KOHL Radio

Students airing the program “What’s Happening on Campus” at the radio station.

Students airing the program “What’s Happening on Campus” at the radio station.

Serra Campus Days

Ohlone College opened for classes in September of 1967 located at the temporary Serra Campus off Washington Boulevard in Fremont.  The Serra Campus operated as home base for Ohlone until the move to the permanent Fremont Campus on Mission Boulevard in 1974.

In a way, radio broadcasting has been part of Ohlone right from the start.   During the first year of classes in 1967-78, in conjunction with other colleges in the area, Ohlone aired a “What’s Happening on Campus” program every third Sunday.  The program was broadcast to the surrounding communities through the cooperation of KFMR radio station, 104.9 in Fremont.  Gloria Villasana and Bruce Mardar were the Ohlone students in charge of the 40-minute pubic service program.  The uninterrupted program consisted of tapes containing Ohlone College students’ views on news of the day, and selected records for the enjoyment of students and adults.  Craig Jackson, Speech and Theater faculty member, served as advisor for the program. (Tempo Magazine, June 1968, Pages 28-29)

Roy Hurst, Physics, one of the first Ohlone faculty members hired before the start of classes in 1967, and other faculty and staff investigated the creation of a low power (10-watt) FM radio station like other college and high school stations in the area.  The radio engineering firm of Hammett and Edison of Burlingame, CA was paid $400 to conduct a frequency search that revealed the availability of one remaining channel in the area.  They felt it probably could be obtained from the Federal Communications Commission quite readily because it did not interfere with any surrounding stations.

On August 23, 1972 Ohlone President, Dr. Stephen Epler, brought the proposal for an Ohlone radio station to the Board of Trustees and summarized the benefits of a station for the college, as follows:

An FM radio station can be an important part of the college instructional program as well as a means of communication to the community. Customarily, the operation of the station is by students earning credit under the supervision of a faculty member, which provides the students with valuable technical and operational experience. The radio station would provide a way of making the community aware of the college by broadcasting athletic events, drama productions, music programs, as well as programs from other departments in general news of the college.

He recommended that Hammett and Edison be engaged to complete a frequency application to the FCC for a fee of $600.  He stated that Hammett and Edison had projected the initial equipment cost to get the station up and running would be around $3,000.

On June 23, 1974, the Argus published an article with the headline, “Hi From KOHL.”  A picture shows Tony Bates, one of the student disc jockeys, playing a record.  The article gives a bit of a background on the radio developments up to the point moving to the permanent Fremont Campus on Mission Boulevard in 1974.  Roy Hurst is referred to as head of the Ohlone College Physics Department, teacher of Physics, Chemistry and Radio Broadcasting and General Manager of Ohlone’s KOHL.  Fred Dodge is referred to as News and PR Director.  The article refers to KOHL as the East Bay’s newest radio station, since Fremont’s KFMR went off the air in 1961.

Hurst stated that the exploration of a campus radio station started in June 1972, at the suggestion of one of his ex-students.  Hurst was intrigued with the idea and worked with other interested faculty and students.  This led to the Dr. Epler’s presentation to the Board described above.  Hurst was quoted as saying, “The ‘channel search’ took nearly a year before we finally landed at 89.3 on the FM dial.”  Renovations on the small house at the end of Witherly began in June 1973 and were continuing at the time of the article.  The rock bottom price for suitable equipment was $6,090, which the college financed (This was double what had been projected in 1972).  Since then, everything had been on a volunteer and/or donation basis.

The article mentions several dedicated folks who worked with Hurst in that early development period:

John Tordoff, an electronics instructor for United Air Lines, was another ex-student of Hurst’s.  He had always been interested in HAM radios, and was delighted to join the staff.  With Hurst, he installed and maintains the equipment, “and,” Hurst adds, “he has spent nearly every Saturday since last June to bring order out of chaos.”

Neal Martin, a second-year student and student manager of the station, has worked equally hard to get the station on the air.  He seems to enjoy life in a mini-size broadcasting booth and comes over as a very professional sounding broadcaster.

