KDHS was an enigma to the general listening audience when it emerged on the Modesto airwaves on September 5, 1969. The station was licensed by the FCC to the Associated Students of Thomas Downey High School. The offices, studios & transmitter were located between rooms 50 & 51 at the high school. KDHS had the distinction of being the only high school radio station in the Modesto area, as well as one of the few high school radio stations in the entire country.
With Ron Underwood as the faculty advisor, KDHS was entirely student owned & student run. The radio broadcasting class was worth 1 credit as a vocational art. Its non-commercial, educational programming consisted of campus news, Downey High School Sports (especially football & basketball), special informational features, and a wide variety of popular music ranging from Rock & Roll to Jazz to Contemporary Christian.
The original 4.5 watt transmitter served the station and the Modesto area quite well. In December of 1969, the station acquired a new 10 watt Sparta transmitter which enabled KDHS to be heard as far away as Riverbank, Empire, & Ceres. In 1972, Ron Underwood left Downey and took a teaching position at Beyer High School. There, he launched KBHI 88.9 FM, the second high school station in Modesto. Burt Vasche’ became the new faculty advisor at KDHS.
Since its inception, the student council had agreed to fund the radio station at a cost of $2,500 per year. This took care of most of the operating and repair costs. The students also sold local area businesses a “Booster Package” which consisted of a KDHS window sticker, and a “mention” on the air. Since the station was non-commercial, it could not run paid-for ads. Rather, it would mention a business in the same manner that most PBS stations do, (“Funding for this program provided by …”).
Life went on at the little high school station until 1978. It was that year that 3 separate events signaled the start-of-the- end for KDHS:
Event #1…It was decided by the school district that the 1 credit radio broadcasting class would be discontinued at the end of the school year. Students would be allowed to continue broadcasting as an extra-curricular activity, but would not receive any class credit for their efforts. Graciously, Burt Vasche’ remained the faculty advisor for anyone who wanted to participate. It is believed that he did this without any pay or compensation from the school or district.
Event #2…The passage of Proposition 13, the Jarvis-Gann initiative, affected property taxes throughout the state, and in turn, dramatically reduced school funding. Athletic programs, the Arts, and extra-curricular activities took the biggest hit. In lieu of this shortfall, it was decided by the student council that they could no longer afford to continue to fund the station. The yearly stipend was immediately eliminated; however, the school continued to pay for the basic electricity used to keep the station on-the-air.
Event #3…While the station & students were reeling from the loss of funds, the FCC delivered the biggest blow by deciding to abolish all Class “D” FM stations (specifically, those operating at 10 watts). An overabundance of these low-powered, mainly high school & college radio stations were cluttering up the FM band, particularly in the 88-92 MHz range. An ultimatum was issued by the FCC; either increase your power to 100 watts, or leave the air. KBHI decided to do the latter. With no money for a new transmitter, no funding from the school, and a sharp decline in booster participation, KDHS was prepared to sign off for the final time. Instead, the station looked at a third option…one the FCC overlooked. KDHS decided to emulate KRJC, the AM station at Modesto Junior College. The transmitter was output reduced to 1 watt, and KDHS became a “Campus Carrier”. The signal could barely reach the outer edges of Downey Park to the north, and if you were more than 100 feet off campus, the signal was entirely lost. Furthermore, this meant that there was no protection by the FCC if a more powerful station petitioned to operate at the 90.5 FM frequency. Literally, on life support, the station remained on-the-air. The staff knew there was absolutely no money for repairs.
With the loss of the “1 credit class”, student participation had dwindled to a handful of believers. The listening audience at one time probably consisted of only one listener…the DJ on-air.
KDHS remained on the air until the spring of 1983. The once powerful 10 watt transmitter fell into severe disrepair and was unable to even crank out the single watt needed to remain on the air. The staff numbered less than 10, and the school insisted on reclaiming the office & studio space for a teacher preparation area. KDHS was officially gone.
When the license was allowed to expire, the Seventh Day Adventist Academy in Ceres petitioned the FCC in 1987 to acquire the 90.5 FM frequency. KADV, Your Christian ADVantage was launched in 1989. However, the call letters would not fade into obscurity. They were later claimed by Delta High School in Delta Junction, Alaska. In June of 2002, the FCC granted a license to KDHS-LP, a 100 watt high school station, which broadcasts at 95.5 FM, and on the internet.
Editor’s note: Kenn Shearer now lives in Tulsa, OK.