Thursday, May 31, 2012

KBUX, The Underground

 Your non-traditional broadcasters have it hard. Stations like KBUX "the underground" seem to have disappeared. Their former domain, now redirects to, which webcasts on  The new domain was registered in 2008and oddly was registered in 2006 so the transition overlaps by some two years. A cryptic note has them off air in October of 2006.
"...we may be down, but we’re far from out. Several days ago, our Ohio Union studio suffered a fatal blow after a major water drain leak forced us to suspend regular programming. Rather than rushing to restore the waterlogged studio, we’re now entirely focused on our mid-November move to The Drake Performance and Event Center, located on the west side of campus along the Olentangy River. In the meantime, our sports department will continue to broadcast live games, including Saturday's match-up between the Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers. Tune in, tell your friends, and... GO BUCKS!"
A note from GM Adam Carrington in January of 2007 announces their return to webcasting. But by April of that year he announces another interruption "Effective immediately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are suspending our music programming. We expect to resume regular programming sometime during the month of April." There have been no updates since then so I presume all non-webcast functions ceased prior to Fall 2007. So let's rewind to the story of the 1998 bestiality flyer. It was a turning point to say the least. More here.
"Student radio station KBUX is coming under fire for flyers, including one that features the photo of USG Assembly member David Overeem alongside the statement, "College Republicans and Bestiality." The flyer featuring Overeem [sic] ‹an advertisement for the news and debate show "Ignoreland" hosted by DJ Nathan Crabbe..."
It is the sort of event from which many stations cannot recover. Without a university to float a station many will not survive on transient student support alone. While KBUX was not a FCC licensed facility, printed obscenity can still violate Miller v California. But that didn't happen. Without the FCC as an enforcement body, and with the station operating at some 265 milliwatts the event went unanswered at least for KBUX. Mr. Crabbe may have had his own consequences.

KBUX was in operation from about October of 1995 to as late as 2002.Different accounts describe it as low power, or just a carrier current station. In truth it was both. the station broadcast on a cable TV channel (not carrier current) and operated a part-15 transmitter on 91.1 FM. A 1997 article in Cringe covered the technology in some loose detail:
"...At the time they used a low wattage transmitter and worked out a deal with UNITS (OSU's cable service provider to the dorms) to broadcast their signal over cable television. A blank black channel greeted the listener as high quality audio ran over their cable connection instead. In order to be heard by the rest of campus they needed a transmitter."
KBUX began streaming in 1998, and were still streaming in 2001 according to an article in Forbes grousing about the foibles of webcasting. They were also on a more-or-less up to date 2002 promo list  from my personal archives. They used the KBUX calls from 1994 to 1999, and operated as The Underground from then until 2008 presumably. Living in the shadow of NPR behemoth WOSU, it didn't have much of a chance. Though The Underground did briefly have the 12:00 AM. to 2:00 AM slot on WOSU around 2000. It wasn't a formal share-time agreement as The underground lacked a license. After losing out on the LPFM license window in 2001 the Underground seemed to lose steam.

But the rest of the story (to quote Paul Harvey) starts long before1995. There are multiple accounts that credit it's existence as KBUX to a student organization named ActiveRadio. A history page from their old website has them active as early as 1992. But even that had it's precedents. KBUX was not the first student run station on campus. In June of 1971 WOSR signed on, with mason Serle as PD. The mailing address was from a residence hall known as Drackett tower. It may have been the studio address as well. The station played top 40 in those early years, but segued to rock by the early 1980s. From 1983 to 1991 electronic musician Mark Gunderson (of The Evolution Control Committee) was involved as an OSU student. By his accounting WOSR  folded in 1992. I quote him at length below:
"The most frustrating part was always the uncertainty as to just how many people were making the effort -- and it was an effort -- to listen to the station at all. The station broadcast on a difficult-to-receive frequency in the dorms and then over cable radio, which was an rare optional attachment cable TV subscribers could rent to tune into things in stereo. This meant that a listener had to make a fairly determined effort to hear the station at all....This dwindling listener ship dovetailed into a dwindling staff, and combined with the usual shortages of money and resources (which were magnified intensely when WOSR lost most of its funding one year) the station spiraled to its eventual death. I was actually surprised that the station held on as long as it did... I remember each new quarter being surprised that meetings were going on as usual, in spite of fewer staff, virtually no money, and disintegrating equipment."

But even that may not have been the beginning. The station experimented with wireless as early as 1910. W.L. Upson, an assistant professor  in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Roy A. Brown built an 8XL station that year. When WOSU signed on as WEAO in 1922, they didn't change calls to WOSU until 1932 and did have actual students at the station in those early years. More here. The stories about pirate operations like WMRH and WOIO are a but more apocryphal, but probably true.

Ohio State University has had one of the largest student bodies for decades. As of this year they are the third largest, just behind Arizona State and U of central Florida. Source [here.]  Yet they have no student radio station. As Gunderson once said "In the years that followed I would see how just about every college I found had a fairly thriving student-run radio station to go with it. When I told the people who I met that The Ohio State University didn't have a similar station, they were always beside themselves with disbelief... To this day I'm still asked why Columbus has no station. I hope the day comes when I'll never be asked again."