30 years of KJHK: Russ Ham

1978-80, DJ and news reporter, currently a lawyer living in Austin

How did you get involved with KJHK?

I started KU in the fall of 1975, about when KJHK began. I was a long-haired physics and math double-major, and KJHK was playing ubiquitous, ordinary pop. After two years at KU, I took a year out to reassess my goals and then I returned to KU in the fall of '78.

In the year I was gone, a change had occurred. I don't know everyone who was responsible, but faculty advisor Dale Gadd and students like Steve Pegg and Steve Greenwood were undoubtedly catalysts. Rather than playing the same stuff as commercial stations, KJHK decided to focus on music and artists who were not mainstream. It was a lucky coincidence that a tremendous alternative scene was developing, and KJHK was able to expose thousands of Midwesterners who were dissatisfied with "corporate rock" to at-the-time unknown acts like U2, Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, John Hiatt, the Talking Heads, the Clash, Pere Ubu, Iggy and the Stooges, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jonathan Richman - the list could go on and on.

I was accepted into the J-school and started at KJHK in two capacities - doing news broadcasts from Flint Hall and learning how to deejay. I think my first airshift was in the spring of '79, and that summer I served as "Chief Jock." I continued doing news and DJ shifts in the fall of '79 and spring of 1980, when I graduated. There was a fatal Amtrak derailment in Lawrence at that time and I remember that KJHK was the first news organization to report that event on the wire service.

How do you think KJHK has affected our community?

During my two years KJHK became a forceful presence in the local scene, bringing music to the air and acts to town that otherwise would never have been heard or seen.

Part of what made KJHK so remarkable - and an aspect that may be lost on those who didn't live through it - is that, at least as far as pop culture goes, America was a much more provincial place in the '60s and '70s. Until the rise of cable and the dawn of MTV, which had everyone watching the same "new" acts at the same time, pop fads would originate on either coast or in Europe and would literally take two or three years to filter into the Midwest. Whether it was long hair, miniskirts, antiwar activism, or skateboards (the first time around), what had become acceptable in LA or New York would still be wholly outre in Kansas City. KJHK not only overcame this time warp but leapfrogged it, providing listeners with an unprecedented and up-to-date perspective on global trends in music and pop culture.

What are some things you learned or experienced during your time at KJ?

Corporate rock sucks. The best music is often made by folks who will never earn enough money to qualify for a mortgage, but their soul drives them to a hard and thankless lifestyle for the intermittent reward of an hour in the spotlight. The music industry is not set up to reward talent, spirit or innovation, but instead is full of unscrupulous parasites who want to make money by selling "product" to the mass market ... Occasionally, someone of integrity and vision will rise to a position ... where they can make a difference; those people then become targets for the lemmings because they challenge their comfortable laziness. All that said, it really does "take all kinds," and in matters of taste there can be no right or wrong. We are all a product of our backgrounds, and some folks do not care to expand their experiences beyond their backgrounds. I have lived the rest of my life trying to avoid those people.

Comments

TipFli 14 years, 6 months ago

I'm not really sure where this guy got his information but there are so many more people who were involved at KJHK during the years that he says he was there. Ernie Martin was the faculty advisor during the 1977-1979 years. I never remember seeing Dale Gadd there. He was always busy trying to sell his sitcom entitled, "Silver Threads." Pegg and Greenwood were there but they were arrogant SOBs who felt that they were God's gift to radio when that couldn't have been any more influential than a horse fly on warm shit!. One of the best guys there was Ernie McCune from Wichita. I had a show there under the alias of "Frankenelli the Wonderful" KJHK was there long before Ham says it was, it was just under different call letters. There was also a Music director there with a beard and long black hair looked like a Cat Stevens look-a-like. He was from the bay area, San Fran I think. And the station manager, a short chick with long red hair ... can't rememeber her name, but she was HOT!!

austinjayhawk 14 years, 1 month ago

Everyone TipFli mentions was also there and deserves to be remembered. Thanks for adding them, flyboy! As far as "where this guy got his information," I got it from f***ing being there, just as good as I can remember coming up on THIRTY years later -- probably same as the tipster here. Long live rock -- and remember Steve Greenwood! (All in good fun, y'all!) Austin, TX 10/26/06

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