Here we are, there we were; The road to FM

There’s a lot that goes into launching an all new FM station. There’s paper work to be done, DJ’s to hire, programming to develop, and don’t forget about all that shiny new equipment.

For the latter, enter 31 year old Kent Otto, the technical adviser for KDRU since July of this year. Otto has extensive experience in the field of broadcasting and journalism starting way back in 1995 at KJLU, Lincoln University’s radio station. Now he works as an internet entrepreneur, runs a radio station for the Electric Forest Music festival in Rothbury, Michigan, and volunteers his time with us.

We sat down with him recently and asked him about his biggest challenges and hopes for KDRU as a fledgling FM station.

What were some of the threads you had to pick up when you got here?

“I think initially it was the Emergency Alert System, which was the first hurdle that Jonathan was struggling with and didn’t really have a solid connection to help with.

That was the immediate need and sort of the last hurdle to get over in order to be eligible for the license so that’s what I helped with. (I had to) pick out which piece of equipment we needed and get it ordered and installed, that kind of thing.

Then as we started to have more discussions, it sort of led to more and more needs and requirements and the cleaning up of other stuff. But that was the initial need.”

And once that got put in it was launch time?

“Well originally it was, but then as we looked at the paperwork we had from the FCC, it actually showed that we had a requirement to operate at 43 watts. And the current equipment only went up to 30 watts, so really to get the final license we needed to upgrade our transmitter.

Once we got the EAS in and up and running, then we moved on to researching and purchasing a new transmitter. At the same time we realized ‘oh, we actually need to move our antenna up to 100 feet.’ Which is what we said we would do in our construction permit, so we had to move that up as well.

But once we had those 3 main pieces, the EAS, the transmitter, and the antenna in their proper places, then we were ready to file that final piece of paper work.”

What was the hardest part of the process?

“Actually everything has run pretty smoothly as far. My biggest worry was always ‘how many forms of approval do we need to do all these little things’ but everything has sort of fallen into place pretty easily.

There was always a frustration when you don’t have the right part or equipment and you get ready to install something or to work on something and you get there and you dive in and you’re missing one piece and it’s like ‘oh crap now we have to order that’ or ‘we have to find a place that sells it’ and so that sets you back a couple of days.

So I think there has always been those setbacks along the way that we psyched ourselves up to say ‘okay, we’re going to go live tomorrow or this day’ and then it’s like ‘oh we can’t’ and we have to push it off like another week or another two weeks…Honestly we probably needed some time to get our programming where it needed to go and staffing and all that kind of stuff.

I mean, outside of the technical side, the struggle is to get everybody trained on what a legal FCC station sounds like and to get people to understand that this isn’t just an online toy radio station, that this is a real and true licensed station and we have to operate the same as any other fully commercial licensed station does.

I think getting rid of some of the possibly bad habits that people picked up when they weren’t required to uphold any standards or laws, that’s probably the current struggle. And that goes technical wise as well, just taking care of equipment and all that kind of stuff, but also on-air technique.”

What’s the future look like for KDRU?

“The idea of community radio is of course what’s been touted. I would love to see it turn into much more than just a primarily music station. Something that has award winning journalistic programming and that students and community members are actually able to dig a little deeper (into) and tackle some of the big issues in the area that maybe the commercial outlets don’t have interest or time to focus on.

And the fact that we don’t have to worry about pleasing advertisers or pleasing the owner-management group and that the station is free to really be whatever it wants to be really gives it an opportunity to just go any direction that it wants to.

(The main thing is) to spend time doing things that maybe a commercial station would tell their folks ‘no, that’s not going to get the particular rating or particular subscription or particular clicks or hits.’ We don’t have to worry about that as much because we are completely, independently student funded.

There is just the ability to be a nationally recognized student and community station, I think there is so much opportunity there and there is no reason we couldn’t get there. As long as we find the right people that are willing to invest the time and understand that…I keep going back to this, people keep saying ‘well it’s a student station so blah blah blah’ as an excuse to why you don’t have to do something, and I say ‘well just because it’s a student led media, it doesn’t have to suck.’”