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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 28, 2001

KTUH feels the power with boost in wattage

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer

Picture this.

Lori Ann Saeki, general manager of KTUH, is unsure of how many more listeners the station's power boost will bring, but she does expect more people to tune in.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

You're driving from Manoa with the factory-issue radio in the Camry set to 90.3 on the FM dial, the cool licks of the Bruce Gertz Quintet's mesmerizing "Backspace" lulling you down...town.

You turn onto Punchbowl just as the trumpet gives way to drum riff, and then it happens.

Crackle, crackle, crackle.

The good news is that beginning Aug. 13, weather permitting, KTUH listeners in town won't be adjusting their dial any longer. After a year and a half delay, the 32-year-old college radio station is finally ready to dismantle its old antenna and erect a new one, in effect doubling its listening area when it boosts its power from 100 watts to 3,000 watts.

The bad news is that you'll be tuning in to station static as the rusted-out tower and antenna are taken down and replaced. If Mother Nature cooperates with nice, clear days, the station will be back on the air in 10 to 15 days.

The work officially begins Monday, but student general manager Lori Ann Saeki said broadcasts won't be affected until midnight Tuesday.

"We're not sure how it will affect listenership," Saeki said. "At the very least, more people will be able to hear us."

How many more? Hard to say, said chief engineer Dale Machado, whose days with the station go back to when power boost meant upping the wattage from 10 to 100 watts in 1985.

"What this will do is solidify their signal in the city," he said. "You could get (KTUH) in the past ... but you could go behind a building and it would be gone."

Machado worked up a projected coverage map for the Federal Communications Commission showing about three or four times as much signal strength as before. And "repeaters" stationed at Mount Ka'ala and atop Leahi Hospital beam the station at different frequencies to the North Shore (91.3 FM) and East Honolulu (90.3 FM), respectively.

Still, the power won't take the station to every radio on the island.

"The prediction is, a lot of it is going into the water, actually," he said with a laugh. "The fish will get us good."

Listeners on the Windward side eager for the college station's alternative fare — everything from techno to ska to jazz — would be wise to wait before reprogramming their car radio buttons. As Machado points out, if a radio signal hits something, it bounces. If KTUH's 3,000 watts hit the peak of the Ko'olau Range, some will bounce down the mountains, theoretically into the Windward side — though not as strong a signal.

"Any time you get a bounce, in any direction, is less," he said. "If you have 100 watts going to the mountain and it bounces, there's little to receive. When it's 3,000, it's more likely.

"You might as well try it and see what you get."

All that means there's the technological potential to double the audience, faculty adviser Jay Hartwell said.

"We don't pay for Arbitron, so we don't know" how many people are listening now, or will be listening after the boost, he said.

The 90-foot tower sits atop the eight-story Social Sciences Building on the mauka end of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and affords a 360-degree view from the Ko'olau range to the ocean to Diamond Head. Volunteers got to take in that view a month ago, when they painted the new tower with "love and affection," Hartwell said.

In a way the station was lucky to find out about the tower rust, even though it set back the project 18 months, Hartwell said. The discovery allowed the station to take heavy-duty precautions against Hawai'i's heavily corrosive salt air, purchasing (at $200 per kit) anti-rust coating: Rustbond Penetrating Sealer SG, Carbomastic 15 A&B and Carbothane 134 HG (high-gloss), A&B — in UH-regulation tan, of course.

While the new tower is being erected, the station will take the break in air time to do some spring cleaning — literally and figuratively. The place is going to get a good scrubbing, Saeki said, and they'll take the opportunity to sort through the vinyl and CD collections.

The time will also be spent on staff and on-air DJ training, with workshops and guest speakers, she said.

As its mission statement points out, the station is dedicated not only to providing an alternative to commercial radio, but to serve as a training ground for students interested in radio as a career.

While several on-air DJs have quite a following many professionals would envy — for example, G-Spot & Ollie's "The Underground Sounds Show," Barry Sato's "The Afternoon Caribbean Session" and Thursday night's "The Late Sleeperz Show" with Kavet the Catalyst — the college station sees turnover when students graduate or move. For example, Toni Matsuo is taking her "Tuesday Toni Phonic Jazz" with her when she leaves for France. Saeki notes that the most up-to-date program, which is formatted in three-hour blocks, is on the station's Web site (http://ktuh.hawaii.edu).

While the longer the show has been airing, the bigger the audience, Hartwell said, "others are not genre-specific, tuning in for the next surprise."

• • •

A KTUH power increase timeline

  • 1988: KTUH begins its campaign to boost power, setting aside a portion of student fees and seeking donations.
  • 1989-1990: KTUH studies moving the Manoa station to a higher point at Kapi'olani Community College, but request is rejected because the tower height would violate Diamond Head Scenic District rules.
  • 1990: KTUH studies moving antenna to Round Top; request is rejected because frequency conflicts with Honolulu Police Department communications system.
  • 1992: Considers increasing power to 6,000 watts.
  • 1994: Revamps proposal to 3,000 watts, finishes feasibility study.
  • 1995: Physics professor's analysis clears way for 3,000-watt tower at present location.
  • 1996: Passes state environmental review.
  • 1998: Receives University of Hawai'i Board of Regents' approval.
  • 1999: Gets OK from FCC for construction permit.
  • 2000-2001: Discovers tower rust, completes tower engineering studies for city building permit.
  • Late Monday night: Station to go off air as removal and replacement of existing tower and antenna begins.
  • Aug. 13 (projected): Station returns to air with an expected doubled listener area.

Source: KTUH