Ryan Chartrand

“Is this the damn switch?”

It wasn’t exactly the most prolific way to announce the birth of a radio station, but it was with this perceptive inquiry that K Cal Poly Radio (KCPR) began its very first broadcast way back in 1968.

Thanks to the collective efforts of Cal Poly students Gary Gardner (first chief engineer) and Alan Holmes (first station manager), KCPR – then the product of a senior project – went on the air from room 201 of the Graphic Arts Building in the fall of 1968.

Initially headed by famous local broadcaster and Cal Poly broadcast professor Ed Zuchelli, the station began a heritage of playing not only popular top-40 music of the era, but also the most edgy and obscure products of the time thanks to the eclectic tastes of KCPR’s student DJs.

You can thank journalism department chair George Ramos in part for that tradition.

“When I was DJ between ’68 and ’69, I played a lot of popular music of the day such as Motown, but I also liked to play a lot of rock’n’roll that was edgy and signified the volatile times, like the Rolling Stones,” Ramos said.

The station certainly played a diverse range of music, but airtime was also shared in part with news programs that covered national, local, and Cal Poly events.

What was interesting about both music and news broadcasts of the time was that the location was not always central to the KCPR control room.

“We used to do a lot of broadcasts outside the studio,” Ramos said. “We would sometimes go out to the old Baskin Robins out on Foothill and broadcast music from there and we would invite listeners to come out and do live requests.”

The station also became well known for hosting some whacky DJs during its early years, including “Weird” Al Yankovich, who was notorious for recording a parody of “My Sharona,” a hit song by The Knacks, in the bathroom across the hall from KCPR. The song entitled “My Bologna,” came to be known as one of Weird Al’s breakout hits.

In its early stages, KCPR was a typical top-40 radio station, playing popular music hits of the day. In the 1970s one could expect to hear the sounds of the era’s most popular rock’n’roll and disco hits. In fact there was a period in the late 70s when rock’n’roll music was banned on the top-40 playlist in favor of nothing but disco.

However, over the years, students began to do away with top-40 and any other playlists consisting of mainstream radio hits in favor of the more rare and obscure sounds that have made KCPR the underground alternative sensation that it is today.

Over the years, the station has experienced several changes since its inception, but none more important than in 1976 when the station changed formats from mono to stereo (AM to FM). Thanks to a $7,000 grant from ASI and the contributions of many, six engineering students worked around the clock to install the necessary hardware to make the format transfer. For their efforts, they were awarded the first 16 hours of stereo broadcast.

The station has certainly had its fair share of strange and eclectic DJs over the years -none the more infamous than Yankovich. That’s right. Yankovich was once an architecture student here at Cal Poly and a part-time DJ for KCPR in the late 70s.

In 1977, when The Knacks, a famous rock’n’roll group of the era, was scheduled to play at Cal Poly, Weird Al decided to impress the group by recording a parody of their hit song “My Sharona.”

Lugging his accordion and a microphone into the bathroom adjacent to KCPR (supposedly known for its great resonance), Weird Al recorded the now-infamous parody “My Bologna.” His career, as we all know, took off from there.

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