Historical records tell us that the first high school radio stations made their appearance in the United States in the 1920s. The stations at that time were designed to be information conduits for school faculty and administration with little if any student involvement. High school stations all but disappeared in the 1930s as a result of the Great Depression and restrictions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It wasn’t until the late 1940s that high school stations began showing up again on the FM band.
It’s believed that the oldest FM high school stations were KPBS (1947) in Portland Oregon and WNAS (1949) in Indiana which was still on the air as of May 2019. Brian Sullivan who managed the station and taught high school radio at the New Albany, Indiana High School says that in the 1950s, the formative years of the station, many listened to WNAS to hear the student broadcasts of the Hoosier’s basketball games. Sullivan says of high school radio, “It’s not just about the technical stuff. Soft skills, like working on a deadline and critical thinking are easy to come by.” Sullivan explains that even if a student doesn’t go in in the field of radio or television these are qualities that can apply to any job or field of study.
In the 1970s there were over 150 licensed high school radio stations in the United States. Many of these stations were using low power FM (LPFM). The number stations declined in the 1980s and 1990s but began to grow again with the renewed availability of LPFM bands. Many of these stations operate as community radio stations when not being used by high school students. Students create ideas for broadcasts and produce programs ranging from coverage of community events to coverage of the news and local sporting events. Many students choose to deliver programs presenting specific musical formats such as jazz, classical, rock, country etc.
In the late ’60s in Modesto, CA there were no high school radio stations. None that is until a group of students at Thomas Downey High School and a teacher decided that it was time.
It was not easy bringing the project to fruition but this was no ordinary group of students, and this was no ordinary teacher. Together they were a winning team. They secured equipment and programing materials by getting donations from electronics manufacturers and record companies. They raised money by putting on creative and successful community events. The high school’s staff and students chipped in and radio magic started happening. On September 5, 1969 KDHS (90.5MHz) began broadcasting. The station was licensed by the FCC to the Associated Students of Thomas Downey High School.
The Modesto Radio Museum has decided that rather than us telling you their story we will have them tell you. We’ve reached out to the teacher who guided them and to the students who helped create and program Modesto’s first high school radio station, KDHS.
If you have a memory of KDHS please feel free to share in the comment section below.
– Radio Survivor, Jennifer Watts April 22, 2015
– WPFL.org, Henry Zimmerman