The UMC opened in October 1953 as the State’s Memorial to its War Dead from World Wars I and II and as the Student Union Building. There was a committee called the Student Programs Committee, probably a remnant of the old Student Union operations. The committee served to help organize the opening ceremonies, dedications, and celebrations for the new building.
The official festivities were, by published accounts, appropriately solemn and respectful. Unofficially, members of the Programs Committee and others invited famed Ecdysiast (striptease artist) Tempest Storm to campus. Some recollections refer to Homecoming activities, but an early member of the UMC staff and a student of the times, recalls that Miss Storm was invited to the UMC after touring campus in “the backseat of a convertible Cadillac” and enjoying the enthusiastic greeting of the male students. In the UMC, Miss Storm reportedly performed a “short and tasteful” dance upon a table in the Roaring Fork Grill. Program Council’s forays into controversial and edgy programming had begun.
Through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, the Programs Committee, then the Programs Commission brought a mix of dances, films, speakers and other entertainment to the UMC and CU campus. Campus activism, born of the Civil Rights Movement, the Feminist Revolution and the politics of the Vietnam War, had an impact on the student government and students at CU. Student activism prompted a radical change in the structure of student affairs, and the current Joint Boards system was incorporated into the system of student governance at CU. Joint Boards were enormously powerful and effectively independent from the general administration of the University. After a series of conflicts, demonstrations, sanctions and lawsuits, CU students wrested control of the student fee from the administration. One of the joint boards, the Cultural Events Board emerged as an enduring feature of campus events. The Cultural Events Board, the ASUC Entertainment Committee and other groups shared common membership and a fluid concept of what programs would be presented and by whom. The Program Council now established as the promoter of a campus film series and producer of dances and concerts became the entertainment arm of the Cultural Events Board.
In 1968 CU Professor David Bowen coached CU’s College Bowl game to an undefeated championship on television’s GE College Bowl Program. Upon returning to Boulder, Bowen felt that a parody of that competition featuring useless information—Trivia, if you will—would provide a fun and popular competition for students. With the assistance of his teaching assistants and students, Bowen organized and wrote the questions for the first CU Trivia Bowl which was staged in the UMC’s Indian Grill. (The Grill was renamed Alferd Packer Grill to honor a cannibal in 1969) By the end of the first year, the Trivia Bowl had outgrown the Grill and moved to the Glenn Miller Ballroom. Program Council pitched in to help with the Bowl during the second year, and contributed funding and production expertise and by 1972, PC was the Bowl’s permanent sponsor. The Trivia Bowl became the largest non-athletic event at CU and was featured in countless magazines and international publications and was featured on network news programs, television’s That’s Incredible, The Wonderful World of Disney, and was modified slightly in an ABC Wide World of Entertainment Special. The Bowl flourished for twenty odd years before audiences dwindled in the nineties.
In 1969 Program Council accidentally provided the court test that firmly established that the University was a State agency and therefore exempt from Boulder city ordinances and County regulations. The occasion was the Program Council’s scheduling of the very controversial X-rated film, I am Curious, Yellow. Now considered no big deal by any standard, the movie did cause a stir in Boulder as in many other cities across the country. It was such a controversy, that then District Attorney, Stan Johnson ordered it seized. Boulder Police officers entered the Chem 140 projection booth and confiscated the film. Program Council Chairman Jeff Friedland prompted the University to challenge the City’s action on first amendment grounds, and the University administration found itself in the uneasy position of defending possible pornography because of the underlying principle of jurisdiction. Ho Hum, end result, Program Council won its case and sold out 8 showings of a pretty poor film. The jurisdiction victory would prove important to Program Council in future years when Stadium Concerts and the noise issue became a new source of conflict with the City.
