With the successful relocation of the 91.3 KBCS broadcast tower to the summit of Cougar Mountain in Issaquah, many radio listeners in the Puget Sound region now have a new option on the dial, and listeners in the station’s previous coverage area are experiencing much better reception. The project, which has been in the works for several years, ushers in a new era for the public radio station – a service of Bellevue College – that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
“This is incredibly transformational for our station,” BC President David L. Rule said. “Our geographic reach is now much, much larger. This is a big win for fans of public radio, because we provide unique programming that you just can’t get anywhere else, and we think a lot of folks out there will be delighted to have more choice on the radio.”
In moving its tower from BC’s campus, the listener-supported KBCS substantially expands the size of its potential audience by extending the reach of its signal in several directions: south into Tacoma and areas of Pierce County; west into parts of Kitsap County, including Silverdale and Bremerton; and east to North Bend and communities in the eastern portion of King County. What’s more, the reception has improved for listeners in its original broadcast area of the Eastside and Seattle.
“This is something that’s extremely rare in a saturated radio market like the Puget Sound, where every last bit of the radio spectrum is spoken for. All radio stations want a stronger signal, but in public radio it’s even more critical to reach more people, because we rely on listener contributions to fund the station,” said KBCS General Manager Steve Ramsey.
One of the more unique radio stations in the Puget Sound region, KBCS is often described as eclectic, featuring adventurous music from a variety of genres, including world music, Americana, soul, and jazz, among many others. Despite a tiny staff, KBCS has managed to flourish with the help of volunteer deejays, journalists and producers who share their passion for radio and contribute to the station’s distinctive style, cultivating a devoted listener base. The station, which broadcasts from studios on BC’s campus, is also known for its steady diet of news and public affairs shows, including the nationally-syndicated program “Democracy Now,” and a local program that premiered last year called “Music + Ideas.”
The tower project was conceived when a station in Tacoma, 91.7 KXOT, was put up for sale, creating potential space in the FM spectrum for KBCS (which broadcasts at a similar frequency) to expand. KBCS applied for and received permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), then set about raising the $150,000 it would cost to physically move the tower. Funds came primarily from grant-giving organizations and individual donors to the station, with BC’s Office of Student Programs also contributing money. The move was completed last month, and the tower is now broadcasting from its new perch.
The station was born in 1972 when a handful of determined Bellevue College (then known as Bellevue Community College) students staged a sit-in in the college president’s office to demand a radio station that would serve the student body. The protest worked, and, after securing an FCC license, KBCS broadcast live for the first time on Feb. 3, 1973, with donated equipment and 10 watts of total power, from the basement of a house on campus.
From its modest beginnings, the station has steadily grown beyond the confines of campus over the years to serve Bellevue and other Eastside communities, as well as building a devoted listener base in Seattle. It now transmits at 8,000 watts and has about 30,000 listeners in an average week. Over two-thirds of its operating budget comes from listener donations, with the balance comprised of support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and sponsorships from local businesses and organizations.
“That independent and revolutionary spirit that gave birth to the station definitely carries through to today,” Ramsey said.