Long live the Shack

Faint music seeps 24 hours a day from the Sudler Annex, or as it’s more commonly known, “the Shack.” The small limestone building is cluttered from floor to ceiling with thousands of CDs and vinyl records, making it feel like a maze of KU radio history. On top of 11th Street, behind the Triangle fraternity house, stands the building that has been the home of campus radio station KJHK since 1975.

 But this April, KJHK’s DJs will leave their historical home behind.

 Because the building is not up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is too expensive to repair, KJHK will no longer use the Shack, which will most likely be used, if anything, for storage.

 Construction began in the beginning of November on an entirely new station on the fourth floor of the Kansas Union. The nearly $500,000 construction project will give the 142 students involved in KJHK state-of-the-art equipment to replace the outdated sound boards and recording devices. Months of transferring CDs onto computers means the station can go completely digital with its music library, making it easier to find and play everything the station has to offer. Large windows into the studio will allow students to see what’s going on at the station and TV screens outside will show information, such as the name of both the on-air DJ and of the song he or she is playing.

 But despite the upgraded equipment the new station will offer, station manager Logan Nickels, Stillwater, Okla., senior, says the move — and loss of the Shack — is bittersweet.

 ”This building has an ethos that’s been here for 34 years and we’re moving to a clean, sterile environment that we’ll have to make our own,” Nickels says.

 In 1956, the radio station started as KUOK at AM 630, with the broadcasts reaching campus only. The station eventually outgrew the small transmission and the Federal Communications Commission granted it an FM spot at 90.7 megahertz with the call letters KJHK in 1974.

 Dubbed “The Sound Alternative,” KJHK was a showcase of local, progressive and underground music with little Top 40 coverage. The station also featured activist commentary shows about women’s rights, African-American rights as well as Native American rights.

 Steve Doocy, who is now a co-host for the Fox News program “Fox and Friends,” was the first DJ to broadcast on KJHK. The broadcast began at 12:25 p.m. on Oct. 15, 1975.

 Doocy remembers the first time he entered the Shack out of curiosity before he was a DJ. “Until we saw the ‘ON AIR’ sign, we had no idea it was the college radio station because it was an absolute dump,” Doocy says. “There were cigarette holes in the carpet, piles of vinyl LPs scattered helter skelter with their jackets nowhere to be found and a huge garbage can adjacent to the door held days of decomposing take-out.”

 Doocy was immediately taken with the idea of being on the radio and for the next four years he spent more time at the Shack than at his home.  

 After long hours of work, Doocy often saw DJs go up to the roof to drink beer and smoke cigarettes.

 While Doocy was working for the station he saw many desperate musicians come try to promote their music. “For a place that helped launch the careers of so many garage bands, it’s appropriate that it was in fact once a garage. Long live the Shack,” Doocy says.

 Format change came again in the late 1980s after heavy fines from the FCC.

 In 1978, a staff member read a false news report that a nuclear attack on Waterloo, Iowa, had killed 15,000 people. The story was written as a joke by another staff member.

 In 1988, a sports announcer repeatedly screamed, “Fuck you, Billy Tubbs,” who was the Oklahoma coach, after beating them in a men’s basketball title game. Members of the FCC were listening in to this particular broadcast and the station was fined and forced to remove all music with expletives.

 In 1994, the station became the first radio station to have a continuous 24-hour live internet broadcast. Around this time, the station moniker was changed to “The Hawk” and began to cater to a Top 40 audience. Six years later, the station went back to its roots as “The Sound Alternative.”

 After 30 years of oversight by the School of Journalism, funding was cut and the station was almost shut down. But the station was saved and taken over by KU Memorial Unions. Today, the station has more than 140 students working and volunteering to maintain the original progressive and alternative format.

 Nick Spacek, 2009 graduate and former station manager Nick Spacek will miss the Shack because of it’s individuality. He remembers it as “the little building off on its own, at the edge of campus, a little cabin of cool right there at the top of the Hill.” Though he had his own sordid history with the station, Spacek says the shack and the station were the only things that brought him back to KU after a six-year hiatus from school. “I’d always thought of it as a home,” he says. As other buildings were updated on campus, the Shack managed to be a constant for Spacek. “Hashinger had been remodeled, most of campus is all wonky, but KJHK had stayed the same, albeit with new graffiti, the entire time I’d been in Lawrence,” he says.

 The shack harbors years of music history on its walls. Current and former students have expressed their creativity, or boredom in the form of graffiti. Dirty pictures and strong opinions such as “Indie is shit,” cover the walls. The station’s bathroom walls are plastered with band flyers from the past 34 years. You can find popular bands like Nick Cave, REM and Henry Rollins, which played in small venues in Lawrence like the Bottleneck, 737 New Hampshire St., and The Outhouse, 1837 N. 1500 Rd.

Alison Cain, Lansing senior and fall music director, says that the bathroom is what she’ll miss most. “I was always impressed when I went in there, and not because it’s a swanky bathroom or anything. There are the most awesome old fliers from ‘80s punk shows plastered on the walls in there,” Cain says.

Unable to remove the wall from the shack, the fliers will be thoroughly photographed for preservation. The organizers also plan on taking as much as they can to maintain the originality of the shack in its new home.

KJHK may be leaving 34 years of history and the solitude of the Shack behind, but it also leaves the clutter, the occasional flooding and an old, unsafe building.

“The Shack isn’t going to physically last forever…the studio in the Union will allow KJHK to grow in size and professionalism in a new state-of-the-art facility,” Cain says.

Being a former DJ himself, Nick Spacek knows the one thing that everyone will miss from the Shack: “the experience of sitting and watching sun rise over campus, from probably the best chair in the entire university,” he says.

 Nick Spacek, 2009 graduate and former station manager, says he will miss the Shack because of it’s individuality. He remembers it as “the little building off on its own, at the edge of campus, a little cabin of cool right there at the top of the Hill.” Spacek says the Shack and the station were the only things that brought him back to the University after a six-year hiatus from school. “I’d always thought of it as a home,” he says.

 As other buildings were updated on campus, the Shack managed to be a constant for Spacek. “Hashinger had been remodeled, most of campus is all wonky, but KJHK had stayed the same — albeit with new graffiti — the entire time I’d been in Lawrence,” he says.

 The Shack harbors years of music history on its walls. Current and former students have expressed their creativity (or perhaps boredom) in the form of graffiti. Dirty drawings, curse words and strong opinions such as “indie is shit” cover the walls.

 The station’s bathroom walls are plastered with band flyers from the past 34 years. You can find popular musicians such as Nick Cave, REM and Henry Rollins, who played small, underground, now-defunct venues such as The Outhouse.

Alison Cain, 2009 graduate and former KJHK music director, says the bathroom is what she’ll miss most about the Shack. “I was always impressed when I went in there, and not because it’s a swanky bathroom or anything. There are the most awesome old fliers from ’80s punk shows plastered on the walls in there,” Cain says.

Unable to remove the wall from the Shack, the fliers will be thoroughly photographed for preservation. The organizers also plan on taking as much as they can to maintain the originality of the Shack in the station’s new home.

KJHK may be leaving 34 years of history and the solitude of the Shack behind, but it also leaves the clutter, the occasional flooding and an old, unsafe building.

“The Shack isn’t going to physically last forever … the studio in the Union will allow KJHK to grow in size and professionalism in a new state-of-the-art facility,” Cain says.

Also a former DJ, Spacek knows the one thing everyone will miss from the Shack: “The experience of sitting and watching sunrise over campus, from probably the best chair in the entire university,” he says.

  • Updated Jan. 14, 2010 at 6:00 am