News and Public Relations Director Fred “Ray” Dodge, a recently retired salesman, brings a valuable and diversified background to the staff.  Dodge has been advance publicity man for Horace Heidt; worked in a Publicity Department at MGM Studios; was on the staff of the Los Angeles Times; and spend 15 years as District Manager with Films Incorporated, a 16 mm entertainment film rental agency.  In 1971, two years before his “planned” retirement, Dodge began a CBS course in radio broadcasting.  In his early 60s, he has entered a whole new field and, like the other staff members, obviously enjoys it.  He particularly enjoys  man-on-the-street type interviews an seldom misses an opportunity to wrap up something interesting.

The project had no operational budget so everyone involved donated not only time but equipment, office supplies – whatever was needed.  The article states “…somehow everything fell into place.  In an incredibly short time, they were on the air – January 16, 1974.”  That first program was a taped speech by Epler from the dedication ceremonies for the permanent campus on Mission Boulevard.

The article goes on to summarize some of the early station programming:

Since then, KOHL, listed as a 10-watt station but with a 40-watt capacity, has added a variety of interesting programs, most of them taped.  “From the Knoll,” a taped series of community-oriented subjects from Maryknoll College in New York; the “Mother Earth Series,” taped science sequences covering such subjects as “Sunshine Power” and “The Garbage Powered Car”; “Let’s Talk About the Atom”: “City of Fremont”: news, sports and ski reports, done live by Dodge; a taped Astronomy Course from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

There is one program which may well prove to be the most popular of all, – “The Great American Broadcast,” tapes of famous old radio shows such as Fibber McGee and Molly, the Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, Suspense – all donated.

“In addition,” Hurst says, “there are book reviews, comments on current films, and numerous public service announcements.  The station also maintains consultants for two television college courses.  Television viewers, watching the programs for college credit, can call consultants to discuss the program and ask questions.  A taped discussion of the courses is also put on the air to assist students.”

The music has to be classified as MOR – middle of the road – everything from symphonies to rock, and a great deal of “easy listening.”  According to Dodge, the record companies in San Francisco have been helpful in supplying them with records, but much of the music played comes from their personal record libraries.  For such a limited station, KOHL has some unusual policies.  They will accept music requests, which most radio stations do not; and, since college radio stations are required by law to be licensed as non-commercial, the absence of commercial advertising is soothing.

Plans for the future include a Production Room, now under construction, where small civic groups can broadcast live discussions on subjects of community interest.  A fuller broadcasting day is also planned, substantially increasing their present 4 ½ hour day.

Developments at the Permanent Campus on Mission Boulevard

Sheldon “Shelly” Nagel was hired on September 3, 1968 at the beginning of the second year of classes at Ohlone.  He was a history professor and Division Dean and worked at the college until his passing in 2004.  As a faculty member, Shelly contributed to the development of the curriculum in his discipline and created the course “The History of Radio Broadcasting.”  He directed the accumulation of a representative selection of volumes in the areas of history and political science in the Ohlone library.  He was also responsible for the acquisition of many films and videos that were widely used by full-time and adjunct faculty in his discipline.

During the final years of his life, Shelly penned a series of Ohlone memories, mostly about the people he worked with and the issues the all faced together.  This memoir, titled “Toiling in the Vineyard,” has been published in the college archive and is accessible for all to enjoy.

Shelly’s memories provide a unique and personal perspective on radio in general and radio at Ohlone in particular.   His account is presented here verbatim:

KOHL 89.3 FM or Radio Ohlone began as an idea with the late Roy Hurst, an original hire who taught physics.  Roy was as interesting man, politically conservative and with strong moral values.  He did not believe in unions for teachers and when the Ohlone union was formed he chose not to belong.  However, he did not feel it was not right to get a free ride as the union negotiated salary and benefits for all so he contributed the equivalent of the union dues to the union’s scholarship committee.  Roy saw the station as an extension of the physics curriculum and was not all that interested in programming.  He was concerned however, with the graphic nature of some rock lyrics and worried that students might want to play songs such as the then popular “Muscle of Love”.

