On Thursday, Oct. 6, four days after KUCR’s official 50th anniversary, the college radio station that has been a staple of UCR held its first-ever gala in celebration of its 50 years on the air. Hosted and presented by KUCR director Louis Vandenberg, the event hosted over 10 speakers including UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox, U.S. House Congressman Mark Takano and Pulitzer Prize winner Dexter Thomas, who was the evening’s final speaker. The Gala, held at the alumni center, began at 6 p.m. and concluded with a performance by local world music group Quitapenas at 11 p.m.
This was KUCR’s first gala in its 50 year history and was completely sold out to an audience of 150 people. Vandenberg organized this event with the assistance of KUCR staff members Tina Bold, Monica Taylor, Elliott Kim, Elliot Fong and KUCR alumnus Hannah Benson.
Fong opened the event by introducing Vandenberg who has been the longest-serving radio director in the entire UC system for over 40 years. “Radio’s a theater of the mind, so just try to use that,” Vandenberg stated, paraphrasing the words of his chief engineer John Artall. “We really love the art of the DJ. We think that being a DJ, especially for a musical show is an art form … as all our DJs past and present will tell you … There couldn’t be a campus with greater diversity, there couldn’t be a radio station with greater diversity.”
Vandenberg then introduced Wilcox, who spoke on the history of the station, sharing how Vandenberg’s influence has brought noticeable and lasting changes to the station. Referencing “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” which was the number one song of 1966 on the Billboard charts, Wilcox said, “That’s a peak back to a different time … but the notions that we just pull back a song and we know them … It’s quite another thing to have that kind of longevity … that is not easy to achieve… I know everybody in the room loves the man (Vandenberg) and everyone loves the station, for what has been part of your life. I can tell you the university loves the station and loves the man for being part of the university’s life.” Wilcox as of press time has not discussed what will happen to the station publically, in regards to the campus expansion plan.
After a short break, a state representative spoke and presented an award from the California State Senate to Vandenberg on behalf of his contributions to the station. Afterward, Takano spoke openly about his long-time friendship with Vandenberg and praised the station’s impact on the community.
“Throughout the last 50 years, KUCR has been a part of our outreach for the community. It has entertained us at some moments, informed us in some others, inspired us by showcasing the creativity of our proud university,” Takano explained. “As a public school teacher I learned long ago to stop being surprised by incredible talents that students display in the classroom. But hearing what the young people produce every day at KUCR is a shining example of what college radio can be.”
After a few speeches given by local activists and community politicians, Thomas spoke on his experience at the station and how it impacted his later career. “So I know a lot of people already said a bunch of great things about Louis, and I can’t. I think I spent most of my time at KUCR fighting with Louis … My favorite moment at KUCR, was trolling UCR,” Thomas explained, referencing a publicity photo the alumni center published of him with a shirt that said “Kanye Was Right.” This shirt referenced the hip-hop star’s infamous 2006 outburst in which he stated “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” in response to Hurricane Katrina. Thomas used the shirt, because he had written a piece on Katrina for the alumni journal.
“I felt like ok, I got something to say,” Thomas elaborated. “Having been at KUCR, I felt like alright when I have something to say I’m going to say it. That’s not something I got from high school … that’s not something I got from classes. That’s something I got from being on the air and working with people … I’ve been really lucky and had the opportunity to do a lot of things, but the only thing that I can kind of form an identity with is KUCR … KUCR was the first place where I felt I belonged.”
After Thomas’ speech, the formal part of the gala concluded, while other festivities continued. The event hosted a photo booth and the Quitapenas performance outside the venue.
The station has a history of catering a variety of music, political and educational programming to a diverse audience, and currently operates 24 hours every day. Various alumni attended the event, stretching back to the 1970s to support the station and honor Vandenberg.
One alumnus from the 1970s, Bob Murphy held a positive view of the event. ”It was wonderful being in a room full of like-minded people who over the years gave their best to KUCR and consequently, to the community it serves,” Murphy shared. “Nobody did it for money or prestige, just for the experience of giving your all for love and finding yourself, just as the current student staff continues to do in the grand tradition. Here’s to another 50 years, and as the late Bill Elledge used to say, ‘Listen to KUCR, you’ll hear many good things.’ Amen.”