KDHS: The Beginnings
During the late ’60s students from Downey High School’s Advanced Speech class presented a weekly recorded program for KBEE. The program created radio interest in a group of students who ultimately came to me and asked, “can we start our own radio station?” Since I always had an interest in broadcasting, I told them I would “look into it.” It took a while. We began with a meeting with Dr. Ed Mc Clarty, Modesto Junior College (MJC) Broadcasting Instructor and the student’s parents. Nearly two years later, with great guidance from Dr. Mc Clarty, KDHS, 90.5 with ten big watts was born. We managed to acquire $5,000 worth of equipment for about $2,500 with donations, fund raising and shopping for bargain prices. We also had much technical help from local radio engineer, Mel Freedman who graciously donated his time and efforts to getting Modesto’s first high school radio station on the air.
Of course before anything could be done there was the requisite paperwork. The initial paper work for the KDHS license was a major undertaking. Studying Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines and understanding the forms took many hours. Dr. Mc Clarty and Mel Freedman proved invaluable in getting us over this hurdle.
The beginning of each school year in our Radio Production class was spent preparing to take the test for the FCC Third Class Radiotelephone License. It came easy for some. It was a whole new language with lots of laws and regulations to learn, others had problems. Usually by the time we took our annual trip to San Francisco to take the test we managed to have a high pass rate. Nerves and worry were always present, but as I recall it was always a pleasant and successful trip.
Running a radio station did not come without it’s drama. Music programming was a controversy from the start. We ended up with something between Top-Forty which are the 40 most popular songs in a genre, (usually rock and roll back then) and Middle of the Road (MOR) which was soft adult contemporary music. Some adventurous student DJs slipped in the genre of their choice when they thought I wasn’t listening. There were a few times along the way where the content of the lyrics went beyond good taste and the DJ needed a gentle nudge to get them back “in the groove” so to speak. Not unlike professional radio of the past and today.
Our most successful programming came with live sports. Especially home and away football and basketball games. The community wanted to hear how the teams were doing. Just getting the telephone lines from the phone company ordered in time and then placed in the proper location was frequently a major headache. Many times we arrived at an out-of-town stadium to find them in them wired to the wrong booth, on the wrong side, or, worse yet, not placed at all. A major highlight to me was when my barber (located on 11th street between J and K) told me he listened to games in his shop. With only a 10 Watt transmitter it was probably the furthest the signal went.
During our first year KDHS signed off at 7:00 PM. The group was smaller and there were fewer that were licensed. Eventually, with more staff the station aired until 10:00 PM. To fulfill a yearning one year I actually took a weekly shift after normal sign-off at 10:00 PM. I played ’50s music…. My “oldies”! I Don’t know if anyone was listening, but I sure enjoyed it.
In my duties as Advisor/Chaperone of the students, I needed to be able to hear the station at all times. My transistor and I frequently had dinner at the Chicken Diner (Scenic and Coffee Rd.). I could hear the station and the restaurant staff had to put up with the “kids” music every time I came in.
There were many special moments with KDHS such as live coverage of the Tri-School Homecoming Parade from in front of Sears, attempts at phone-in opinion programs long before they were the “in-thing”, rally broadcasts and more. Moments that live in my memories and I’m sure in those of the students who lived them. Of course there were many challenges, breakdowns, and just plain beginner’s errors. There were many successes and there were lots of miscues and dead-air but it was a great experience and we helped a number of young people on their way to careers in broadcasting.