In this oral history, Mark C. Lawrence, Chief Engineer at Stanford’s radio station KZSU for over fifty years, describes growing up in Gridley, California, his physician father’s purchase of a farm, his experience working with farm machinery, and how that experience led to a lifetime of building things with his hands and to an interest in radio. He recalls how that interest led him to volunteer at KZSU when he arrived at Stanford as a freshman in 1963 and eventually to work as its Chief Engineer to this day.
Lawrence recounts the history of KZSU, its gradual expansion, the development of its physical facilities, and its broadening areas of interest. He discusses how the focus of the Department of Electrical Engineering shifted from radio electronics to computing and the subsequent impact on the station. He recalls his employment at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Plant Biology on the Stanford campus after his graduation, taking the first two undergraduate computer science courses in the 1960s, and working eventually in the Computer Center from 1972 to 2004 when he was laid off as a consequence of reorganization and the university’s move away from its homegrown mainframe computing system.
Along the way Lawrence describes Stanford’s steam tunnels through which the radio station’s transmission lines ran, the campus telephone system, the implementation of ASSU special assessment fees that he helped create, and the experience of broadcasting live via KZSU the speeches given by public figures, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Barack Obama, Al Gore and the Dalai Lama, on Stanford campus.
Mark C. Lawrence, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, AM broadcasting, FM broadcasting, and information technology
October 24, 2016
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012