In 1975, KCPR was seven years old and desperately needed funding to upgrade its broadcast capabilities in order compete with established regional stations along the Central Coast.
The station had exhausted funds from a previous project that increased the station’s power output from ten watts to 2000 watts.
The prospect of KCPR being broadcasted beyond the confines of campus “scared the crap out of some of the Cal Poly administration,” according to Steven Ruegnitz, the 1973 KCPR General Manager.
The university administration’s fear likely stemmed from the Hunter S. Thompson-like antics of early 70s KCPR News Director Woody Goulart.
Goulart turned KCPR’s daily news hour into a satire program that made listeners wince while laughing, which was contrary to the straightforward news reporting he was learning as a journalism major. KCPR recently uncovered the lost audio from these newscasts.
“Honestly, was it madness or mania? I don’t know… It was all about freedom for Woody and his co-conspirators at KCPR,” Goulart said.
Goulart graduated in 1973 and cruised away from the serene golden hills of San Luis Obispo county to Hollywood for his new radio job. Yet, Goulart’s memory loomed over the school faculty facing the reality that KCPR would broadcast to the greater SLO community.
The KCPR staff proved these fears were overemphasized by successfully building an audience around SLO that rivaled the local professional radio stations.
However, after a few years, it became clear that KCPR needed to upgrade its mono transmission to stereo and keep up with technological advancements. Listeners demanded a better-sounding broadcast on par with professional stations from SLO, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Due to this, KCPR kicked off its first-ever pledge drive with a non-stop 80-hour marathon set starring Larry LaFollette, the then-KCPR Sports Director and Sunday night disk jockey. LaFollette, a 1976 Cal Poly graduate, loved being on-air and always picked up extra shifts to get in the studio.
The marathon featured a surprise appearance from the legendary SLO DJ Captain Buffoon, a prank call from LaFollette’s brother-in-law that sent shockwaves through the studio and a visit from LaFollette’s mother who saved her son from sleeping through the set’s final hours.
The extravaganza began on Sunday, June 1, 1975, at 6 PM. LaFollette was unsure of how much attention the pledge drive would receive from students. However, he wasn’t waiting long to receive song requests and donations from the students.
“All these dorms, fraternities and sororities started challenging each other. It was unbelievable how much money was getting raised. It just took off like wildfire,” LaFollette said.
The Cal Poly students living on and around campus raised $4,000, which is about $20,000 today after accounting for inflation. By Tuesday, the marathon was getting a lot of airplay and allegedly caught the attention of The Washington Post.
LaFollette remembers the moment a staff member told him Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein from the Post was on the phone requesting to speak with him.
“We got the reel to reel tapes ready to record the call. I picked up the phone, and ‘Bernstein’ starts talking. I said, ‘Stop the recording!’ It was my brother-in-law tricking me. I still haven’t forgiven him for that great prank,” LaFollette laughed.
While the marathon set reached LaFollette’s brother-in-law in Virginia, it didn’t catch the attention of the Washington Post.
However, Captain Buffoon, a boisterous star disc jockey at KSLY Radio in SLO, was aware of KCPR’s pledge drive. He contacted the station and interviewed LaFollette portraying one of his most well-known characters.
“Everybody [in SLO] listened to [Captain Buffoon] from 6 to 10 AM… [KCPR and KSLY] simulcasted a 15-20 minute interview with Mama Buffoon and me. It was unbelievable. It gave us more publicity than we ever imagined,” said LaFollette.
Captain Buffoon never made personal appearances and nobody knew what he looked like at that time. Still, LaFollette wrangled him into the studio to meet with students in a public appearance the following day.
“The studio was packed. You couldn’t fit a sardine in there. Everybody wanted to see what Captain Buffoon looked like,” said LaFollette.
After Captain Buffoon left the studio, all the energy he drew evaporated, leaving LaFollette struggling to make it to Thursday morning, the scheduled ending of the marathon. LaFollette hadn’t slept since he started the marathon and only left the station to shower and clean up.
He dropped the needle on Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” and promptly plunged into a deep sleep. Nobody in the studio could wake him up for twenty minutes.
There were only six minutes before the record needed to be swapped out. Fortunately, the one person who could wake LaFollette from his seemingly unbreakable dream state arrived to visit him. His mother.
She and LaFollette’s younger brother were there to visit him in the concluding hours of the marathon, but arrived at the scene of pandemonium with the staff working on waking the disk jockey.
The team pleaded to Pauline LaFollette to wake her son and save the pledge drive. She told everyone to step back. Then she walked right up to her son.
“Larry! You need to wake up!” she yelled.
LaFollette shot up as if his mother was there to ground him for an eternity.
“I didn’t do it! Don’t tell Dad!” LaFollette said.
The experience kept him awake for the marathon’s remaining hours. There were no last-minute surprise guests or catastrophic events — only good vibes.
“I got more alert the closer I got [to] finishing the shift. There were people all over the place and excitement was in the air,” LaFollette said.
The marathon set ended on Thursday, June 5, 1975, at 2 AM. LaFollette left the celebration in the studio, went home, drank “a beer or two” and slept for 18 hours.
A year later, LaFollette became DJ “Iron Man” at KZOZ 93.3 FM in SLO. He returned to the studio to flip the switch, which turned KCPR into a modernized, stereo radio station.
The 80-hour pledge drive marathon was the first of many to support KCPR’s purpose as a student-run station. It remains LaFollette’s favorite KCPR experience and one he will always cherish.
“I was on top of the world for four days. I felt like Mr. San Luis Obispo,” LaFollette said.
KCPR is currently hosting their 2021 Pledge Drive right now and you can donate at kcpr.org/donate. Brand new, student-designed merchandise is available as a gift alongside your donation amount.