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Through the years and sounds of KJHK

Born in 1975, KJHK has broadcast good (and sometimes ugly) sounds for 45 years, to the University of Kansas and the Lawrence area. Read a year-by-year account of the station and the music that made an impact.

  • October 15, 1975

    KJHK is born

    KJHK is born, and goes on air October 15 at precisely 12:25 p.m. Five weeks earlier, a helicopter and the Kansas National Guard placed KJHK’s radio antenna behind Marvin Hall. KJHK was the first student-run radio station on campus, but not the first radio station. KFKU, KANU and KUOK preceded KJHK.

  • 1976

    The Sound Alternative

    Results from a door-to-door survey suggest that KJHK drop its Top-40 format. The station becomes “The Sound Alternative.”

  • 1977

    Playing in stereo

    The Student Senate bought KJHK stereo broadcast equipment for $9,068, giving listeners a more natural, holistic sound on 90.7 FM.

  • 1978

    Practical jokes

     A serious incident with the FCC. On October 5, a bored KJHK staffer wrote a fake wire report claiming Waterloo, Iowa, had been destroyed by a nuclear reactor explosion, killing around 15,000 people. The practical joke was tossed into a wastebasket around 3:30 p.m. However, another staffer found it and, believing it was authentic, read it on the 4:50 p.m. newscast. When several other stations picked up the story, Kansas City FCC investigators came to Lawrence the next morning, suspecting the bogus news item was the work of anti-nuclear activists.

  • 1979

    Riding the new wave

    DJ Steven Greenwood contributes to the format change from old rock to new wave. In a tribute of Greenwood, the music director and DJ is credited at the reason KJHK was one of the first stations in the Mid-west to play groups like the Buzzcocks. 

  • 1980

    Disco Baby

    On April Fool’s Day, KJHK announces it is changing its format to “all disco,” playing the latest hits from Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor. April Fool jokes similar to this persist through KJHK’s history, most recently in 2020 when the station played the hottest hits of the decade. 

  • 1981

    A cult following

    KJHK continues to create an audience and following by supporting new and progressive bands. KJHK brought bands such as the Buzzcocks, Ultravox, the Go-Go’s, and the Boomtown Rats to Lawrence.

  • 1982

    One of the greats

    New York Rocker ranks the station as one of the best in college radio.

  • 1983

    Time for Thrash

    Thrash emerges out of Washington D.C. with bands such as Minor Threat and Black Flag. KJHK has a special program called the Monday Night Thrash Show.

  • 1984

    REM interview

    Bill Berry and Michael Stipe interview R.E.M at the Stauffer-Flint studio ahead of their concert at Hoch Auditorium on September 14.

  • 1985

    The Outhouse

    Jeff Hekmati and John Chaney, KJHK staffers, help organize the Outhouse venue, where KJHK starts presenting shows in August of that year.

  • 1986

    Recognizing the locals

    Spin magazine honors KJHK for “developing and promoting” local alternative music with the Outhouse and by playing local music. Sonic Youth released EVOL. 

  • 1987

    We got the power

    KJHK is granted a power increase to 100 watts. KJHK is using the same transmitter today! 

  • 1988

    Take out the Thrash

    KJHK plays more Top 40 tunes to broaden its audience after an independent study suggests the change in format. However, this results in a campus protest and many angry letters to the Kansan. The format change along with FCC violations, leads to a brief stint of non-student management. KJHK members protested heavily. (Be on the lookout for a mini-doc about this in the coming weeks).

  • 1989

    Not a student-run radio

    Journalism faculty takes control of KJHK to improve the station’s compliance with federal regulations, briefly ending student-led operations in June of that year. At student outrage and protests, control was finally given back to the students, where it has stayed since. 

  • 1990

    The Afghan Whigs released their extremely influential album Up In It, featuring the hit song “You My Flower.”

  • 1991

    Nirvana released Nevermind, which ushered underground and alternative music into the mainstream. 

  • 1992

    Pearl Jam and controversy

     A debate between anti-gay activist Fred Phelps and gay leaders is aired, KJHK never shied away from controversy. KJHK did not help sponsor the infamous Pearl Jam concert on the Hill on May 2, but it was a big event in Lawrence music history.

  • 1993

     PJ Harvey released Rid of Me, an album that set a new standard for raw, emotive alternative rock. 

  • 1994

    Web pioneers

    On December 3, the station became the first in the nation to broadcast a live, 24-hour signal on the internet. This was also the first year KJHK hosted Farmer’s Ball, a now decades long battle of the bands competition.

  • 1995

    90.7 The Hawk

    Because “alternative” currently meant Top 40, KJHK changes its tagline to “The Hawk.”

  • 1996

     Belle and Sebastian released If You’re Feeling Sinister, marking the beginning of the sonic shift from aggressive, heavy rock to soft-rock in indie rock that is still the case today.

