The history of radio at the University of Colorado at Boulder can be traced back to an experimental station in the physics building in the early 1900s. Radio 1190 history, however, begins in the 1970s.
In the early 1970s, a group of students obtained $24,000 from the University of Colorado Student Union (UCSU) for the equipment necessary to create a radio station and to apply for an FM frequency (89.3 FM, the last publicly available FM frequency in the Denver Metro area). GranFalloon, a private company, challenged the application, and although the University fought for the frequency for a while, it dropped its application after accruing $70,000 in legal fees. Casey Root became the chairman of CU’s Student Radio Governing Board. In 1974, outgoing CU President Frederick Thieme set aside $16,000 from his discretionary funds to establish a 250 watt FM station. UCSU promised $25,000 worth of equipment from the student rental reserve fund to KGNU in exchange for student involvement when the station went on the air in 1977. Students were to receive internship credit for their involvement.
On May 22, 1978, KGNU went on air. Casey Root convinced UCSU to give $30,000 and space in the University Memorial Center (UMC) basement to the student radio group to build a campus radio studio. This studio was to act as a satellite station for KGNU, where students could produce shows for broadcast and pre-recorded shows could be transmitted to KGNU via telephone lines. The KGNU news department was also given space in one of the studios to produce their shows. The equipment for undertaking was the equipment UCSU bought for KGNU, which was returned to the university when KGNU upgraded with their own new equipment.
KAIR was formed when it was decided that CU needed a radio station of its own. This station was managed by a full-time General Manager, Michael Deragisch. Students filed all of the other positions at the station. The music format was album-oriented, but a general lack of service from record companies greatly limited its variety.
KUCB was formed in 1987 when UCSU decided that KAIR would better serve the student body by being an all-student run radio station. The full-time General Manager was fired and a part-time student position created (an added bonus was a reduction in the station’s budget). The format of the station was slightly altered to fit a more traditional college format (album-oriented alternative). This format decision was made based on clear criteria: KUCB’s limited broadcasting range needed to be supported with a format that made it truly unique in the marketplace, and that so-called “college alternative” albums were the most readily available from record companies. The entire carrier current system (broadcasting via electric lines) was replaced at a total cost of approximately $20,000. Jeff Cronin, the first official KUCB engineer, had the fun job of completing this huge task. Around this time, KUCB also began broadcasting on TCI’s cable radio. KUCB started hosting alternative dance nights at Quigley’s in 1988 (now Club 156). Tara Keogh masterminded these very successful dance nights that continued for several years. This was also the year that “Progressive As Hell” became KUCB’s official motto.
Spring 1990 saw the first KUCB Program Guide, designed by Dee Mueller. The guide was designed to provide programming information as well as an insight into the personality of the station. KUCB won a design award in 1990 for its “Blow your mind” print ad, which ran in the Colorado Daily. Over Winter Break, KUCB and Program Council volunteers completely refurbished Quigley’s – painting, building the stage, building the sound booth, bar, etc. For what remains one of KUCB’s most unusual promotional events, Brad Calwell and Matt “Ratte” McMullen did Naked Radio, a request marathon in which every caller got their request played, won a bag of goodies, and one of the guys had to remove a piece of their clothing. The final caller before total nudity wins their underwear, as well as additional goodies. KUCB received over 100 requests, and yes, they really did strip.
Heavy rains flooded the entire basement of the UMC in 1991, where Radio 1190 is now located. Waters were reported to be mid-calf deep at their deepest point. Luckily, all of the operating KUCB equipment was high enough to be spared. However, there was a great deal of record damage. It took four years for KUCB to receive insurance money for replacements. In spite of the flood, in June of 1991, KUCB won the award for Best Jazz Radio Show (George Abbott’s show) in Westword’s Best of Denver 1991 edition.
KUCB’s third consultant report, designed to determine the worthiness of an attempt to go “full-power” in the crowded Denver marketplace was commissioned and completed in early Spring 1991. While the overall report was fairly positive, UCSU felt that it should hire someone part-time to spend several months looking more deeply into the issue. UCSU later decided to drop hiring the part-time researcher in favor of doing a fourth consultant report with the same goals as the others. Also at this time a student survey was conducted by Lou McClelland in the Research & Testing Office at the direction of UCSU. Both UCSU and KUCB submitted questions. The results of the survey were very positive.
In June of 1993, KUCB won the award for “Best Radio Station It’s Almost Impossible to Hear” from Westword in their Best of Denver 1993 edition. In January, TCI Cable, blaming bandwidth problems, dropped all radio stations including KUCB from their cable system (much of Boulder is in a “radio shadow” and has had great difficulty receiving stations). Citizens of Boulder protested very loudly, and managed to get KBCO and one other station reinstated. No other stations were reinstated at this time. KUCB reclaimed the tuner that TCI had been using to tune in the radio stations. It would take until November for KUCB to be reinstated. During Spring UCSU budget hearings, KUCB’s funding was almost cut, but KUCB was saved when we managed to obtain over 100 letters of support and bring approximately 80 supporters to both budget hearings. The meeting almost had to be moved to a new location to handle the number of people attending.
During the Fall of 1993, KUCB attempted to get a referendum question on the Fall CU ballots to ask students whether they would support a student fee increase to buy a transmitter for KUCB> UCSU rejected the ballot question. KUCB decided to petition the student body so that we could put a question on the Spring ballot asking students to increase fees by $1.72 per semester for four years to purchase a full power AM transmitter. The following Spring semester, during budget hearings, UCSU decided to put a referendum asking students if they would be interested in increasing student fees by $15.00 for two semesters in order for KUCB to go full-power within the year on the Spring semester ballots. While KUCB greatly appreciated the show of support from UCSU, we were concerned for several reasons. First, we now would have two competing ballot issues, each for different amounts of money. Second, we now would have two weeks to campaign for the second increase. Third, the $15.00 question would require not only a majority to pass, but 25% of the student body would have to vote, something which had NEVER happened in a UCSU election. (KUCB still managed, with only two weeks, to get the most students to vote in a UCSU election in almost ten years, and the second most students to vote in a UCSU election ever). The $1.72 referendum passed easily, and the $15.00 referendum got a majority of votes but the election did not pull in the required 25% of the student body.
