Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, August 13, 2001

Rigger Ross Putnam tightens a wire at the University of
Hawaii's Social Sciences Building as fellow rigger John
St. James scales the yet-to-be-completed tower. Once
finished, it will be 90 feet tall and broadcast a 3,000-watt
signal for KTUH FM.

Tower power

A wider audience and closer
scrutiny await KTUH after
its huge wattage boost

Old favorites return to university airwaves

By Gary C.W. Chun

If all the needed parts arrive in time, come 6 a.m. this Thursday morning, the University of Hawaii's student-run radio station, KTUH FM, will be back on the air, stronger than ever with 3,000 watts pumping from its reconstructed tower on the Manoa campus.

Which doesn't sound like a heck of a lot, compared to the tens of thousands emanating from the island's more dominant commercial stations everyday. But we're talking about a college station that's been on the air for a little more than three decades, and that used to putt-putt out a minuscule 100 watts. The Little Station That Could will become The Little Station That Can, as the station that promotes itself as Hawai'i's Only Alternative gets its long-delayed and long-awaited chance to prove itself.

Now with a signal increased 30 times over, KTUH's eclectic programming -- that mixes three-hour music blocks of rock, rap and soul, world beat, blues, jazz, reggae, country and folk, Hawaiian and all-round freeform during the wee hours of the night -- will reach a larger number of potential listeners hungry not only for a wider range of music free of corporation-dictated radio playlists, but wanting to hear anything new.

KTUH deejay Palani Kelly, left, and production director
John Goya ham it up in the studio where they do "voice work."

In preparation for the station's higher profile on the FM radio dial, last Thursday afternoon was the last of four workshops run by the station's general manager Lori Ann Saeki and interim program director Allyson Ota for its motley crew of deejays to refamiliarize them with basic Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines and rules of operation.

The station's idiosyncrasies and rough edges will be smoothed out a bit out of necessity, but nothing else will be changed. There will still be what's called "safe harbor hours" from 10:30 at night until six in the morning, where obscenity-laden music can be played so long as a "parental advisory" disclaimer is given beforehand.

All of the longtime and sometimes colorful deejays will be back on air, like John Goya, aka "Johnny S.G.," the "owner" of "Club 1980s," heard noon to 3 p.m. on Mondays. During a photo break from the workshop, he and Joe Hart, a workshop guest and himself a KTUH alumnus who's now assistant operations director at New Wave Broadcasting, spoke about the transition from working at the college station and going into the competitive world of commercial radio.

Goya is already working on a part-time basis with Clear Channel and said doing a show at KTUH is the best of both worlds. "Not only does KTUH allow us self-expression, the ability to play different styles of music and give out your knowledge, but we can learn radio broadcast techniques as well. It's a great training ground."

Hart chimed in in agreement. "It's a great place to learn -- make a lot of mistakes, learn to get comfortable on the air, work on your timing -- and besides being a great musical outlet, a lot of KTUH alumnus are in the local business of communications, both radio and other media."

Hart was a deejay at KTUH from 1995 to '99 and said "it's an experience you wouldn't normally have access to. While interning at New Wave, I had a huge advantage over other interns who didn't have any kind of radio background. KTUH is like a 'farm system' station for the 'major league' of commercial radio.

"But I admit I still miss the station and the freedom you're given to play what you want, because the strict song playlist is so much the focus on commercial radio," he said.

"Because of the station's wider access," said Goya, "it's important that we don't come off being unprofessional or juvenile."

"Being more professional doesn't necessarily mean commercial," added Hart. "It's just learning to keep the sound tight and crisp."

But with the advent of the Internet, the station staff has gotten a hint of what kind of impact it could have. KTUH's programming is streamed into its website at and e-mail response from all over the world has been favorable for the student and alumni shows (heard Saturday afternoons from 3 to 6), as well as the three community members who are given airtime for their own shows.

Back in the cluttered station's main office with the workshop since moved into the small control booth, community member Robb Peterson and students Shaun Lau and Palani Kelly look to their on-air time before them with both excitement and caution.

