Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


KTEQ Is Back on the Air

A labor of love for Radio World contributor Mario Hieb as he helps his alma mater

Part of the new KTEQ transmission facility. KTEQ(FM), the campus radio station of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D., has returned to the air after a 14-year hiatus. Although the station was programming via Internet streaming during that time, it has returned to the air on its original FM frequency of 91.3 MHz and with the original call letters KTEQ.

The engineering school operated its original campus radio station in 1922 as WCAT (Wildcat Radio), making it one of the first college radio stations in the United States.

My introduction to radio and a career in broadcasting was at KTEQ. In the early 1970s, as a local high school student, I would fill in during the summer months. Actually, the station was off the air most of the summer, and because a friend and I had our FCC operators licenses, KTEQ would let us come in, turn on the transmitter and spin LPs as long as we filled out the logs properly. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the school in 1982 while working locally in commercial radio.

Fast forwarding to the year 2000, the school hired me to help them get their license back, which had been lost due to a series of unfortunate events the year previous. Luckily, an NCE window opened up in 2007, and we received a construction permit in May of 2011 to operate on the original frequency with the original call letters. The school then had three years to complete the construction. So we went to work.

KTEQ antenna and STL/IP link mounted on a lighting monopole.RESURRECTION
The first step was to find a good location for the 500-watt station. Because it had been off of the air, operating funds were low and local tower space was priced at a premium. The school did own some land on a centrally located hilltop known as “M Hill” because of the large, concrete letters “SMD,” which stood for “South Dakota Mines.” These giant letters go back to the 1930s and were constructed, by hand, by engineering students. Upperclassmen recruited underclassmen to carry, in buckets, the water for the concrete from Rapid Creek at the base of the hill and up a trail to the top. Apparently, more water would slosh out of the buckets than make it to the summit and a long, steep, muddy slide would be created.

Each year on Homecoming Day, the freshman class polishes the completed letters and the graduating class places a bronze plaque in the concrete, memorializing the class and the graduating seniors. As it turns out, there are 50-foot lighting monopoles at the base of M Hill for lighting the concrete letters at night. Further inspection revealed that there was room for a two-bay FM antenna at the top of one of the monopoles.

So we had our transmission location.

Though a relatively small project, this was planned and executed like a big-budget one. The transmitter would be contained in a 4-foot tall stainless steel DDB Unlimited enclosure that was equipped with an optional HVAC system. The enclosure was bolted to a concrete pad just a few feet from the lighting monopole. Because I wasn’t on-site for the construction, I created a design package including plan and elevation drawings in AutoCAD showing precise locations of the pad and enclosure, electrical conduit and the FM antenna. The package also contained “1-line” drawings showing signal flows, a wire-run list and a master equipment list. Equipment was ordered by the school and shipped to their receiving department. A storage room also doubled as a marshaling and prep area where equipment was installed in the racks. I prebuilt wiring harnesses based on the rack elevation drawing.

The school-owned land on M Hill. The large, concrete letters stood for “South Dakota Mines.”
Photo courtesy of SDSM&T

The equipment included an existing Crown FM-500 FM transmitter and an SWR FMEC/2 two-bay antenna. New gear included a Bird Wattcher wattmeter, Inovonics 531 FM modulation monitor, Orban 5500 audio processor, Broadcast Tools Site Sentinel 16 remote control and a Comrex BRIC-Link codec. The Crown is fed with a composite stereo signal from the Orban audio processor. A Fostex RM-1 1 RU stereo audio monitor makes a nice quality assurance monitor and it even has a headphone jack.

The station STL path is about three miles and consists of a Radwin IP bridge that allows for both stereo programming and IP for remote access to the remote control, audio processor and anything else with an IP port. All of this fits in the small DDB enclosure … there is no transmitter building. Time will tell if this enclosure will provide adequate protection from the harsh South Dakota climate, but I am impressed with the workmanship of the enclosure.

The campus streaming studio required some modification to allow for “over the air” broadcasting. The audio console fed an Aphex 320 (for audio leveling), followed by an audio distribution amplifier, which provided numerous analog stereo feeds. Next in line was a Sage Alerting Systems EAS encoder and the Comrex BRIC converted the stereo analog audio to an IP stream. The campus IT wizards took the IP stream and ran it across campus to the electrical engineering/physics building. On the roof, a Radwin IP bridge transceiver was mounted on a pre-existing tower and aimed to M Hill; instant STL with no frequency coordination or licensing required.

Mario’s Class Plaque. He’s in there! Once on the air, KTEQ faced an unusual situation for a radio station: Few of the student DJs had ever been on the air, rather than the Internet. Every one of the volunteer DJs had to learn how to operate the EAS unit, give legal IDs and avoid certain words. School President Heather Wilson notified the student radio board and station management that, before they went on the air, she would like each of them to make a presentation to her.

“It’s not often students get to start up and operate a business,” she told me, “They will certainly learn things.”

President Wilson also has a unique credential; she is a former U.S. representative who served on the House Telecommunications Subcommittee. ��I can imagine that schools can easily find themselves crosswise with the FCC,” she related.