In May 1994 and 1995, KUCB came in third and fourth place (respectively) in the Colorado Daily’s award for Best Radio Station in the Boulder’s Most Wanted Student Choice Awards. Negotiations regarding the purchase of a transmitter and potential programming went on for about 2 years. On December 30, 1997, Jacor Broadcasting of Denver donated the FCC license, the transmitter site, and related broadcasting equipment for KBCO-AM to the University of Colorado Foundation. In the Spring of 1998, various committees met to establish what would be Radio 1190. The summer of 1998 was spent hiring a professional General Manager and readying KUCB to become Radio 1190. KUCB volunteers worked to establish the name “Radio 1190”, the motto “The AM Revolution”, the original logo, the structure, the music library catalog system, the mission statement, the budget, and Radio 1190 programming. John Carter, Stacey Thompson, and Sean Davis were key players in the birth of Radio 1190. Jim Musil was hired in Fall as the first Radio 1190 Progressional General Manager.
Radio 1190 was born at 7am on November 4, 1998 with 5000 daytime watts, 110 watts at night and Real Audio broadcast on the web. Justin Crowe slept in the station so that the morning hosts could get in because no keys had been made yet. The first song was Spiritualized’s “Electricity Mainline” followed by Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Whitney “Winky” Gershke and Matt “Schicky” Schiclk hosted the first show. Weekdays were dedicated to rotation programming, nights and Saturdays were Specialty shows, and Sunday boasted a short-lived “Sunday Magazine” that featured talk shows that addressed everything from film to wrestling. Radio 1190 was kicked off with two concerts: Built to Spill in Boulder at the Fox and Modest Mouse at the LODO Music Hall.
In April of 1999, Radio 1190 had its first pledge drive, more familiarly known as the “Watt Attack”. Listeners could support Radio 1190 by buying a “Watt” for $10. Kim “Sassy” Hackett replaced Winky and Schicky in the mornings. Sassy won “Best Non-Commercial DJ” from Westword and received accolades in the Boulder Weeky’s Best of Boulder County for 1998. Radio 1190 shared the spotlight with her, winning “Best Non-Commercial Radio Station” from Westword. In November of 1999, Radio 1190 celebrated its first birthday with the first “Local Shakedown” at the Bluebird named for the local show of the same name and the first “Rocky Mountain Pop Fest”. The Local Shakedown was put together by Andrew Murphy and featured Kalamath Brothers, the Down ‘n’ Outs, Sarina Simoom, O’er the Rampart, Space Team Electra, Munly, Hoochie, and the Pin Downs. The Rocky Mountain Pop Fest featured the Minders, Bright Eyes, Marbles, the Maybellines, Breezy Porticos, John Bloom, The Apples in Stereo, Dressy Bessy, Barcelona, Electrogroup, and Mates of State.
In 2000, a number of events happened. First, professional general manager Jim Musil left Radio 1190 and was replaced by John Quigley. Quigley whipped the News Team up and Radio 1190 began featuring news updates at the top of the hour during drive time. Also, Andrew Murphy put together Radio 1190’s first CD version of The Local Shakedown, which was recognized by Westword as one of the great records of 2000. 2000’s pledge drive changed gears from the “Watt Attack” to “The Independent Radio Party” with an election theme. Also in 2000, Radio 1190 saw a huge increase in volunteers and listeners on the web.
The Radio 1190 DJ crew saw some superstars in the station in this era, too — including getting Colorado favorites Alisha Sweeney and Dana Meyers on the airwaves for the first time. Under the leadership of general manager Mikey Flanagan, popularity increased among both the listener and student community.
2011 saw the departure of Mikey Flanagan as general manager, as well as the shutdown of CU-Boulder’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the face of a rapidly changing media market. While the former J-School was replaced by today’s College of Media, Communication and Information in 2015, the station struggled in the interim under professional mismanagement that finally resulted in the professional general manager position being eliminated and replaced by a CMCI faculty oversight position.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 meant a virtual station shutdown and shift to automated programming for several months, and while student DJs were permitted to return to the studio later in 2020, volunteer activities took a severe hit and operational continuity suffered as well. The station lost control of its FM translators due to unethical business practices by an area translator lessor, and service quality of both the remaining AM and streaming channels suffered.
In May 2022, Radio 1190 voluntarily took a pause from AM broadcasting while a new professional chief engineer, Eric Scace, was brought on board to improve the station’s technical infrastructure. As the university and local community continued to recover from the pandemic, station staff — most notably faculty general manager Dr. Keyana Simone and station manager Trie Hall — worked tirelessly to improve operations overall while continuing to operate as an online-only station and attract and train new student and community volunteers. Iris Berkeley rejoined the station as operations specialist during this time after appearing on Radio 1190 for the first time in 1998 — demonstrating the community’s love for the station.
Radio 1190 went back on the AM airwaves on February 16, 2023 after nearly one year as an online-only station. By April, listenership was again on the rise and the station received Westword’s Reader’s Choice for Best Radio Station for Music in its annual Best of Denver awards.
Radio 1190 has won a variety of Westword’s “Best of Denver” awards in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2022, and 2023.
Thanks to Kate McCarthy, Trie Hall, and Iris Berkeley for contributing to this station history. Got something you’d like to add to the story? Email us.