Taking a tour of KFJC's facilities, it's not hard to believe that the local college radio station has been around for awhile. The station seems almost molded to the insides of a brick building on the Foothill College campus. Layers of posters, stickers and a wide assortment of random paraphernalia are plastered to its walls -- souvenirs from decades past that mark the station's evolution.
Over the years, KFJC, which broadcasts at 89.7 FM, has garnered awards and earned national press. The most recent milestone: celebrating its 50th anniversary on Oct. 20.
Bob Ballou, KFJC designer and the first voice ever to go on-air under its name, helped celebrate by giving an on-air interview about the first days of the station, back when it broadcast from the old Foothill campus in Mountain View.
"(We) focus on the underground music scene, or perhaps stuff you're not going to hear other places," said Eric Johnson, the station's general manager, whose on-air alias is Grawer. Johnson has worked for KFJC since the early 1990s.
The station plays anything, from ambient to punk, so long as it's obscure and, according to Johnson, "not designed to be a billboard hit." The staff of around 80 students and volunteers adds dozens of songs each week to the station's already robust collection of music; faculty adviser Doc Pelzel estimates they have over 65,000 albums or collections of some sort.
As he put, "If you started listening now, you would be very old by the time you were done listening."
Though the station has been around since the 1950s, Johnson said it took on its current underground flavor about 30 years ago. He recalled a 1978 uprising at the station, an event described in true KFJC style on the station's Web site:
"On October 4," it reads, "five student managers at KFJC voted to overthrow the general manager in reaction to his aggressive emphasis on tight formatting, following mainstream radio industry practice. The mutineers take control of KFJC, waving high the banner of Punk."
"That kind of shaped what the station is today," Johnson said.
Since the overthrow, KFJC has provided Bay Area listeners with off-the-beaten-path broadcasts, featuring little or unknown bands -- some of which made it big later, like REM, Sonic Youth and Nirvana.
"Those were bands that were unknown, and KFJC was one of the first places that played their music," Johnson said.
Hits and hijinks
Over the years, KFJC has held events as eclectic and bizarre as its play lists.
In August 1983, the station played 823 versions of the Richard Berrie hit "Louie Louie." The songwriter himself performed live on the air to promote what they called the "Maximum Louie Louie" marathon, which ran for more than 63 hours and garnered attention from the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets.
One student hosted a show where instead of reviewing films, he rated laundromats, giving them between one and four "suds." He was eventually invited to speak to a large laundry organization.
"It was amazing what he was able to do with a very stupid idea," Pelzel said.
Today, KFJC has DJs working 24 hours a day. Some are students, others are just interested in music.
"What drew me in from being just a listener," said 32-year-old DJ Leticia Domingo, "was I knew that KFJC had an amazing library and that all the DJs didn't just play music and not talk about it. ... They were knowledgeable and that enticed me."
"I can learn about any music genre, any record label, and there are other people who are amazing resources for that information," she said. Domingo, whose on-air name is MSTIZA, hosts her own show, Groove Therapy, on Mondays from 2 to 6 p.m., and also volunteers as the station's publicity director.
Beyond student and volunteer power, KFJC operations are also made possible by Pelzel's longtime commitment.
"I am the radio department," joked Pelzel, who has served as adviser for the station for about three decades.
"The station is definitely much more involved and interested in what it does," Pelzel said, adding that volunteers and students only benefit from the work they do rather than receiving compensation.
Another unique feature is that "all of its music is hand-picked by human beings," he said, setting KFJC apart from mainstream stations which often use computer programs to create play lists.
KFJC has signed a contract for another 50 years. Pelzel says that at some point during the next half century the station will surely switch to HD radio -- though he noted that HD has been "just around the corner since the '80s."
The station is run almost entirely on listener contributions. To donate to KFJC, hear netcasts or for other information, visit www.kfjc.org.