On January 28, 1977, I began my radio broadcasting career.
It was a Friday night air shift for the classical music station KVNO, licensed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and found at 90.7 on the FM dial. The station’s board shifts were mostly run by students and, in compliance with rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I took the test to acquire my Third Class Radiotelephone Operator permit (“third phone” in radio vernacular) which allowed me to check meters and operate the station by myself.
I had worked on the campus Top 40 radio station — a hardwired, closed-circuit feed to multiple locations in the student center — but had never been responsible for the untethered, wireless communication of a broadcast transmission signal.
Half of my responsibility was engineering (signing onto the FCC operating log and keeping hourly records of RF power, various dials with amps and kilovolts and megahertz measurements, plate voltage readings and a few other details that escape me for now), and the other half was running programs via the board, using two turntables, three cart machines, three reel-to-reel decks and a live feed from the Mutual Broadcast Network.
From 8pm to 10pm, I played classical music from vinyl and rolled the companion pre-recorded announcements about each composition, complete with perfectly-timed legal IDs, from reel-to-reel. At 10pm, I uttered my first words across the ether, “From the campus of UNO, this is KVNO, Omaha, 90.7 FM,” and switched to the Mutual Broadcasting Network’s newscast. After that, at 10:10, I was given complete freedom to jar the airwaves for the next four hours.
From 10:10pm to 2am, Monday through Saturday, KVNO allowed six students to program a night of alternative, free-form, album-oriented music on a program called The Last Radio Show.
The DJ’s for The Last Radio Show were an eclectic group of mass communication majors at UNO. When I joined in January of 1977, the others were wrapping up their year-long stint with the show. We had two DJ’s whose tastes leaned toward country rock, one who loved fusion jazz, one who loved bluesy rock and tracks that ran longer than 15 minutes, and another who played an assortment of music, from folk rock to progressive rock. I was part of the next wave of underclassmen to take the reins, and my tastes included a variety of styles, artists and sounds.
The Last Radio Show opened with a faux-1920s ballroom radio announcer welcoming listeners to the evening’s broadcast from “high atop the Storz Mansion” while “Bie Mir Bistu Shein” played underneath. As the 25-second open faded out, The Last Radio Show disc jockeys would let loose with music unlike anything heard earlier on KVNO.
The first song I spun on January 28 was a request from a listener. During Mutual’s newscast, the request line lit up and I was eager to talk to a caller. He was a dishwasher, who worked at the Mt. Fuji Inn restaurant, and he asked to hear the Allman Brothers “Whipping Post.” I think I had something from David Bowie’s Low album planned, or maybe a Todd Rundgren track cued up, but “Whipping Post” felt perfect for a Friday night of musical freedom.
On this night in 1977, the radio bug bit me. It would add to my passion for music, and the medium, for years to come.
Attached is page one of the three-page report sent to record labels. It gives you an idea where free-form radio was in Omaha during early 1977. Pages two and three of the report can be found here.