KTUH Moving to 90.1FM with Stronger Signal

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KTUH, the college radio station based at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is shifting frequencies and doubling its signal strength next month. Currently broadcasting at 90.3FM in urban Honolulu and 91.1FM on the North Shore, KTUH will then be heard island-wide at 90.1FM.

ktuh-logoThe student-run radio station first hit the airwaves in July 1969 as Hawaii’s first non-commercial radio station, only two years after public television outlet KHET came online. Hawaii Public Radio, KHPR, wouldn’t come online until 1981. In fact, HPR also got its start at the UH Manoa campus, making the perpetually young KTUH the elder sibling of sorts. KTUH prides itself on featuring live deejays 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year round — no prerecorded shows.

As a student media outlet, KTUH is the broadcast peer to Ka Leo O Hawaii, the UH Manoa student newspaper where I cut my teeth in the mid-’90s. (It was a daily then, printed on campus, I hasten to add.) My friend and HPR co-host Burt Lum had a KTUH show called “Rough Take” in the early ’80s. Today, KTUH deejay Nicholas “DJ Mr. Nick” Yee is literally “Bridging the Gap” between modern college sensibilities and the public radio audience.

But for as long as I can remember, being able to catch the KTUH signal — and remembering which frequency to use — has always been a challenge.

The station broadcast at 90.3FM with only 100 watts for most of its 46-year history, only installing a new transmitter atop Saunders Hall in 2001 that gave it 3,000 watts. That extended the student broadcasters’ reach from Manoa Valley to Waipahu and Hawaii Kai. The 91.1FM North Shore translator was added that same year to serve rural listeners from Waialua to Waimea Bay.

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(A Windward translator was added in 2005 at 89.9. but was recently retired.)

“Currently, the two FM frequencies lack the strength necessary to give listeners the opportunity to listen island-wide,” KTUH General Manager Nick Ciuffetelli wrote in an email. “There are pockets throughout Oahu where our signal struggles to stay clear or is absent entirely.”

Thanks to an agreement reached earlier this year with Hawaii Public Radio, however, KTUH is installing a new antenna and transmitter on an HPR tower atop Mount Tantalus. The new hardware will more than double the station’s signal strength from 3,000 to 7,000 watts, blanketing nearly the entire island. But the upgrade will shift KTUH a notch lower on the radio dial to 90.1.

KTUH will retain its North Shore translator at 90.1, where the new transmitter’s signal will be weakest.

“Our new frequency will extend to all communities across the island, regardless of how closely they live to our antenna,” says Paige “DJ Mermaid” Okamura. “Our stable signal will give listeners access to non-commercial, diverse programming—something KTUH prides itself on.”

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Ciuffetelli says plans for the signal upgrade began in 2006, with a 2007 FCC application to move to 90.1FM and a formal fundraising campaign launched in 2009. The 2015 KTUH Pledge Drive finally raised the remaining money needed this past spring. The funds went largely to the new equipment and the resources needed to install it. The station’s younger sibling, Hawaii Public Radio, agreed to host KTUH at its site on Mount Tantalus.

“The new site’s 2,000-foot elevation and location will offer KTUH coverage on both sides of the Koolau and Waianae mountain ranges, as well as urban, central and rural Honolulu,” Ciuffetelli writes. “The signal will be able to reach more than 870,000 listeners.”

The switch is scheduled to be flipped in mid-January, weather permitting. For more information, visit KTUH.org, follow the station at @KTUH_fm on Twitter or at @KTUH_fm on Instagram, like the KTUH page on Facebook, or call (808) 956-5288.

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3 Responses

  1. Russ Roberts says:

    Great article, Ryan. I was KTUH-FM station manager during the 1974-1975 time frame. At that time, the station was on 90.5 MHz and later shifted to 90.3 MHz to avoid interference with Channel 9. Our 8-element antenna and studio were located in Hawaii Hall. We used an old Gates FM transmitter with a whopping 10 watts output (class-D in those days). KTUH-FM had a translator station atop Mt. Kaala in the Waianae Mountain Range which put a decent signal into the north shore of Oahu and into Kauai. KTUH-FM also had a translator at Leahi Hospital and was able to put a signal on the former Kaiser Teleprompter cable system around 1974. Before going “live” on FM, KTUH-FM was using “carrier current” transmissions on 1550 kHZ (AM), which served the dorms and several classrooms on campus. I have fond memories of KTUH-FM and the students and faculty who helped keep us afloat. Recently, students at UH-Hilo began their own radio history with a newly licensed FM station at the UH-Hilo Campus (University Radio Hilo). All of us have come a long way since the dim days of 1968 (AM) and 1970-1971 (FM license). Thanks to KTUH-FM, I was able to pursue a commercial broadcast career in Hilo from 1976 to 2011. Now that I’m retired, I can appreciate all those hours we students put in to create a dream. Thanks for the update! Aloha, Russ, Laupahoehoe, Hawaii Island.

  2. mel says:

    For quite awhile KTUH has also been streaming their live broadcast on various platforms so that people on Oahu, neighbor islands and around the world can also listen in. Good article.

  3. Randy Wagner says:

    Aloha KTUH! I am a KTUH alum DJ from 1974-1975. I did shows for two years and was Rock Music Director for a while in 1975. The North Shore translator 91.1 was installed in 1974 if memory serves me and was paid for by a grant from COMSAT (Communications Satellite Corporation) that had a ground tracking station on the north shore. My father was a director at COMSAT headquarters in Washington DC and I asked him to inquire as to whether COMSAT could fund the first translator to facilitate FM signals reaching the north shore and “their” tracking facility. They obliged. After getting that first one up we began promoting concerts at Andrews Amphitheater and passed the hat to fund additional translators and other station funding. Some of the acts that played for KTUH were Leo Kotke, Spirit, The Jazz Crusaders and a new band made of of members of Santana and Frank Zappa’s Mother of Invention; the name of the band was Journey and they had not released their first album so we got them cheap. I am impressed that the spirit of KTUH has persevered over 40 years and the station that I listen to on line remains much as it did the first night I signed on. As I would say often as a station ID which we had to do every 30 minutes back then, “You are cruising with the flagship of progressive rock and roll, KTUH FM in Honolulu. Mahalo

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