KUNV signed on the air on April 23, 1981 airing a variety of music programmed by the students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Two well-known long running programs were “The Rock Avenue” and “Jazz Progressions.” Late at night and on the weekends, various two hour weekly specialty shows also ran for many years highlighting new releases and old favorites in reggae, blues, industrial music, ambient music, rap and hip-hop, underground heavy metal, punk rock and other forms of music that did not get any other airplay in Las Vegas outside of KUNV.
Originally, “campus radio” was heard only in the original Moyer Student Union Building (MSU) on closed circuit. The manpower was provided by a student run organization known as the UNLV Radio Club sponsored by an approved advisor from professional radio. The club office was a 6’x18′ office on the little known third floor of MSU. The only neighbor on the third floor of MSU was the UNLV newspaper, The Runnin’ Rebel YELL. From ’76 to ’79, that studio was provided by the Communication Studies department in the Humanities Building. Although the official licensee of KUNV is the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), funding and administrative control of the station was provided by the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada (CSUN), the student government at UNLV. The Radio Club, a student committee under the aegis of CSUN, handled the call sign search, applied for the construction permit, developed a training plan, and established program design committee. The radio club hired the first KUNV General Manager, John Wennstrom, through funding provided by CSUN, who reported to the Dean of Students. Eventually the Radio Club became an official CSUN committee called the Radio Board, whose chairman was a UNLV Student, and whose members consisted of 3 additional students, a representative appointed by the Dean of Students, a representative from the Communications Studies Department, and a representative from the University information technology Department. CSUN provided funding and retained administrative control of the station until the mid 1990’s, when the station changed its weekday format from its mixture of diverse offerings of alternative rock, jazz, Spanish language, specialty music, and public affairs programs, to a format that was primarily jazz only. Weekend diversity remained mostly untouched. At the same time, on-air staffing at the station, which consisted primarily of student and community volunteers, shifted to a mix of professional staff, community volunteers, and nationally syndicated programming provided by National Public Radio.
The Call Sign Committee chaired by Susan Mueller, found the most wanted sign, KULV, was held by another university station [University of Laverne, California] KUNV was the only natural choice remaining. The Program Committee chaired by Bill Saxton, defined the public sound and policy of the station from the ground up. Officially, Saxton is credited with naming “Jazz Progressions,” Bob Houck and Dave Matyas named “Rock Avenue,” Beatrice Guitrerez named “Sabado Especiale,” and Frankie D named “Senior Sounds” during those seminal meetings. In ’79, Communication Studies designed the available studio out of existence. The training plan committee chaired by Rich Hunsaker, began search for space in earnest during fall of that year. A bathroom, actually designed for secondary use for the stage in the Moyer Auditorium/Ballroom on the second floor was chosen for use. All fixtures remained. The dressing area became the home for a rag-tag group of old, borrowed, equipment that made up the training facility and was reconnected to the closed circuit that remained in the MSU. “The voice of the campus, KJON (flushing sound)” became the top-of-the-hour-identification and Training Schedules were interleaved with “air” time.
The search for studio space went on to include the first on-air facility, lovingly referred to as the “fish bowl.” The studio was glass walled on three sides and was originally for the student living recreation director. It was the only student operated room that provided 24 hour access. It had access to the “court yard” where numerous events were held, including inauguration day national anthem on 4/23/81. The 15KW Transmitter and antenna was housed atop the Humanities Building (Red/white pole still remains) until moved to Black Mountain for safety reasons as well as to increase broadcast footprint. Technical Director Hunsaker at the direction of Chief Engineer and Mentor Gordy Alsum built several studios for KUNV for the next decade or more. A studio was also built at the Dunes Hotel near the casino, to help with congestion. Imagine 50-70 staff revolving around a 15-by-15-foot (4.6 x 4.6 m) glass room filled with lots of gear. Due to lack of student involvement for several months the station signed-off at 2 am and began operations at 6 am. The sign-off was Jimi Hendrix’s version of the National Anthem. The last weeks that the station signed off were joined by more and more students in the courtyard to show enthusiasm for the station until going 24 hours became accepted later that year. Except on a few occasions to move the studio or repair the transmitter, the station has operated 24/7/365 since that first year.
The third-floor studio complex was designed by Hunsaker and approved for development in 1982. Less than 6 months later, Master Control, Secondary Control, News and Acoustic booth, two offices, music storage, and a central meeting and work area all grew out of the remaining space. Initially, Master Control was completed in less than 72 hours on the weekend before final exams in the spring of ’82!
From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, KUNV’s daily programming consisted of alternative and underground rock from the “Rock Avenue” (6pm to 10am), community affairs (10am to 12pm), and a blend of traditional jazz, jazz fusion and modern jazz on “Jazz Progressions” (12pm to 6pm.) As a community radio station, KUNV’s mission was to give a voice to the music that was not played on commercial radio stations.
Due to the station’s student run status, it was afforded inexpensive access to all the venues on the UNLV campus at the time. With the help of local producers, KUNV Hosted many world class groups and artists, including [add others as known] SyproGyra (twice), Jean Luc Ponty, Weather Report, B52s, RomeoVoid, Pat Metheny, and many others as the music culture of the area thrived… Several performances were taken “direct-to-air” with technical co-ordination from Hunsaker. Also, dozens of “acoustic/unplugged” offering were spontaneously taken to air in the highly flexible and well outfitted studio complex. National Radio was served through that complex as John Madden provided commentary to the Holmes-Cooney World Championship prize fight via direct feed with the RKO Radio network. Multitudes of other feeds either originated or were simulcast from that complex.
