TURLOCK -- San Joaquin Valley listeners may be surprised to find a new old station coming in over the airwaves.
KCSS, the student-run, noncommercial radio station at California State University, Stanislaus, underwent a major wattage boost this month, increasing its signal strength beyond its original campus confines from nearly 40 years ago.
KCSS, 91.9 FM, upgraded its antenna and transmitter over the summer and was issued its new license by the Federal Communications Commission at the beginning of December. The station went from 400 to 6,000 watts thanks to the antenna and reaches as far as Modesto, Merced, Patterson and the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Before, the station's reach was limited mainly to Turlock.
KCSS broadcaster Nadia Khoshaba, a senior at CSU, Stanislaus, has been with the station for a year. But she said it wasn't until the signal boost that she could hear it where she lives in Modesto.
"A lot of people didn't even know we had a station, so it's exciting to have them know finally that you exist," said Khoshaba, 22, "It's a good opportunity for students."
KCSS station manager and CSU, Stanislaus, junior Garrett Neeley has been with the station for two years. He said that in recent years the station has been making a push to get listeners to tune in online. But having more presence on the dial raises its community profile.
"What is really exciting is to see students with shows getting more callers," he said. "Before, you might go a whole two-hour show without one call. Now, one student got seven calls in one show. You get really excited when you can tell people are listening."
The station has some 50 broadcasters and runs about 10 genres of music from modern rock to jazz to blues to hip hop and talk radio. The 24-hour station is run by students, with some receiving classroom credit for their work. Faculty member Greg Jacquay serves as general manager and some of its broadcasters are community or faculty volunteers.
KCSS was founded in 1974 with a weak 10-watt signal, broadcasting only across the campus. In 1985, it went up to 150 watts, reaching most of the Turlock area. The signal was boosted to about 400 watts in 1998, although because of technical difficulties it sometimes went lower.
Jacquay, who is also a communications studies lecturer at the university, said that in 2008 the station began pushing to increase its signal. It was issued a construction permit to build the antenna the next year, which gave it a three-year window to finish the project. So, for the past three years, the station has been saving to reach the $75,000 needed for the antenna equipment, transmission lines, certification fees and installation costs.
KCSS operates on a budget of about $50,000 each year, with some $30,000 to $40,000 of that coming from student fees from the Instructional Related Activities Fund. The rest of the money is raised through donations.
In July, the antenna was installed on top of the Bizzini Hall classroom building on campus. Since the signal went wide at the beginning of the month, Jacquay said, the station has received calls from as far away as Angels Camp, Santa Nella and Livermore.
The signal is still weaker than many commercial stations which often broadcast at 45,000 to 100,000 watts but it's a significant upgrade for the campus station.
"This is music you are not going to hear on the commercial dial," Jacquay said. "We can play music with an edge or that caters to a specific crowd. The station has evolved over the years. I see it as a place for you to tune in and hear someone play music they like and talk about it. All our broadcasters are doing it live. And you can call up and tell them you like it or don't like it."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.