The 1970’s saw Program Council enter the big-time arena of Rock and Roll with a splash! In 1972 the Cultural Events Board and Program Council (With Doug Brunkow at the helm) penned a deal with Concerts West (a California promotion firm) for three concerts at Folsom Field. The first of these was the Grateful Dead on September 3rd of that year. Planning was made difficult because of previous poor relationships between Program Council, the Athletic Department and the CU and Boulder Police Department. These bad feelings stemmed from incidents at Jefferson Airplane and Neil Young concerts. As a result, Program Council was given only marginal cooperation and support. The result was an inadequate number of available, restrooms (concert goers would just “mess them up), limited use of necessary athletic department facilities, and token presence by hostile police officers who had not coordinated with concert organizers. Nevertheless, the concert was remarkably smooth and trouble free. Problems included public urination (and worse), parking hassles (what’s new), and some damage to the Folsom Field turf.
The real problems with the Grateful Dead concert came a few days before the concert. The promoters of the event ran full-page ads featuring the University of Colorado Cultural Events Board in the Denver newspapers. The ads featured a checklist for concert goers. It contained several useful items like, “bring a blanket,” also, “bring something good to eat.” And the words that spelled trouble for Program Council “bring your best stuff.” The thinly veiled encouragement of drug use was a not a wise business move. The University promptly cancelled the contract with Concerts West and the stadium concert business was back to square one as PC tried to overcome the hang-over from “too-hip” promotion.
Concerts in 1974 with Leon Russell and Little Feat and with The Doobie Brothers and War in 1975 set the stage for more concerts because security and crowd-management were thorough and incorporated new ideas developed by Program Council. Additionally Program Council developed a reputation for excellence in production management thanks in part to the hard work of Neil Montavon, Program Council’s first production manager and the architect of a collaborative system which brought together experts in the trades with well-trained students, all under the Program Council banner.
Program Council entered a new era with Phil Lobel at the helm. Because of his ambitious energy and belief in Program Council, Lobel wooed business from Feyline and other promoters bringing in the hottest acts in the music business to all venues at PC. In addition to rock and roll, Lobel brought impressive jazz acts to campus and pumped money into the CU Trivia Bowl.
Lobel also dabbled in Program Council promotions with the creation of the Glenn Miller Club, a nightclub concept in the Glenn Miller Ballroom which would book established acts and feature emerging artists. Warren Zevon, Elvis Costello, Karla Bonoff, and many others visited the Glenn Miller Club during their freshman tours. Program Council was now nationally recognized as a student-run promotion force.
Lobel and his successor, Stu Osnow brought hundreds of events to campus and produced events sponsored by other campus entities. Osnow instituted free entertainment programs to supplement the commercial offerings and Program Council was riding high. Riding high until a series of summer concerts in Mary Rippon were poorly attended and lost some money. An audit ensued and Program Council was threatened as auditors uncovered financial “inconsistencies” and “extravagance,” and questioned expenses and production methods. Although it made for interesting reading, most charges were explained and real wrongdoing was never proven.
Nevertheless, Program Council’s days of independence were over. The operations were partially shut down and only allowed to resume after Dan Caplis, previous Student Body President, consented to take the helm during a rebuilding process. Caplis restored credibility to the Program Council which was permanently assigned to the UMC administration for oversight. The arrangement, memorialized in a ”memo of understanding,” assured the Program Council’s programming would remain under student control, but that the operation would have administrative oversight and business controls exerted by the UMC administration.
Program Council remained self-supporting until access to campus venues became restricted and the legal age for drinking was changed from eighteen to twenty-one. This change in liquor laws gave off-campus competitors an advantage that has crippled campus entertainment. In addition, the Film Series program, which was once the “bread and butter” of the organization, was under siege by the VCR and off-campus competition
Finally Program Council under the direction of Dawn Cooper (Gusty) realized that they must seek support from student fees in order to remain viable. Cooper constructed a referendum and Program Council received money from a per-student fee collection that enabled it to continue to produce a variety of events in spite of the reduction in co-promoted events and a declining movie program.
Program Council’s funding source became more stable in 2003 when Student Government voted to make Program Council a regularly-funded department of the UMC. Program Council will not have to return for renewed referendum reviews, and will continue to operate, but with a more secure financial footing.
With a history of controversy and major accomplishment, Program Council is poised to write new chapters in the organization’s diary. We know where we have come from, but with a dedicated band of students with new music and entertainment forms to explore, who knows where we may go.