was a time of change at San José State College and its tiny 85 watt FM station.
The passage of the Public Radio Act in 1967 caused many educational licensees to pause and reflect on their future, and by the early 1970's, there was plenty of discussion at San José State about possible affiliation with National Public Radio, NPR. With dissatisfaction over the operation of the station growing in proportion to the social and political events of the time, the College FM Policy Committee in 1973 recommended that KSJS apply for a power increase in order to qualify for NPR affiliation. In that same study “KSJS-FM, a Time for Decision,” it was suggested that KSJS might be taken out of the hands of students and run by administrators. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. KSJS-FM was able to increase power to 1000 watts by 1975 and remain as a student station in the Theatre Arts/Radio-TV-Film Department. In 30 years, the wheel has been reinvented at least a dozen times.
In 1963, the College FM Committee reported that “the FM station was in financial difficulty and was saved by a one-time only contribution by our Dean.” Don't tell anyone, but we've been in financial difficulty every year since then, and at least twice in 1989, we were saved by a “one-time only” contribution by our Dean. These Deans are good people to know. We have also managed to withstand the plethora of well-meaning but largely ineffective committees and subcommittees, all with their own agenda for KSJS. We are left today with a student-run, student-staffed, student-funded station, but with the programming expectations of a public radio station. It is an awesome responsibility. So with all this accumulated history, experience and knowledge in mind, you ask, “where are we going?” As we enter 2000 and our 38th year of broadcasting, I'm pleased to report that we show great promise. We have one of the best student staffs in the history of the station; we are on the air 24 hours every day of the year; and we have at least 150 students from 30 different majors contributing to the administration and programming of the station, most for course credit. After three years of technical study, we have raised and relocated our antenna for a dramatic boost in our coverage area. We now serve the entire South Bay from Palo Alto to Pancheco [Pacheco] Pass. Twice KSJS was named “Station of the Year” by the National Association of College Broadcasters. We have the support of our administration while maintaining a highly eclectic selection of programming. Our purpose is clear: “to provide a unique liberal-arts experience in broadcasting for university credit and to serve the university and South Bay communities with programs that entertain, inform and challenge.” And it worked. In 1989, within five minutes of the Loma Prieta earthquake, several dozen student news reporters and others were on KSJS's airwaves, relaying vital information from local public safety agencies to our listening audience. We maintained this coverage for several days and passed the test—we actually did serve our dual purpose of providing that unique communications experience while meeting the needs of a real audience. Is KSJS-FM an important part of the San José State University experience? You better believe it.