High Over Irvine, It’s KUCI

Peter Huynh/New University

It started in a dorm room, 1967.

KUCI, a non-existent entity in our university’s formative years, began to take shape in the primordial airwaves in the form of several pirate stations, ones sprouted from ramshackle equipment in Mesa Court. Here, sprouted from illegality, our beloved station owes homage to two fathers who decided to take theirs into the realm of legality; pirate stations of KUCIs past had operated at either an extremely low frequency or risk being caught by the FCC’s listening post in Santa Ana. Craig Will and Earl Arbuckle took their station to ASUCI and decided to become a registered 10-watt station. Small, legal and disdained by the FCC, KUCI took root in 1969 in physical sciences.

That first year was characterized by names that exist now in historical glazed-eyed antiquity: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who. Being an FM station brought KUCI a bit of an innate underground edge. At the time, the hi-fi was more of an audiophile’s guilty pleasure than the increasingly outdated medium it is today. At a time when commercial radio stations operating on AM frequencies could only afford to devote two and a half minutes to any given artist at a time, KUCI and other college radio stations were prized for giving albums like The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” their entire runtime.

On March 18, 1973, KUCI broadcast its first concert: Beach Boys at Crawford Hall. After a bit of consternation on whether or not KUCI would actually be able to legally broadcast the concert, the Beach Boys’ manager finally acquiesced because Crawford was sold out. What happened next is a bit fantastical. Because KUCI didn’t have a Remote Studio Location antenna, Dave McCue, the chief engineer at the time, had to drive to UCSB and borrow 3,000 feet of audio cable. This cable lines snaked out of the third floor of Gateway, where KUCI had been since 1971, through humanities and parking lots, reaching through the tops of trees, all the way to Crawford Hall.

Acts performed on KUCI have since included in-studio performances by The Clash, Elvis Costello, Devo, The Police, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Pixies, U2, R.E.M., The Violent Femmes, Guns & Roses, Metallica, Pearl Jam, No Doubt, Sublime, The Cure, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie and Nirvana, to name just a few; other non-musical public figures that have appeared on KUCI include Arianna Huffington, the Dalai Lama, linguist Noam Chomsky, author Ray Bradbury, Ralph Nader and César Chávez. Eric Idle of Monty Python’s Flying Circus even came in at one point.

Kevin Stockdale, the current broadcast media coordinator and, as Robert J. Morey (author of “The History of KUCI: The First 25 Years or So,” from which most of the information in this article is culled) deems him, “Station God,” came to UCI in 1983, immediately interested in KUCI.

“My favorite memory of [KUCI orientation] was when we came the Saturday before school started for our tour,” Stockdale recalls. “But we were in the wrong building, we went to the Career Center of Student Services and it was locked. We were just like ‘Well, that would have been fun,’ but we luckily ended up in Gateway Commons, found the right place, and the rest is history. But that’s how we got our start.” Stockdale was on the air the summer of ’84, and after he graduated in 1988, he became the broadcast media coordinator, a position he has held ever since.

28 years after he first came on the air, Stockdale is still a presence at KUCI, an office with walls filled with Simpsons and Family Guy memorabilia, as well as a ceiling lined with CDs. He says that KUCI has been at its current location, a trailer near HICF behind the Science Library, since 1995.

Stockdale is somewhat of a KUCI historian, taking it upon himself to keep records. Though Morey was a friend of his and was in the same graduating class, Stockdale is still one at KUCI year in and year out, the string keeping KUCI whole for over two decades. He was here when No Doubt played in KUCI’s lobby in the early ’90s, when artists like Sublime would come in because they hadn’t yet picked up the momentum that turned their names iconic. He’s seen massive sea-change in the radio industry in his extended experience, from the rise of hip-hop and electronic music to the development of the Internet, simulcast and the development of the iPhone app.

As for now, just as it was in those days when Will and Arbuckle held the fledgling radio station in their hands, nourishing it into life, KUCI’s spirit, an evolution from a 10-watt pirate station to the trailers next to the Francisco J. Ayala Science Library where it stands today, can be epitomized in lyrics from the station’s first ever broadcast song, “Get Together” by the Youngbloods:

“If you hear the song I sing, you will understand. Listen.”