The following is a reprint of Kakie Urch’s remarks from the dedication of WRFL’s Tower Sculpture, Thunder Waves of Universal Sound by Professor Garry Bibbs, on the University of Kentucky campus, Saturday, August 25, 2012
My name is Kakie Urch and I am currently an assistant professor of multimedia in the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications. But nearly 30 years ago, I was a college student here and wrote a column in our student newspaper— the Kentucky Kernel — that suggested that we might, at UK, need a student-run radio station.
I’m so happy to be here today to bring some historical perspective to the wonderful group of people who rallied around the idea that resulted in WRFL, in this sculpture and in the 24/7 musical and educational experience that still goes on at 88.1 FM, thanks to the current student leadership and staff.
And it is my great pleasure also to be asked introduce our featured alumni speaker, WRFL founder, first president and first program director, Dr. Mark Beaty, who is with us from Atlanta.
First, let’s make some connections across the curriculum, the decades and the space that holds our sculpture here on the Student Center lawn. When I was that young writer for the Kentucky Kernel, my very second story for the newspaper was a review of a sculpture show in the Rasdell Gallery in the student center. The sculptor was a promising young graduate student named Garry Bibbs. Let’s put it this way: it was a positive review.
The first thing we did as Radio Free Lexington was, of course, – Put On A Show! We were helped in planning that local music concert in the student center ballroom up there by then-Student Activities Board Director John Herbst. When we found asbestos in our Miller Hall site, we got the former Student Center Print shop area just across the lawn there from John Herbst. When we decided to put a sculpture on the Student Center lawn, we got permission from John Herbst. So we want to extend a hearty thanks to John Herbst for all his years of support.
And finally, this lawn, this place here. Today, it will host another one of generations of free local music shows, “Know Your Own,” introducing new UK students to our own extraordinary local music scene that is so much part of WRFL’s mission. This show was planned, promoted and produced by the outstanding students who run the station now and who will present the Fourth annual Boomslang Fest later in the fall.
And now to introduce one of the best friends I’ve ever had: Dr. Mark M. Beaty, now an Atlanta-based surgeon who has flown up on this beautiful day to help dedicate this sculpture.
Without Mark Beaty, there would be no WRFL-FM. Period. The antenna that graces the top of this sculpture would not have been erected atop the Patterson Office Tower, nor would it ever have carried an FCC-approved radio signal. His brilliant leadership of our grassroots group Radio Free Lexington, his thoughtful and scientific planning of equipment and technical requirements, his tireless energy and sheer determination that this idea would become reality are the factors that made the difference between a good idea in a newspaper column and an actual great radio station that serves UK and Central Kentucky.
Mark came to the University of Kentucky from the University of North Carolina, with a bachelor’s in political science in hand and the goal to get into medical school. When he learned there was a move to build a campus radio station afoot – he tracked me down as the Acting President of Radio Free Lexington, leaving notes for me in the SAB Concert Office, in the Kernel office, at my workplace. It became clear that this man needed to be the first President of the non-profit group that would become the student group that built the station.
While getting A’s in the complex science courses required for medical school admission, working nearly full-time in a campus nutrition lab running a mass spectrometer and other equipment, working at a motorcycle shop and blowing the face off the Medical College Admissions Test, Mark Beaty led the group of us who built WRFL.
And it was a full-time job for Mark and for many of us. He organized benefit concerts, call-out research (we knew that political science degree was going to be good for something), collaboration between Lexington media and UK administrators.
He led meetings, worked with SGA Senator Theo Monroe on the FCC license application, worked with SGA leadership on funding issues, worked with other college radio stations to establish benchmarks and when the little bitty crisis of the asbestos found in our original Miller Hall site came around, brought the courage of his conviction to every one of these tasks.
Mark hauled amps and lasagna dinners for Alternative Music Week, rigged up a wild 220 snake so that the Flaming Lips could use their smoke machine in a 200-capacity club, collaborated with Engineer Doug Collins on station schematics, climbed up the tower once it was on top of Patterson Office Tower, drove around New Circle Road to test the first signal in the car radio of a ’68 Dodge Dart, manned the controls for the first moments of WRFL broadcast and chose the first song we played: C’mon Every Beatbox by Big Audio Dynamite.
On a freezing, freezing Christmas break, with a team that included Jim Shambhu, Wyn Morris, Jack Smith and others, he designed and built the first two WRFL studio consoles out of high-grade plywood I had begged off of Pink Floyd after they finished using it as sound platforms at Rupp Arena.
He also, of course, did a great radio show and represented the station in New York at the CMJ Convention. As program director, he put together our first programming schedule and saw that all of our volunteers were trained on broadcast equipment. His pioneering in programming created a structure that the station has maintained: one committed to diverse, alternative, new, local and culturally enriching programming.
All told, Mark Beaty led this station from his arrival in Lexington, through the
station’s first two years on air, and then he, and his leather jacket, his soul patch, his Frye boots and his shark tooth necklace, to the shock of some academic advisers on the campus, easily got into medical school. He graduated from UK Med AOA, which is the top of the class honor and went on to become a double-board-certified surgeon.
Building WRFL with Mark Beaty was one of the greatest experiences of my life. From him I learned a lot about work, goals and reading the manual. I also learned about inspiring others, holding fast to values under pressure and hiking through the Smoky Mountains. While advisers may not have believed that Mark would get into medical school, it was his goal and he believed in it. And while many in the city might not have believed that Mark and his group could build a student radio station, it was his goal and he believed in it.
So, please welcome the man responsible for this antenna and so many years of great alternative radio in Lexington, Dr. Mark M. Beaty.
Click here to read Kakie Urch’s 2008 Ace piece, WRFL Was Everyone’s Good Idea.
Click here to read Mark Beaty’s 2008 Ace piece.