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Newly relocated KCOU returns to FM airwaves

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 4:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — MU's student-run radio station, KCOU, resumed its 88.1 FM broadcasting Thursday to the delight of more than 120 student volunteers. The nonprofit station temporarily signed off on Jan. 26 to allow for the renovation of Hudson Hall. The residence hall housed the station’s former transmitter; now Schurz Hall hosts the airspace.

For the next few weeks the station will be in testing mode, noting the sound clarity of its frequency and determining the efficacy of its power output.

New equipment includes a tower and antenna, but the station lacked the funds for an entirely new transmitter so it replaced about 80 percent of the old device, said Jonathan Hutcheson, KCOU general manager and chief engineer. Hutcheson is also a summer reporter for the Missourian.

Under normal conditions, the station broadcasts both on the air and online, but this past spring KCOU maintained its coverage online only. Although regular listeners could not tune in from car radios or portable CD players, Hutcheson said he was glad that KCOU was able to maintain its facilities so that student staff could continue to broadcast.

“It’s been challenging for numbers, for listeners, for a radio station,” said Farouk Aregbe, KCOU adviser and coordinator of Student Government Services. “I think we’re glad to be back up.”

Aregbe said the high elevation of eight-floor Schurz Hall was key when selecting a new location for signal transmission. A new tower was built to replace the station’s older version, which had suffered lightning damage. “You can’t be sure because it’s Mother Nature, but we’re hoping the new structure will be less averse to weather,” Aregbe said.

Last fall, the Missouri Students Association had disagreements about whether to give KCOU money for a new tower, and the discussions ultimately prolonged the station's disappearance from the air, Hutcheson said. KCOU had to file for the construction of the tower by particular dates that it was not able to meet. Ordering the equipment and construction for the tower also required advance notice.

"That's not something that comes by FedEx," Hutcheson said.

The station originally intended only to halt broadcast during last year’s winter break.

MSA eventually decided to fund the tower, but also decided the station should become more independent of the association.

Hutcheson said there was no formal move made in any way to sever the station on MSA’s part, but rather there were decisively different attitudes among MSA leaders about how to proceed. Ultimately, it seemed appropriate for KCOU to be a part of MSA because the groups both work toward the benefit of students, Hutcheson said.

“It’s been a more active, cooperative relationship than in past years,” he said.

Hutcheson said KCOU’s current relationship with MSA is a return to where it should have been during the move. The Student Fee Capital Improvement Committee, which receives requests for funding from MU students and faculty, has been a primary source of funding for the station.

During the hiatus, MU students and staff, residents of Columbia and local businesses contributed funds toward the station. May’s Springfest, which KCOU usually  supports financially, was paid for by places such as Mojo’s and The Blue Note, because KCOU’s funds were allocated for the new equipment.

The station raised more than $38,500 within the 2008-09 academic year, a figure that includes tax-deductible donations from the community as well as funds from the SFCIC.

“It’s by and far beyond anything in the past. The character of the station has radically changed. There’s a much more formal approach to raising funds and making improvements to the station as a whole,” Hutcheson said.

KCOU traces its history back to 1961, when it was known as KLOP. In 1989, College Music Journal recognized KCOU as “Best College Radio Station of the Year,” according to its Web site. It also received two Communicator awards for its 2008 presidential election night coverage, Hutcheson said.

The station plans to begin a consumer survey system and additional fundraising efforts, and will add MU men’s basketball to its fall programming.

Aregbe said the station appears to have a solid foundation as it reopens its FM broadcast.

“The question is, will they build on it?” he said.


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