I had suggested the call letters be KOC, using the initials for Ohlone College.  I was dissuaded when it was pointed out that it could be pronounced “cock radio” and quickly went along with KOHL.  (For the uninitiated, stations west of the Mississippi begin with K for kilocycle and stations east begin with W for wavelength.  One exception is KDKA, Pittsburgh, PA which is the first radio station licensed by the Department of Commerce and began by broadcasting the results of the 1920 presidential election.)

We applied for and received a license and began with a 10 watt station located above the campus in what had been a small guest house which the Huddleson family had built next to the main house.  The latter now housed the President’s office and support staff.  The station eventually increased its power to 100 watts and was relocated in the corner of the second floor of building 2.  With the completion of the Smith Center, KOHL moved into a state of the art broadcasting center. Chet Gould was the original station manager and in charge of our broadcasting program.  Bob  Dochterman currently holds that position.   Although the operation of the station is primarily as a vocational program with first class equipment, it also aired classes for credit.  This combination, I thought, fulfilled the mission of a college radio station and allowed us to make use of the newest buzz phrase “distance learning”.  FM is line of sight transmission, so we receive responses from people on the peninsula but do not reach very well to our north, in Hayward.

At one time we offered classes on air in U.S. History, California History, Introduction to Sociology, Marriage and Family, History of Rock and Roll and History of Radio Broadcasting in America.  This last one was mine.  I had long harbored a strong, nostalgic feeling for old radio.  It’s what I grew up with.  I began collecting old broadcasts on tape and enrolled in a Cal Extension course in the Golden Age of Radio.  As a class project for the course I put together a half hour tape-slide presentation of old radio and have been showing it to various service clubs ever since.  Then, I decided to put together a full course in a History of Radio Broadcasting in America.  It became a requirement for students in our broadcasting program.  Other students could sign up in order to meet a humanities  elective for graduation.  I initially taught the class in the evening.  I needed the three hour time span because it took awhile to set up the tape recorder and slide projector I needed and doing it three times a week instead of once made no sense to me.  I put the whole class together in my bedroom using a portable reel to reel tape recorder record turntable and cassette recorder to put together the broadcast tapes out of my own collection.  I then used my old Yashica SLR camera to shoot slides out of books to illustrate my recorded narration.  The last of the old G.I. Bill was still in effect and vets also signed up for the class.  They were always looking for classes so they could continue collecting their benefits.  Finally, Don Tenney, a faculty colleague who was somehow involved with programming for the station, convinced me to convert the class to a self paced one which could be offered over KOHL.  I did just as the G.I. benefits started to dry up and with it my evening enrollment.  Of course, some of the more interesting items I had on tape were the old commercials.  I wrote to and received permission from the FCC to air these as educational material and I put in a disclaimer at the start of each broadcast that Ohlone doesn’t endorse any of these products, especially the cigarettes.”

On April 18, 1977, the Argus published an article with the headline, “KOHL at Ohlone – Radio Station Grows, Prospers.”  There is a photo of student Carl Soto playing records.  By this time, Chet Gould was the Manager of KOHL by this time.  The article provides a nice update on the developments of the station.  Gould hoped to cultivate KOHL fans in Fremont by scheduling programs for special interest listeners. For instance, the radio station had been providing live broadcasts of Fremont City Council meetings Tuesday nights.  The broadcast was so successful they were flooded with complaints when then could not broadcast because of equipment failure.

“We try and create a professional atmosphere when a student leaves, he can fit right in at a radio station,” Gould said.  “You could say it’s more of a vocational training course then something more solidly academic.”

When the station began two years earlier there were only five students to operate the equipment, play records, and prepare news for broadcasts.  At the time of this article 25 students were in the program and the station operated 15 hours a day.  Since students needed special licensing from the Federal Communications Commission to hand the broadcasting equipment, only 11 of the 25 were disc jockeys. The remainder of the students wrote and collected news for the three KOHL news broadcasts, prepare and record public service commercials, and develop special one-time programs.

Under federal licensing law, Ohlone could only receive a 10-watt frequency on 89.3 FM.  But, Gould said, the low wattage had been overcome by placing the KOHL transmitter high up in the hills behind the campus.  “We not only reach most of the town, but I’ve gotten calls from Palo Alto, Mountain View, and I’ve heard us halfway across the San Mateo Bridge,” Gould said.  However, there were several “dead spots” or pockets where the signal is weak in Fremont.  The college hoped to have the transmitter even farther up the hillside in the future to blanket the community with signals from KOHL.

