KCLC turns 70: Part 2 – narrowly saved from funding cuts

Students broadcast in the basement of the Memorial Arts Building.
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.

KAYLA DRAKE | Multimedia Producer

Lindenwood University’s radio station is celebrating its 70th year of being on air in 2018.

In the seven decades KCLC has been on the air, it has gotten a reputation for being run by students and guided by professionals. It’s also attracted some dynamic students who have gone on to become MLB sportscasters, KSHE personalities and KMOV nightly news anchors.

Greg Amsinger, a sportscaster and host for the MLB Network, is among the pros KCLC has generated.

“It was the foundation of who my friends were, the professors that influenced my life and career the most and really connected the love of broadcasting to how hard you had to work to make it in broadcasting,” he said.

Minimal funding, maximum recruiting

In Oct. 7 1968, KCLC FM went on air with 200 watts, barely reaching First Capitol Drive, but by 2010, it had reached 50,000 watts and the entire St. Louis metropolitan area.

This year marks the 50th anniversary for KCLC FM and the 70th anniversary for AM 660.

By now, the AM station is used to train students and kept mainly for memory of the old days, while KCLC FM is used to broadcast music, talk and news to listeners.

Since the station’s creation it was housed in the basement of the Memorial Arts Building. 

Jim Wilson applied to be general manager of KCLC because he saw potential in the program, he said.

Jim Wilson (left) accepts a donation check for $500 in the 80’s to help the hurting communications program.
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives

“[The station] had a tremendous track record – despite having no money, and it had students who were very eager to move into the field, and if you’re in teaching and students are motivated, that’s 90 percent of the job,” he said.

But the first month into Wilson’s new position, Lindenwood President John Anthony Brown told him that the university would have to close the radio station by the end of the year.

“So I went on a frenzy of recruiting and told our students if they wanted it to continue, they should go on a frenzy of recruiting too,” he said.

By the end of the year, 150 students — five times more than before — were enrolled. The next year, half the residents on campus were communication majors, according to Wilson.

Wilson said his pitch was simple: He promised graduates they would have a job by the time they graduated in four years.

“If you want a career in this field we’ll give you a chance to not only learn it in the classroom but experience it on the air,” he said.

When President Dennis Spellmann came to Lindenwood in 1990, he began a campus-wide recruitment initiative to get the school more funding.

Spellmann saw the football program as a way to bring men to the college. Wilson saw the football program as “an incredible opportunity” to build students’ broadcasting skills.

So Wilson and 33 students built a press box using nails, plywood, two-by-fours and a very limited skill set.

During construction, while Wilson was at the hardware store getting more nails, the students finished the frame.

“The only drawback was they got the doors on the ceiling; they laid the frames upside down,” he said.

Student Chuck Lackner organizes the in-house record collection for KCLC.

Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives

After two weeks, they had built “the ugliest, most insecure, physically limited press box you could ever imagine,” Wilson said.

The program used the box office for five years, until the current one was built.

Wilson said he always thought of KCLC as a magnet that pulled people in that cared about each other and journalism. As the current director of the National Broadcasting Society, he sees a lot of students now.

“They’re talented but not the spontaneous combustion Lindenwood students were,” he said.

In 2002 “The Wood” was born. Also that year, Mike Wall, the general manager until 2016, and program director Richard Reighard changed formats to a commercial-free station and switched genres from jazz to triple A, which stands for Adult Album Alternative.

The 2000’s marked a new era for the station when it moved basements – from the Memorial Arts Building to the Spellmann Center. The construction of the Spellmann Center was the first time the station had a space customized for KCLC.

A young Glen Cerny in 1972, when he was a student and before he was general manager for KCLC, voicing a broadcast. Cerny preferred to cover sports for KCLC, mostly basketball and went on to buy a radio station at 22 years old, right out of college.
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.
Wilson and communications professor Gene Fields were featured in the St. Charles Journal for aiming at "being the best in the Midwest" in 1979. 
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.
Student Bob Yuna looks at a Associated Press fax in 1970. KCLC read news from wired in from AP every day in the 70's.
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.
KCLC started out on the FM dial at 89.9 with 200 watts in 1968. Now the station is 50,000 watts sitting at 89.1 on the dial.
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.
In the early 60's no smoking in the studios was allowed, but with the culture shifting in the late 60's and 70's the rule was more relaxed. Student Sharon Lemme smokes a cigarette during election night on Nov. 5, 1968. 
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.
Providing students play-by-play experience has been around for decades. KCLC bought ads in St. Charles Banner to advertise student's voicing high school football play-by-plays. 
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.
KCLC rarely stopped broadcasting, even during the summers when the students had to fundraise to keep the station open. The university would not pay the fees for the station when school was not in session. 
Photo from the Mary E. Ambler Archives.

This is part two of a three-part series chronicling KCLC’s history at Lindenwood.  Part one told the story of Martha Boyer, who founded the station in 1948.  The last installment of “KCLC Turns 70” will be released on Friday, Sept. 19, looking at the successful alumni that have come from the station.

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About Kayla Drake 105 Articles
Kayla is our multimedia producer, so basically all things video and podcasts. She prefers to cover human interest stories because she believes we learn best by hearing personal testimonies of grief, passion, tribulation and activism. When Kayla is not editing or writing, most likely she is either hiking or eating. And by eating she doesn’t mean fast food, college grub, but the St. Louis restaurant scene (which is to die for). She is a proud St. Louisan and is passionate about being a part in the city's redemption. Look for the girl with the stickered out water bottle on campus and say hi.

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