University Radio Hilo goes on air
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
HILO, Hawai'i — University Radio Hilo has hit the AM airwaves, carving out a tiny 3-mile broadcast territory around the University of Hawai'i-Hilo that offers an alternative to the slick sounds of commercial radio.
There is some static, but the station can be heard from Banyan Drive and downtown Hilo to the Waiakea Houselots. Mainstream listeners probably won't recognize most of the music, but it's college radio, and playing stuff most people haven't heard is the whole point.
URH supporters aren't sure how many listeners have been tuning in since the low-power station went on the air last week. "Friends of the DJs are probably our primary audience," said station founder "Z" Knight, an astronomy student.
No matter. The station has come a long way since its Internet startup on Feb. 1, 2002.
Knight, who prefers to be known simply as "Z," began working toward a radio station for the college while serving as a student senator. There was no money to broadcast, so the early years were spent on the Internet. The station was launched with a computer donated by the university's information technology department and another purchased for the station by the student activities council.
The UH-Hilo Theatre lent a sound board, and the control room was set up in a former dormitory on the Hawai'i Community College campus. The control room is in a large glass booth, formerly the dorm's reception area.
General manager Mark Farrell said passers-by like to press their noses against the glass to watch the DJs at work.
"The reception was more apathetic than I had anticipated, but we did start getting more interest — a few listeners and a few DJs," Knight said.
The drawbacks of Internet radio were obvious, however. "It's amazing how many people don't know how to run a computer," said Farrell, a senior political science major. People would call in, unable to listen because they couldn't get the music player to work. Farrell would try to talk them through it.
That problem was solved when the station planted four one-tenth-of-a-watt transmitters on the roof of the UH-Hilo Theatre, allowing URH to began broadcasting at 1640 kHz.
Yesterday was the station's first regular morning show, hosted by 19-year-old student Josh Pacheco with John Burnett, the station adviser and a longtime radio professional in Hawai'i.
The station is supported by about $40,000 a year from student fees, and Burnett looks ahead to a day when the listening audience will grow and the station can broadcast with more power on an FM frequency.
In the meantime, the URH crew seems happy to offer a low-power radio alternative to Hilo town. The DJs choose what to play, and Mike Garcia, 38, offered "old-school funk" selections and Latin music yesterday during his 8-to-10 a.m. shift at the controls.
Garcia, an athletic trainer at UH-Hilo, said he DJs for fun, and to "help the poor people of Hilo get some rhythm back in 'em."
Reach Kevin Dayton at email@example.com.