Early Roots of Seattle's 'Stereo 89'
President Ford was spending his first full year in the White House. Eight-track tapes and players were being relegated to the trash bins of antiquity. Tape cassettes were the hit for pocketing recorded audio; the era of the Walkman was coming.
|The author, left, in the KNHC Main Studio. Studio equipment including the Continental board is seen at right. Photos are from a school yearbook. |
Radio stations fussed with turntable needles that skipped and repeated through broken grooves on vinyl platters. Reel-to-reel and audio cartridge tapes would stretch, break and warble.
Pacific Northwest listeners tuned in to top 40 on the AM: Channel 95 KJR, Kolorful KOL-1300 and MusicRadio-Eleven K-I-N-G. The stereo rockers included "Seattle's Best" KISW FM-100 and "O.K. One-Oh-Two-and-a-Half" KZOK 102.5.
And turning the FM dial far left to 89.5, you could hear educational station KNHC from Seattle's Nathan Hale High School. "Stereo 89" aired a popular playlist on its 1,500-watt directional signal.
The station had been launched as a 100-milliwatt AM in 1969 and eventually was licensed as an FM, originally at 10 watts. Broadcast operations students were guided by two adult staff: General Manager Larry Adams, who founded the station, and Marvin "Gene" Arnold, chief engineer and electronics teacher. The novel vocational program became a stepping-stone for up-and-coming professional engineers and broadcasters.
I became student station manager in the 1975-76 school year. A year or so earlier, a sleek new Wilkinson Continental console had replaced the first installed air board, a Gates Stereo Producer. The Wilkinson suffered from faulty attenuators that didn't last long before becoming noisy and intermittent, and it also had a unique characteristic: When the Beatles' "Revolution" spun on the turntable with the monitors turned way up, the fuse for its monitor amps would blow out each and every time. (To be on the safe side, the song got limited airplay.)
Initially the station’s production board was a Sparta-Cetec AS-30B five-channel mixer, later used for sports remotes after the Gates replaced it. Unlike the Gates Yard, which used rotary step-attenuators, the Producer had potentiometers.
Two Shure mics were boomed on each side of the Wilkinson for voiced stereo. The board op would bring up two left-side sliding pots together at an even volume; if they became unbalanced, you'd hear unequal separation on a stereo radio, especially over headphones.
A Realistic reel tape machine recorded every minute of on-air broadcast on a very slow mode. Each large tape documented up to six hours of programming and was shelved by the staff for at least three months per FCC requirements. Also in the studio was one rotary-dial desk phone for outside requests, making the station more personable in acquiring listener feedback.
Audio cart machines were mono International Tapetronics Corp. models. Our Gates turntables were equipped with metal handles that were used to change speeds; sometimes an operator would leave a handle on the wrong setting, starting an album or single at the wrong RPM.
As the vinyl spun on these tables, other specialty songs were recorded in production on 5-inch reel tape and played from stereo Magnecord 1022 machines made by Telex, one in each studio. Just above the right-hand turntable, a panel of tiny buttons remotely controlled the production room's unit, with a small white toggle switch for tape cue when flipped up. Buttons would fast-forward and rewind tape to start — unless the reel flew off its spindle, requiring the operator to perform a manual reloop.
|Larry Adams, left, and Marvin 'Gene' Arnold|
KNHC's broadcast antenna was located atop an elementary school building on a hill 22 blocks from the high school studios; coverage was on the order of 20 miles or more.
In 1973 a high school across the lake in the city of Bellevue launched a station at 89.3; this was 10-watt KASB. Our antenna had a deep null to the southeast, away from the city, protecting that station’s frequency.
Our stereo exciter was a Sparta; a lot of time was spent repairing it, and when it conked out, a Gates 10-watt mono transmitter filled in. This unit’s 19 kHz stereo pilot wouldn’t stay on unless the multimeter rotary switch was left in a certain position.
Stereo 89’s weekday sign-on launched '70s and '60s easy top-40/80 singles and album cuts plus occasional soul, jazz and country requests mixed in. Typical selections included Pink Floyd's "Us and Them," the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water" and the Rolling Stones' "Angie." A "borderline" song for the 8 a.m.–4 p.m. time period would be The Who's "Squeeze Box."
News, sports and weather aired five minutes before the top of each hour until 4 p.m., reported by new students who were just starting and who worked only in production before earning their main studio privileges.
Starting at 4, the programming gradually transitioned to '70s and '60s hard (underground) rock until 10:30 p.m. sign-off. Weekends consisted of taped public affairs and special programs within the regular music format, plus school football remotes in the afternoons and evenings. Some overtime games continued beyond 11 p.m.
Founder Larry Adams has since retired; engineer Gene Arnold passed away in 1985. The station is now known as "C-89.5 Worldwide" and is streamed on the Internet; it has been led by teacher-manager Gregg Neilson since the mid-1980s. The FM signal claims more than 100,000 weekly listeners, mostly in their teens to mid-30s; and it has won awards for its dance music programming. The antenna on Cougar Mountain broadcasts at 8,500 watts, nulled southward within the Seattle metro coverage area.
Still broadcasting after 35+ years, the KNHC classroom continues to fill with generations of students gaining the skills necessary to compete in a changing broadcast industry.
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Tim Shook contracts in radio production. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.