  • 1997

    Bye Bye Outhouse

    The Outhouse shuts down, bringing an end to one of Lawrence’s most notorious alternative music venues.

  • 1998

    We got MORE power

    The station signal increases to 2600 watts.

  • 1999

    Sigur Rós released Ágætis byrjun, an album that would heavily influence the next decade of post-rock. 

  • 2000

    Returning to weird

    The tagline reverts back to “The Sound Alternative.”

  • 2001

    The Strokes release their debut studio album Is This It, carving a new sound in Indie rock for many artists to follow.

  • 2002

    Interpol released Turn On the Bright Lights, an album that ushered in a post-punk revival and spawned countless imitators. KJHK hosted Vanilla Ice in January, resulting in this iconic photo.

  • 2003

    Continuing special programming

    Programs for Fall 2003 include SuperDisco Galactica, Lawnchair Review, Heart of Asia, Obscured by Beats, Endless Raga and more. Through the years KJHK DJs have both revived old shows and created brand new special programming. This creativity is in part what makes the "Sound Alternative" so unique. 

  • 2004

    Union saves KJHK

    KU Memorial Unions takes on responsibility for KJHK from the School of Journalism. Without its funding and support, KJHK likely would have faded away.  KJHK removes the School of Journalism from its website and replaces it with the KU Memorial Unions.

  • 2005

    Dirty 30

    KJHK unveils archived and near-real-time playlist info online at kjhk.org. The station also celebrates its 30th anniversary with concerts at the Granada.

  • 2006

    Tower damage

    In March, KJHK goes off air for a few days after the radio tower was knocked down in a strong storm. 

  • 2007

    M.I.A. released Kala, an electroclash album that proved that weirdness doesn’t need to be sacrificed for mainstream success. 

  • 2008

    Sweeps!

    KJHK staff members win 11 awards, including seven first-place honors, at the annual Kansas Association of Broadcasters ceremony. KJHK has received awards at the state almost every year. Just look at that table; it's about to fold under the weight of all those plaques! 

  • 2009

    Animal Collective released Merriweather Post Pavilion, the album where their poppy melodies and psychedelic production converged to form their tightest album yet.

  • 2010

    Moving from the Shack

    The station moves from the Shack to the Union on May 6, and the City of Lawrence declares May 7 KJHK Day. Many feared this move would be the death of free spirit and creation at KJHK, but the past 10 years speak otherwise. 

  • 2011

    National recognition

     A Princeton Review release ranks KJHK as the 15th-best college radio station in the nation in August. And the Washington Post recognizes KJHK in their listing of “10 Great College Radio Stations” on Oct. 13.

  • 2012

    KJHK bit my finger

    KJHK's YouTube channel is born. KJHK still posts in-studios and other videos to the channel.  Frank Ocean released Channel Orange, a deeply personal album that was the coronation for one of the decade’s most vital queer voices.

  • 2013

    What a season of shows

    KJHK and SUA present Bad Rabbits (May 10), HAIM (October 13), and Chance the Rapper (November 10) in concert. The station also launched its iPhone app which even today allows users to stream KJHK in real time and view logged tracks. 

  • 2014

    Mac DeMarco releases Salad Days giving a breathe of fresh air to lo-fi music and inspiring a generation to choose a hat over a shower.

  • 2015

    In a poll, KJHK listeners voted Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly the best album of 2015. Other albums on the top 10 include: Tame Impala's Currents, Carrie and Lowel from Sufjan Stevens, Depression Cherry from Beach House and Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit.

  • 2017
    Battle of The Beats DJ

    Battle of the Beats

    KJHK hosts the first ever Battle of the Beats, an amateur DJ/mixing contest at the Bottleneck on February 26.

  • 2016

    Final construction of studio 366

    KJHK finishes construction on studio 366 over winter break of 2016.

  • 2018

    Live events management

    Denzel Curry  performs at the Granada (April 20) and Action Bronson cancels his October 25th show, 5 hours before doors opened. Live events directors almost ripped their hair out, but made it through. 

  • 2019

    Hip shows

    KJHK finds hip-hop artists crowd favorites in Lawrence. Action Bronson rescheduled performance to February 28, Injury Reserve played October 5, and Rico Nasty wowed Lawrence on November 22.

  • 2020

    Nothing can stop the Sound Alternative

    KJHK continued to broadcast remotely 24/7, 365 through a global pandemic, a software change, and campus closures. This little station has made it through a lot, and thanks its devoted listeners, fans and alumni for keeping the records spinning. Oh, and KJHK turned 45 this year. Here’s to (almost) half a century of awesomeness.

October 15, 1975197619771978197919801981198219831984198519861987198819891990199119921993199419951996199719981999200020012002200320042005200620072008200920102011201220132014201520172016201820192020

If you want to support KJHK you can make sure to keep it locked at 90.7 FM, or consider making a donation

Special thanks to Cate Manning, Deegan Pores, Cami Koons, and the content and music volunteer staffs for contributing to this timeline. 

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