IRVINE — KUCI (88.9 FM) is honoring its past this week with a 20th anniversary celebration and alumni reunion, but the weak-signaled UC Irvine campus radio station also is embarking on a major break with the past that its managers say will improve its chances of becoming a more significant presence on the Orange County airwaves.
The change is organizational: Starting in January, responsibility for funding and oversight of the student-run station will shift from the UCI student government to the college administrative department known as University Advancement. University Advancement is responsible for public relations, fund raising and other university activities involving contact with alumni and the general public.
The switch, recently approved by university officials after several months of discussion, promises several important pluses for KUCI, according to Kevin Stockdale, the paid adviser to the radio station's staff of student volunteers.
For one thing, it will free KUCI from its frequent turf battles and financial haggling with the student government body, Associated Students of UC Irvine (ASUCI). For another, it promises a more reliable source of funding for station needs--possibly including the large investment, estimated at $60,000 to $70,000, that it would take to boost the station's power from a meager 24 watts to 100 watts. At 100 watts, Stockdale said, KUCI would be a clear presence on the radio through much of central Orange County, with good reception extending about 10 miles from the campus. The current range for reliable reception is just a few miles.
(No decisions have been made yet about funding levels for KUCI under University Advancement, Stockdale said. And money isn't the only issue in a power increase. The Federal Communications Commission would have to approve any wattage boost for KUCI, and Stockdale estimated that the application and decision process could take six months to a year.)
"The station is very excited" about the chance to work under a different authority within the university power structure, Stockdale said. "It means there will be a solid source of funding, without the fluctuations that take place every year with the change of student leaders. For years and years it seems the station couldn't move forward. There's always some battle (with ASUCI) that has to be fought."
In recent years, the most serious battles have been fought over the issue of programming control. Student government leaders have contended that KUCI's eclectic mix, which includes alternative rock, jazz, classical music and ethnic programming, is too unpredictable and strays too far from the tastes of most students. And student tastes, ASUCI has argued, deserve first consideration because student money (usually $20,000 to $30,000 a year) was paying for the station to stay on the air.
Station managers have argued, in turn, that it should be up to the members of KUCI to determine what should be programmed, since they are the ones committing their volunteer time and putting in the work. The station has been intent on providing alternative programming that would offer listeners something unavailable on mainstream radio. Following that attitude, KUCI has been a consistent booster of the Orange County rock music scene, playing records by local performers and inviting them to the station for interviews and on-air performances. Few other broadcast outlets are available to emerging Orange County talent.
Of course, the issue of whether control of the purse strings should also bring some control over programming will not go away just because ASUCI is handing over control to University Advancement.
"It's not to say there will never be any politics again," Stockdale said. "But student politics are difficult because there are new students each year. That can hamper and slow down the progress of the station."
KUCI's general manager, Danielle Michaelis, said that some changes may take place but that the focus will remain on offering alternatives to mainstream radio. "We're not going to try to become another commercial station," she said. "The goal is to have quality alternative programming."
"I have my private concerns" about changes that University Advancement may want to make at the station, Michaelis said. "But I think it'll be much better" than the relationship with ASUCI has been.
Kathy Jones, associate vice chancellor of University Advancement, is the official who will now have direct oversight of KUCI. Jones said she and Dennis Hampton, the executive director of ASUCI, were going to meet this week with KUCI's Stockdale and Michaelis to begin planning the transition.