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KZSU broadcasts in stereo at 90.1 MHz FM with an effective radiated power of 500 watts. The station is owned by the Trustees of Stanford University and is governed by a Board of Directors appointed by the University's President. Operations are managed by a General Manager selected each year from the student body.
KZSU began broadcasting on January 6, 1947, using the informal call letters KSU. Originally an AMcarrier-current station, it relied on cables strung throughout Stanford's network of steam tunnels to carry its 590 kHz (later 880 kHz) signal. The first broadcast was a musical comedy revue starring Doodles Weaver. At first, the station broadcast only in the evenings. In the 1940s and 1950s, KZSU was a commercial station featuring popular and classical music, local cultural events, talk shows, and radio plays.
The station was shut down for two years following a raid by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in August 1958, which resulted from rising interference with the signal of radio station KGO-AM at 810 kHz. Broadcasting resumed in the fall of 1960. Renamed KZSU at the behest of the FCC, the station received a noncommercial FM license in 1964, moved its transmitter from the center of campus to the nearby foothills in 1970, and upgraded its transmitter power from 10 to 500 watts in 1978. The AM carrier gradually died in the early 1980s.
Today, KZSU's all-volunteer staff is made up of assorted locals as well as Stanford students and staff. KZSU's 500-watt signal covers much of the San Francisco Bay Area, reaching from Oakland and parts of San Francisco in the north, to Fremont and points beyond in the east, and down to around Gilroy in the south. KZSU has also broadcast live on the internet since 1995.
KZSU's programming runs from the legendary to the ephemeral. A few highlights:
The "Stanford Sadie" show, which ran from 1947 to 1961, was a notoriously racy satirical program based loosely on the Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally[disambiguation needed] broadcasts of World War II. Sadie, whose mission was to distract male students from studying, was portrayed by approximately two dozen women over the years.
KZSU broadcast tapes of live shows recorded at a nearby coffeehouse called Top of the Tangent in the early 1960s. One of the bands caught on tape was Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, which later became the Grateful Dead. The recording, unearthed in 1997, has since been released on CD.
"Mystery Playhouse," a series of classic and original radio dramas hosted by the macabre Dr. Morgan, produced over 200 episodes between 1986 and 1991. Dr. Morgan died in 1993, but the show has lived on through syndication and an informal tape-trading network.
"The Drum," formerly hosted by DJ Kevvy Kev (Kevin Montague), was the world's longest-running hip-hop radio show until it went off air in the summer of 2011. It aired under this name since the late 1970s, but actually evolved from an earlier program called "Rhythms" that began airing some years earlier. John Graham hosted "The Drum" until 1981. Jonathan Brown (aka Johnny Afro) was host from 1981-1989. The last host, Kevvy Kev, was involved since 1984. Other Drum co-hosts from the period of 1984-1989 were DJ Easy Lou, Dj Rockmaster Marski, Rich D, & KutMasta Kurt. "The Drum" hosted some of the biggest names in hip-hop in the early stages of their careers, including Jay-Z, Ras Kass, the Fugees, Wu-Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes.
"What Would Your Mother Say?", hosted by Susan Morris and produced by Sarah Buer, was an edgy talk show offering a lively and provocative discussion of life issues relevant to young people. Each week, a panel of four college students, Morris, and a mother met face-to-face to interview a guest expert (an author, psychologist or pundit) and discuss everything from relationships to politics to sex. The show was fast-paced and energetic.
"Wednesday Night Live" is a weekly showcase of local band talent which has run since the late 1980s. Green Day and Primus are just two of the many hundreds of bands which have performed live in KZSU's "Outer A" studio.
"Punker Than Puke" was a punk-oriented weekly program hosted by DJ Linus Up (Brent) and Johnny Gram in the early 1990s. Known for unscripted interviews with unscheduled Punk rock celebrities, surprise guests presented by the show included Jerry Only, Ian MacKaye, Chrissie Hynde, and dozens of San Francisco Area native Punk Rock musicians.
On September 6, 2004, KZSU held a "short song marathon," consisting entirely of songs running one minute or less, with the goal of playing 1,000 songs in 1,000 minutes. A team of 18 disc jockeys succeeded in playing 1,104 songs in that span. Number 1,000 was “The Young Lady Who Married a Mule Driver,” by James Downer.
In 2007, KZSU celebrated its 60th anniversary with a 60-hour music marathon, running from January 4th-6th, 2007. KZSU alumni joined current DJs for a retrospective focusing on one year per hour, beginning with the music of 1947 and moving forward through 2006. Special programming also included a lecture on the history of the station, archived airchecks from previous years, and an interview with one of the station's founders.
Current programming at KZSU consists primarily of music, with an emphasis on independent new releases in a wide range of genres. KZSU's music library contained nearly 80,000 CDs and a similar number of vinyl discs as of December 2005.
The station is also notable for its commitment to Stanford athletics. In recent years KZSU has carried live coverage of eight Stanford team sports throughout the year (football, men's and women's basketball and soccer, baseball, women's volleyball and softball). KZSU also produces news and talk shows, and simulcasts meetings of the Palo Alto City Council, as well as services from Stanford Memorial Church.