Live from E Jefferson, Seattle’s first low-power FM station KXSU ready to hit airwaves

(Image: Seattle U)

(Image: Seattle U)

Friday, Capitol Hill will get a new option on the FM radio dial. KXSU, a station operated by Seattle University and part of a small wave of tiny, low-power FM stations planned for the city, will be live on the air at 102.1 FM starting at 10:21 A.M.

“Starting Friday, you’ll be able to listen in your car,” John Carter, faculty advisor for the station, said. The new signal will also give area merchants with old school radio set-ups another option beyond KEXP and will add a new hyperlocal voice to the area’s media options.

The school has operated a radio station since 1994 but it has only been available in the school’s dorms and online at

UPDATE 2/26/16 10:30 AM: Here’s what the first 10 seconds sounded like, complete with dramatic silence before the call letters cracked to life:

The plan started in 2012, when the station had to get permission internally from the university. In 2014, the Federal Communications Commission granted 15 licenses for low-power FM stations in Washington, seven of which are in Seattle. Only one of the 15, Voice of Vashon, is on the air. Seattle University is poised to be the first of the seven Seattle stations to put its license to use.

Another nearby low-power station, the Central District-based Hollow Earth Radio has had a more difficult time raising funding for the low-power endeavor. The station, KHUH 100.3 FM, recently completed an Indiegogo campaign and was able to raise more than $27,000 to help cover startup costs such as putting up a radio tower and complete engineering studies.

Hollow Earth’s Carly Dunn told CHS late last year that for those who don’t have access to computers and live-streaming of Hollow Earth’s shows online, finally getting the station FM operational will be a “symbolic” victory in the life and times of alternative radio broadcasting. “In radio, it’s almost like the fight has been given up. Mainstream radio, it is what it is,” said Dunn. “But for us be able to have an FM frequency where we can have a free form radio station, it’s really a rare thing, and it’s really a special thing.”

For KXSU, the students who make the programming decisions are still working out just what they’ll play when the station goes live, but Emily Lord, student general manager will be the first DJ. Hours are planned from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, with automated programming during the off hours. Once it’s up and running, Carter said they have plans for a variety of programming.

There will be student-run shows, which will likely run the gamut of programming styles, though music will predominate. The station may also feature radio theater (think pre-television era radio shows), and Carter, a mathematician, also plans on some science programs. Those, he said, will be more geared toward topics of general interest, like what to do with electronic waste, than they will on topics that are super-sciencey. And in a nod to the school’s roots, there will also be some Jesuit programming, though Carter isn’t sure about exactly what form that will take.

The station is open to new volunteers, though they will need some connection to the school.

Carter said they eventually hope to move to a model where they find outside sponsors or underwriters. However, their FCC licensing means they won’t be allowed to have traditional advertisers and commercials.

Back in the Central District at Hollow Earth, now that the money is raised, they just need to find a place for an antenna, Garrett Kelly tells CHS.

“It’s just now the logistics of where,” he said.

Seattle U constructed a radio tower on top of the tallest building on campus. The University expects the station to have a seven-mile broadcast radius. Carter said people should be able to hear the station throughout Capitol Hill and downtown, and the signal might reach into the University District.

Public affairs will be an important part of the station programming. “It really aligns nicely with SU’s mission to serve. It’s part of who we are and what we do,” station manager Randy Scott says in an announcement of the new station. Carter said KXSU will offer “a number of ways in which it will advance SU’s mission and benefit the surrounding community through diverse programming.”

“KXSU will help amplify and expand community programs such as Seattle University’s Youth Initiative and Law Clinic,” Scott said, “and help increase the university’s civic engagement by providing a voice for the university in the community.” Possible future programming includes radio theater, sports play-by-play and a weekly news and issues show.

“We’re super excited to make strong connections with the neighborhood the university is in,” Carter tells CHS.

For KHUH, Kelly said the station has just applied for an extension with the FCC to allow them another 18 months to work out the details, but he hopes they can be on the air much sooner, possibly later this year.

Kelley said that even with the hassles of opening the new station, he’s excited about the prospect of the new low-power stations coming online and allowing new voices to be broadcast.

“That’s one of the best parts of it,” Kelly said, “is the experimentation and trying something new.”

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