The Grasses of the Field

We were seniors at Pacific Lutheran University in the spring of the year, a time in my life when I thought everything would last forever.

Toshiba Digital Camera

Beach Grass

One Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend suggested we visit Paul and his wife. He wanted them to meet me. I remember being reluctant. Not only was I not on a first name basis with my professors, but I never “dropped by” their houses on a weekend afternoon.

Paul wasn’t actually a professor. He managed the very small campus radio studio, and since Don was involved in campus dramas, they had become acquainted.

I’m not convinced they were happy to see us, but they warmly welcomed us into their home several blocks from campus. Two young children were bouncing about and a harried wife was struggling with the weekend load of wash and a cluttered house. I don’t remember that we stayed long.

A dozen years before, in 1951, a PLU regent and benefactor from Burlington gave the school a radio studio as part of the Eastvold Chapel which was being built, hoping that someday PLU would have a radio station. For 15 years it was used for speech classes and a few radio programs.

I graduated and left PLU that spring in 1964. Two years later, on November 16, 1966, KPLU-FM went on the air with the objective of providing “top quality information and musical programs.” It operated four hours daily, from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Paul Steen was the program director.

“The antenna towers 121 feet above the campus atop the Chapel roof,” reported the December 1966 issue of the PLU newsletter.

Paul Steen only stayed a year or so in that position. He then signed on as general manager of KPBS, a new public television and radio station in San Diego that was just getting on its feet. He stayed there for 26 years.

About one year ago, a year before KPLU-FM would be sold to KUOW-FM, Steen died. He was described by one co-worker as a “visionary.” Steen died at 82. KPLU-FM was sold at 49 years.

We have come full circle. The college confidant is gone, and so is the radio station he guided through its birth. Both exited within a year of each other and they both lived their lives extremely well. The grasses of the field (or beach) that are alive today and tomorrow are…..

A couple of weeks ago I received a letter to alums from the PLU president explaining the rationale for selling. In a time when public radio is struggling, the two stations were duplicating their news and commentary coverage. KPLU-FM would continue to operate as a provider of first rate jazz music.

The other evening I watched PLU students on the local news (a commercial station) demonstrating on campus against this sale. I’m glad to see students with enough passion to get out and march and shout, and I hope they’re doing that for some other causes as well. Our country needs some strong, young–and idealistic–voices in these times.

We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Howard Zinn




2 thoughts on “The Grasses of the Field

  1. Very nice; I very much enjoyed looking in on your memories and also in sharing your hopes for our youth. Bruce feels very much the same about shouting and marching; it was how things got done in his day, and he really hopes people will rise up about the environment and so many other issues right now.

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