KU's student radio station is preparing to boost its range by jumping from 100 watts to 2,900 watts in early 1999.
Folks cruising Kansas University's campus in a new 1952 Studebaker Commander could pick up the initial broadcast of student radio station KGDU. It was at 630 on the AM dial, but low power output meant the station's reports from the basement of Hoch Auditorium didn't even reach all parts of campus.
In 1975, the station moved to 90.7 on the FM dial and became KJHK, "The Sound Alternative." Power was increased to a meager nine watts in the nation's bicentennial year, and then to its current 100 watts in 1980.
Theoretically, there was a potential audience of 100,000 people.
Realistically, there are spots in Lawrence that still don't receive a clear KJHK signal.
General manager Gary Hawke said KJHK was on the verge of overcoming bureaucratic, financial and legal delays to juice the station's signal to 2,900 watts and extend its reach to as many as 1 million listeners.
"This has been the most difficult thing I've encountered in 30 years of broadcasting," he said.
If all goes well, installation of a new transmitter and antenna should be completed by the end of February.
"This should tremendously help those shadowed areas in our community," Hawke said.
He said strengthening the station's signal would capture listeners from the Missouri line to about halfway to Manhattan -- at least those on high ground. It also is expected to increase KJHK sponsorships by 20 percent and serve as a more influential tool in the recruitment of students to KU, he said.
The switch still would leave KJHK a small player in the radio spectrum. For example, KLZR FM in Lawrence pumps out 100,000 watts.
Hawke was named general manager of the educational, noncommercial FM station in May 1994. He began planning a boost in wattage in March 1995.
"I thought it would take a year and a half."
First, Hawke had to overcome opposition from KU administrators and others familiar with feuding in the 1980s between students and faculty about management of KJHK. The station also was fined $2,500 by the Federal Communications Commission in 1989 for airing donor announcements that amounted to commercials, which is prohibited under its FCC license.
After convincing various constituencies that it would be beneficial for the station to move to a higher power, Hawke had to find about $50,000 to pay for the upgrade. Student Senate eventually agreed to finance the deal.
"After two years ... I thought we'd jumped through every hoop."
That's when -- on the last day possible -- radio stations in Ottawa and Emporia filed a "competing application." These stations put the FCC on notice they wanted to broadcast in the zone sought by KJHK.
In cases involving noncommercial stations, the FCC requires competing applicants to resolve their own disputes. Hawke initially thought he was about to be undermined by one of the industry's oldest money-making scams. It begins when a station files a competing claim for no other purpose than to secure a payoff from a station legitimately seeking to increase wattage.
"Extortion is legal when it comes to the FCC," Hawke said.
In this case, the competing applications were filed in earnest. All three stations compromised by scaling back business plans. KJHK agreed to reduce its proposed wattage from 3,500 to 2,900.
"I want to compliment the other stations," Hawke said. "They could have been a real headache."
Cooperation among the stations reduced a potential two- to three-year stalemate to a one-year delay. The project had to be approved again by campus officials and rebid in accordance with state purchasing regulations, which ate up more time.
KJHK, known now as "The Hawk," has worked to put controversy of the past to rest. Students at the station are ready for the elevated obligations that come from raising the journalism school's flag a bit higher, Hawke said.
"The students have worked diligently to ... adhere to the rules. Students have done a tremendous job of accepting responsibility."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.