Gould said, “practicality is the key” behind the radio curriculum at Ohlone.  He proudly noted that seven recent Ohlone grads were attending radio school at nearby four-year universities and several had lined up professional work.  “The emphasis here is on learning,” he said.

During the middle of KOHL’s broadcast day, the students had to produce shows of contemporary tunes drafted from a list provided by Billboard Magazine.  “By working with this structured format, they’re forced to program stuff they’d have to do out in the professional world, even though they might not like the music themselves,” Gould added.  The station even played an hour of classical music every week at the dinner hour.

At night, however, when only experienced KOHL students could take the mike, progressive rock and roll shows were allowed.

In addition to regular programming, Gould had worked out a format that allowed the students to broadcast college basketball games, both home and on the road.  He had set up a college news team that prepared the three-daily news shows with an emphasis on local news.  The station held weekly sports interview shows that involved both coaches and athletes from Ohlone teams.  Twice daily, the college broadcasted tips to consumers, a program taped and packaged by the federal government.  Educational broadcasting was another key at KOHL and there were four classes sent out over the air each week.  “It’s a new idea but very successful,” Gould added.

Robert McMurtric on air at the new KOHL studio back in 1982.

Robert McMurtric on air at the new KOHL studio back in 1982.

1972 – 1984

KOHL began as a 10 watt FM station.  A residential house located on the Ohlone College Fremont campus served as home to both the studios and transmitter. The KOHL logo reflected this.  The logo consisted of KOHL in bold lettering at the top, a house in the middle, and Ohlone College written at the bottom. Adjacent to the back of the house was an antenna.  This is very similar to how things really were at the facility. The transmitter sat in the fireplace of the house. A line of coaxial cable took the signal from the transmitter up through the chimney and then over to the tower. In 1981 KOHL adopted a CHR format shedding its previous free form typical college radio sound.

In late 1981 Bob Dochterman was hired as Station Manager.  He inherited a 10-watt licensed facility in Building 29 that housed both studios and transmitter (the structure way up at the end of Witherly).  When he was hired, Bob was charged with upgrading the station license and vacating the old house due to Field Act earthquake restrictions – no students allowed in the old outbuildings.  Plus, Ohlone President Peter Blomerley wanted a more appropriate learning environment in which to build a formal instructional program.

In 1984 KOHL was granted an increase in power by the FCC moving the station up to 100 watts ERP. The transmitter remained in building 29, while the studios were moved into Building 4 on the Ohlone College Campus.  In 1992 KOHL was once again granted an increase in power bringing the station to 145 watts ERP. The transmitter was moved from building 29 to Mission Ridge.  The move in power and location gave KOHL a much farther-reaching signal that could be heard from as far north as Oakland to San Jose in the south bay. This configuration remains today.

Planning for New Facilities in the Smith Center

The Gary Soren Smith Center for the Fine and Performing Arts officially opened in October 1995. The Smith Center consists of two theater venues, a dance studio, an amphitheater, and a broadcasting complex. The second floor of the broadcasting complex was specifically designed for KOHL (the first floor houses Ohlone College’s TV station ONTV). The facility consists of four studios, support offices, an engineering center and a classroom. In addition to moving into brand new custom studios, KOHL also made the move to RCS Master Control digital radio platform, which ultimately became an industry standard. KOHL was one of the earliest west coast broadcast facilities to make the transition and was often used by the RCS company as a showcase for the product.

Program Developments since the Smith Center Opening

The branding and imaging of KOHL received an overhaul in 1999 to adapt to the modern radio industry. The old slogan of “The Bay Area’s Best Music,” was retired and replaced with “Music. Attitude.” The imaging between songs took on a more aggressive sound often using agro rock or industrial music underneath. The station voice became heavily processed and more drops from television and movies worked into the production. The logo was changed as well, moving from a two-color handwriting type font to a larger bold faced off set stacked three color (red, white, and black) logo with 89.3 on the top and KOHL on the bottom.

In 2005 KOHL converted from the DOS based RCS Master Control system to the Windows XP version.