Ironically, she sat on the subcommittee at the time the KTEQ license was revoked by the commission.

As an electrical engineering student at the South Dakota School of Mines, I used to walk by a display case in the EE/physics building that contained ancient radio gear from the school’s first campus radio station.

Mario’s Class Plaque. He’s in there! In 1911, with their first pubic broadcast nine years away, the physics department at the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City was experimenting with radio and obtained the most modern equipment available. A wireless set was constructed by Physics Professor C.C. Van Nuys and Superintendant of Buildings and Grounds William Coursen. Their radio station was licensed as a “land” radio station and given the call letters 9XA.

The first regular radio communication in the area was established with the northern Black Hills mining town of Lead, S.D. The School of Mines radio station became the main link in a network with two other northern Black Hills stations that were owned and operated by the Homestake Mining Co. Communication was somewhat less than reliable; the stations had to notify each other by mail before radio communication was attempted.

In the years that followed, the scientists and engineers at the School of Mines increased the range of the station. With the addition of a long-range receiving set in 1917, the school began to pick up signals from Germany, but in the following February, the United States entered World War I and an order was issued for radio stations nationwide to be shut down. Coursen himself had the sad task of dismantling 9XA.

So a new use was found for the school’s broadcast facilities, training radio operators for the war. When the armistice was signed in November 1918, the station we immediately reactivated.

By 1922, radio became a national obsession. That year, J.O. Kammerman became head of the electrical engineering department, which became immersed in new technology by building a two-tube voice transmitter.

In July, the station became WCAT, the first licensed wireless station in South Dakota and a format consisting mainly of weather forecasts. As listenership grew, a regular Wednesday night broadcast was arranged — a college lecture. Then came news, local talent and music broadcast by holding a microphone close to the horn of a Victrola phonograph. The AM station WCAT, or “Wildcat Radio,” operated from September 1922 to 1952. It was licensed to broadcast at a wavelength of 485 meters at a power of 750 watts. A frequency and power change came later with the station operating on 1200 kHz, at a power of 100 watts.

Originally, the studios were located in the basement of the campus administration building.

One interesting early event featured a Native American, Chauncey Yellow Robe. He was interviewed about his life in South Dakota before the white man came. At the end of the program, Yellow Robe let out an earsplitting war whoop that blew out a vacuum tube in the equipment. Operations were suspended until a replacement could be found.

In 1927, about 40 miles up the road from the School of Mines, sculptor Gutzon Borglum began a carving on a mountain known by locals as Mount Rushmore.

Its first play-by-play football broadcast came in 1935. An imaginative sports announcer, C.M. Rowe, positioned himself and his equipment on a wooden platform at the top of a 10-foot pole overlooking the field. A heavy snow set in on the unfortunate Rowe and electric heaters were sent up to keep him from freezing. Despite the weather, broadcasting continued until just before the end of the first half of the game when the equipment failed. Upon inspection it was discovered that vapor from Rowe’s breath had frozen the microphone. The mic was thawed out in front of an electric heater and broadcast was resumed for the rest of the game.

A nameplate from the handmade 1932 WCAT transmitter. After World War II, many soldiers returned to the School of Mines to become students. Some were interested in radio and many had been trained, licensed operators in the military. This was WCAT’s heyday. The broadcasting day became longer, with better programming than before. A weekly quiz show was initiated. Several radio plays were written and performed for WCAT and a technology program fostered.

But the good times ended when the ex-G.I.s began to graduate and replacing technicians became difficult. The excellent equipment became worn-out and outmoded. Funds were no longer available for improvements, program quality slipped. In 1950, WCAT was placed under student supervision. A handful of students fought all that year and the next to keep WCAT on the air. Faculty members, burdened with academic duties, provided little help. Fellow students were too busy to be concerned with saving WCAT.

When the FCC no longer allowed the operation of their 100-watt transmitter, a 250-watt transmitter was needed. But the administration ruled no funds would be provided until program quality improved. In desperation, a new series of informative programs was launched. But the tired 25-year-old transmitter kept breaking down, hampering production. The FCC issued a final ultimatum to WCAT to install a new transmitter or go off the air. The $500 needed to save WCAT just wasn’t there, nor were the full-time technical and studio workers. To the horror of the few students left who cared, the FCC informed the School of Mines their license was canceled and the call letters WCAT deleted. Wildcat was dead.

Efforts to launch a new SDSM&T campus radio station, KTEQ, started in 1969. With the assistance of announcer Greg Carey, student body President Jim McGibbney formed the Tech Educational Radio Council, the governing body of KTEQ. The first studio of KTEQ was located at Surbeck Center, the campus student union. Tower space for the transmitter originally was donated by KBHE(FM), a Rapid City public radio station.

The first broadcast by KTEQ occurred on Aug. 7, 1971, opening with the famous opening fanfare of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” The first voice to be heard on KTEQ was that of Gary Brown. Initially, KTEQ(FM) broadcast at 88.1 MHz with a power of 10 watts.

Mario Hieb, P.E., is a Salt Lake City-based consulting engineer and a longtime contributor to Radio World.