Also, at this time in history the punk, new wave, ska, rockabilly and indie music scenes across America were growing. KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, 91X in San Diego, WLIR in New York were playing these artists along with only a handful of other commercial radio stations in America. With no commercial radio station in Las Vegas similar to these stations, and having Mtv launching with a playlist featuring many of these artists, KUNV became incredibly influential to audiences craving alternative music. With a very strong 15,000 watt FM signal, which was very rare for a college radio station, KUNV broadcasts across the entire Las Vegas Valley.
KUNV’s Rock Avenue was consistently rated in the Top Ten of college radio programming in America from 1985 to 1992 by The Gavin Report, a music industry trade magazine. As the hub in Las Vegas at that time for alternative music, KUNV’s Rock Avenue spawned a thriving local music scene. The teen nightclub That’s Entertainment, as well as Alternative Thursday Nights at the Sports Pub and the Steak Out for listeners that were over 21, were consistently packed with hundreds of fans of KUNV DJs who spun records in the clubs. DJ BUBBY (Michael Harrison) spun at the cities first mega clubs the legendary SHARK CLUB and UTOPIA for over a decade. One of the most well-known of KUNV talk personalities is Jimmy Kimmel, while the most famous KUNV music DJ is Ken Jordan, now of the band The Crystal Method.
Many local venues built loyal followings with KUNV listeners by featuring Las Vegas local bands on a regular basis. These venues included Sound Stage, Pinola’s, Room 13, Studio 25, Calamity Jayne’s, T Mex, VFW halls and quite a few impromptu venues also. Some of the best local band shows occurred in the middle of the Las Vegas desert with generators and a stage made of plywood and cinder blocks. The most popular local bands to break out of the Las Vegas music scene and receive major airplay on KUNV included Sampson’s Army, Rainy Daze, FSP, 5150, Subterfuge, Abeyance, Triple Ripple, Groove Garden, Heart of Thorns, Verjenet, VA, Young Brandos, Constant Moving Party, Endless Mindless, The Hellhounds of Harmony, Herd of Lemmings, Jimi Jackpot and The Hot Slots, and Vivian Circle (formerly GOWNS) who began in the garage of former DJ, George Difficult (Tennell).
With its reputation established in Jazz and alternative music circles, KUNV broke new grounds in 1986 under Community Affairs Director JP Muntal. Despite its non-affiliation with NPR or PRI, the station’s spoken word programs developed in a few months an audience of devotees to rival that of Rock Avenue and Jazz Progressions. In-house productions like the documentary series “SEXTANT” began to generate media interest and episodes about nuclear testing in Nevada were picked up nationally by “Pacifica”, “Consider The Alternatives” and “New Voices”. KUNV also contributed to domestic and international organizations such as TV4 in New York, Radio France International and Radio Australia. Further programming highlights included “HerStory”, a documentary produced by Rita Lorraine Sparling on the plight of women behind bars in Nevada. The late ’80’s saw an unprecedented interest in radio production by communications students and faculty involvement. By the time Muntal became Program Director, KUNV was training nearly 30 students per semester in all aspects of broadcast writing from the Arts & Humanities to History and English as a second language
The mid-90’s saw the demise of Rock Avenue as a major part of the programming on KUNV and its replacement with a straight-ahead jazz format. Several factors lead to this decision. In the early 1990s Las Vegas saw not one, but two new commercial radio stations sign on the air playing alternative modern rock music. This led KUNV to focus further on underground alternative rock music for the Rock Avenue. Meanwhile, KNPR, another local public radio station, decided to drop their overnight straight-ahead jazz programming despite the large number of local jazz musicians supplying music to a plethora of Vegas clubs and showrooms. KNPR donated their jazz library to KUNV. Further, CSUN cut their funding for KUNV by 50%, thereby relinquishing control of the station to the UNLV Foundation. Finally, KUNV was facing scrutiny by UNLV administration due to FCC violations and listener complaints. In 1998, at the prompting of the UNLV Foundation and under the direction of then General Manager Don Fuller, KUNV removed Rock Avenue and shifted their weekday format to straight-ahead jazz programming. An onslaught of letters and phone calls were made to the station, both in support and in disdain of the change. Several protests were held and support concerts and events were organized that included the attendance of some government representatives, former KUNV staff and volunteers, and fans but UNLV administration and KUNV management decided against reinstating the programming. CSUN subsequently withdrew the remainder of their funding for the station. Students tried to launch new stations between 2003 and 2006, primarily online, but they did not receive sufficient student-body interest and CSUN withdrew their support for them.
Shortly after the programming change, in 1999, KUNV studios and business offices were moved to the former KWNR studios located at 1515 E. Tropicana Ave Ste 240, a few blocks away from campus. The move was due in part to renovations scheduled for the MSU but may also have been to remove the contested station from the campus community. The station operated off-campus for just over 10 years, primarily being run by a professional staff with a large number of community volunteers hosting air shifts. Student involvement over the decade slowly increased but the station was not well-known to the student body and few students made the trip to the building.
In 2009 KUNV moved back onto the campus of UNLV in the newly built Greenspun Hall Of Urban Affairs building. The building houses top of the line TV and radio production facilities. In August 2010, KUNV began HD broadcasting and launched an HD-2 station designed to showcase student programming. Students organized a club to manage the HD-2 station under the guidance of the professional staff at KUNV and are currently growing the programming on that station. The HD-2 station broadcasts an automated Triple A format when students are not actively on-air.
In January 2011, KUNV shifted its weekday daytime format from straight-ahead jazz to contemporary and smooth jazz. This change reflected what was done with “Jazz Progressions” and has received mostly positive feedback. The weekend programming continues to reflects the diversity and youthful energy of past with shows like the Word Up Show (hip hop) Neon Reverb (indie/ punk) and Future Sound (electronic music).