Lau, who calls his rock show Saturday nights from midnight to 3 a.m. "The Styles Bitchley Show," broke down the specifics on the station's power increase. "While the 3,000 watts offers a larger range to catch the station's signal, our two translator tower signals, 89.7 from Leahi Hospital in Kaimuki that reaches toward Hawaii Kai and Waikiki and 91.3 from our tower on the highest point on the island, Mt. Kaala, that goes to Waianae and the North Shore -- those towers won't be replaced or boost our signal."

The KTUH staff poses in the studio. From the front row,
they are Vincent Beltran, left, James Dorsey, Eddie Pimentel
and David Lum; middle row, Lori Ann Saeki, left,
Allyson Ota, Michelle Aquino, Lacy Lynn and
Daryl Lim; back row, Mary Lee, left, Darin Young,
Eric Rosenfeld and Ari Holub.

"The main difference will be that the signal won't drift as much," added Peterson, "and should lock in on your car radio when you punch in the scan button."

Lau said it was ironic that, beforehand, what with a $1.50 from UHM student fees going specifically to the station's operation, "even the off-campus dorms close by couldn't even catch the station!

"It's rare in radio nowadays to hear people who care about the music they play," he said. "I just got back from a visit to L.A., and in listening to the big 'alternative' station there, KROQ, you can hear the dollar signs! It's our hope here at KTUH to bring a new listening experience in music."

"The station is freedom of speech incarnate," said an enthusiastic Kelly, who, in his radio alter ego MetaLX, does his "Ontologic" rock show Saturdays from 9 p.m. to midnight. "We say and play what we want and we can take listeners' requests.

"I mean, look, we used to operate at only a hundred watts -- that's comparable to the strongest of light bulbs! Now at 3,000 watts, we're gonna blow up! Public response will be good, the people will be impacted by the kind of music we play and we're going to change the conception of what music is around town."

"For me, personally," said Lau, on the other hand, "it's a wait-and-see situation. This is a low-budget operation, with occasional underwriting from sponsors that began around the mid-'90s. It's the blood, sweat and tears of the deejays that operate this station. I think the station will only become a problem to the University's Board of Regents if we mess up too much, leading to run-ins with the FCC.

"Everyone's starting to understand how serious this is," he said. "While there may be one or two communication majors, the vast majority of the staff just want to play their music." Besides that, Lau said the station runs a syndicated science series called "Earth and Sky" and has one lone political talk show early Tuesday mornings. He also mentioned that attempts are being made to bring back a news department, although it's still early in the process.

"The power increase won't solve all of our problems, but it's exciting to finally get our message out there," Lau said.

"But we'll definitely be under the microscope," added Peterson, whose own jazz and blues show is on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon. "We used to slip through the cracks, now there'll be no cracks."

As a community member, Peterson has lasted the longest on-air, almost eight-and-a-half years, and is a former Hawaii Public Radio on-air host. "This place fosters creative anarchy," he said, "but it's one that's always under control.

"The nicest part of this station is that the cast of characters always change," with student deejays leaving once they graduate. "With this power increase, I worry for myself that, maybe with more input from the outside community, I may lose what is supposed to be a rotating time slot.

"The highlight of my week is doing my show. And the 'payment' we get from being on this station is through the recognition we occasionally get from our listeners. Compared to college radio, public radio has become private radio. It's the station's Board of Directors that decide what's played. And, at least with here, we don't have to do pledge drives, or 'beg-a-thons,' as I call them.

"At KTUH, there's no agenda here. We just get the music out there," he said.

Old favorites return
to university airwaves

By Gary C.W. Chun

Notable longtime shows returning on air, besides the shows of the aforementioned Goya, Lau, Kelly and Peterson, include "Monday Night Live" from 9 p.m. to midnight; station GM Saeki's own "Suffragette Station" folk show, Thursdays from noon to 3 p.m.; the popular "Light Sleeperz Show" with hip-hopper Kavet the Catalyst, Thursdays from 9 p.m. to midnight; the friendly Janet Kelsey and her Friday morning jazz show from 9 a.m. to noon; Loriel and the reggae sounds of "Friday Afternoon Bashment" from 3 to 6, followed by established club deejay and promoter G-Spot's "Underground Sounds Show" from 6 to 9. KTUH FM is also available on Oceanic digital channel 843. Visit, for up-to-date listings, detailed show descriptions and a live Webcast.

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