Time machines, you might say, are the stuff of science fiction. Physically traveling to the past or the future may be debated by scientists and philosophers, but any archivist will tell you that if you want to visit the past, “Well, step right this way.” We can take you as near or as far back in time as our materials cover and the time machine effect you experience in an archive might leave you feeling that you just stepped out of Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. The vessels for time travel in archives are letters, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, films, and even things as seemingly mundane as business records and reports. But for me, one of the most vivid ways of experiencing the past is through my ears. Historical sound recordings allow us to hear voices speaking across the chasm of time.
In April, former NMSU student Jerry Peek contacted us about some audio recordings he had saved from his time in the early 1970s when he was a volunteer DJ and engineer for the university’s student-run radio station KNMS (called KRWG-AM before 1974), as well as the public radio station KRWG-FM. KNMS was established in 1974 as a station run by students for students, broadcasting “progressive,” non-commercial rock music by a group of DJs who called themselves the Ozone Rangers (any of you who remember the band Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen will get the reference). One of Jerry’s jobs was to record programming for the stations and he has saved the recordings for all these years, updating them to digital format recently. He asked if we might be interested in a donation of the materials. After hearing his description, it didn’t take long for us to make up our minds. Absolutely!
Since the quarantine had already begun, Jerry mailed to my home a tiny USB drive filled with several hours of audio recordings as well as a few hundred photographs he had taken around campus, around Las Cruces, of the radio station operations at NMSU, and even his dorm room in Garcia Hall “full of sound equipment and photography stuff, as well as the typical box of Hamburger Helper and a typewriter.” When I loaded the audio recordings onto my computer and hit the play button, the time machine effect immediately took me back to NMSU nearly 50 years ago. The recordings include short DJ banter between rock songs of the day, public service announcements for activities around the NMSU campus, some funny student-produced commercials, a “bloopers” tape, and other creative programming.
Speaking of time machines, in 1974, during construction of new facilities for KNMS in Corbett Center, student staff of the station hid a time capsule in a space between walls before they were covered with drywall. One of the radio programs you’ll listen to here, recorded in 1974, is set in the far future and depicts the discovery of the time capsule by some bumbling archaeologists. I don’t know what the contents of the original time capsule were, or if it has ever been discovered and opened, but Jerry’s recordings are a time capsule of their own.
Jerry attended NMSU from 1973 through 1975 as an undergrad engineering student. He had already developed an interest in radio and photography, and found a community for himself working at the radio stations on campus. Jerry’s recordings and photographs, as well as photos in the 1975 yearbook, give the impression they were a fun and interesting crew. Jerry went on to earn engineering and computer science degrees from Cal Poly and the University of London. He was an early adopter of computer technology and over the years worked as a programmer, information specialist, and technical writer, writing several books on computing. He also followed up on his NMSU broadcasting experience by working for radio stations in Texas, Vermont, California, Oregon and New York.
So set your Wayback Machine for 1974 and listen to some of the creative work that was broadcast by students on the NMSU campus.
A program set in the year 2274, in which two bumbling archaeologists discover the 300-year-old KRWG-AM/KNMS time capsule.
A compilation of DJ banter from KRWG-AM and KNMS, recorded in 1973 and 1974.
A series of humorous commercials produced by student DJs. Listeners of KNMS and KRWG-AM primarily were NMSU students and the ads – for laundromats, donut shops, convenience stores, auto parts – were targeted for that audience.
A run of Halloween-themed commercials for the Donut Den.