KUOI History | Uncondensed

Photo by Kathi Wagner

Dan Tarter in KUOI Production room | Photo By Kathi Wagner

KUOI Radio, “Q-EE”, started as one of many amateur radio stations on the University of Idaho campus and evolved into one of two student-owned and operated stations west of the Mississippi. The musical format, always the mainstay of KUOI, changed from the smooth and popular sounds of Nat King Cole in the 1940s to the raw urban revolutionary rap of Public Enemy in 1990. KUOI survived inept student government, funding cuts, FCC rules, state watchdogs and a long line of student station managers who were reactionary at worst and brilliant at best. The news programming changed from homegrown productions to AP wire copy to the radical Pacifica Network. Non-musical production, which in the early days included Shakespearean plays, now features topics like “Hippie vs. Car,” a call-in show that features topics like women’s secret confessions. The story of KUOI is a story of luck and determination. Despite every obstacle thrown in its way, KUOI has survived.

If there ever was an inauspicious beginning, it was KUOI’s. Three paragraphs and a list of officers on the bottom page in the Argonaut announced the hours and schedule of operation. KUOI began as an engineering project in the attic of the old Electrical Engineering Annex Building, approximately where the parking lot to the present day Home Economics Building is located. Although certain icons can mean different things to different people, if a picture of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney can be drawn in one’s mind, an idea of how KUOI was put together might be formed. With equipment borrowed from the NROTC, the university and other individuals, the “Voice of the Vandals” throbbed out over the airwaves with the whopping power of two watts.

KUOI was the product of a culture which it (KUOI), along with the rest of mass communication, would help dismantle. The campus was a close-knit fabric of living groups, and individuals were often identified by their living group. The Greeks had the Panhellenic and Intrafraternity Councils and the independents had the Independent Councils. Many off-campus students were returning to married GIs who, for the most part, kept to themselves. It was this camaraderie among the students that gave the station-founders the strength to build and expand KUOI. It was never just one student or a small clique of students that ran the show for themselves, but an all-for-one and one-for-all philosophy that powered students. Orval Hansen recalled that every Monday he would go from living group to living group picking up that week’s musical survey to see which son would be featured on the 5:15 Swing Time show.

This is not to say that there were not some dynamic individuals involved at the beginning. The Godfather of KUOI was Glenn Southworth, an electrical engineering major who would later go on to pioneer stereo recording. Ted Cady, son of the Dean of Engineering, was undoubtedly one of the most energetic characters on campus. It was he that would formalize KUOI on campus. Cady was assisted by Orval Hansen, who would later go on to Washington D.C. as a congressman and own five radio stations, and Sam Butterfield, who would later become head of USAID for Asia. Ambitious as they were, small hurdles would always be on the track for them to leap over.

One hurdle, that in a way epitomizes the era, was the hours that the station could operate. Class attendance in the “good old days” was not optional. Therefore, at the start, it was difficult to find daytime listeners and impossible to find the manpower to pull it off. There was also a paternalistic rule that said all freshmen had to be in their houses at 6:30 p.m., with quiet hours beginning at 7:30 p.m. KUOI had no choice but to limit the programming to 4-6 p.m. Nevertheless, 13 different programs could be heard during those weekday hours. Weekend programming had yet to arrive.


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