Downey High School's  KDHS 90.5 MHz
By Kenn Shearer
KDHS was an enigma to the general listening audience when it emerged on the Modesto airwaves on September 5, 1969.  The station was licensed by the FCC to the Associated Students of Thomas Downey High School.  The offices, studios & transmitter were located between rooms 50 & 51 at the high school.

KDHS had the distinction of being the only high school radio station in the Modesto area, as well as one of the few high school radio stations in the entire country. With Ron Underwood as the faculty advisor, KDHS was entirely student owned & student run.  The radio broadcasting class was worth 1 credit as a vocational art.  Its non-commercial, educational programming consisted of campus news, Downey High School Sports (especially football & basketball), special informational features, and a wide variety of popular music ranging from Rock & Roll to Jazz to Contemporary Christian.

The original 4.5 watt transmitter served the station and the Modesto area quite well.  In December of 1969, the station acquired a new 10 watt Sparta transmitter which enabled KDHS to be heard as far away as Riverbank, Empire, & Ceres. In 1972, Ron Underwood left Downey and took a teaching position at Beyer High School.  There, he launched KBHI 88.9 FM, the second high school station in Modesto.  Burt Vasche’ became the new faculty advisor at KDHS.

Since its inception, the student council had agreed to fund the radio station at a cost of $2500 per year.  This took care of most of the operating and repair costs.  The students also sold local area businesses a “Booster Package” which consisted of a KDHS window sticker, and a “mention” on the air.  Since the station was non-commercial, it could not run paid-for ads.  Rather, it would mention a business in the same manner that most PBS stations do, (“Funding for this program provided by …”).

Life went on at the little high school station until 1978.  It was that year that 3 separate events signaled the start-of-the-end for KDHS. 

Event #1…It was decided by the school district that the 1 credit radio broadcasting class would be discontinued at the end of the school year.  Students would be allowed to continue broadcasting as an extra-curricular activity, but would not receive any class credit for their efforts.  Graciously, Burt Vasche' remained the faculty advisor for anyone who wanted to participate.  It is believed that he did this without any pay or compensation from the school or district. 

Event #2…The passage of Proposition 13, the Jarvis-Gann initiative, affected property taxes throughout the state, and in turn, dramatically reduced school funding.  Athletic programs, the Arts, and extra-curricular activities took the biggest hit.  In lieu of this shortfall, it was decided by the student council that they could no longer afford to continue to fund the station.  The yearly stipend was immediately eliminated; however, the school continued to pay for the basic electricity used to keep the station on-the-air.

Event #3…While the station & students were reeling from the loss of funds, the FCC delivered the biggest blow by deciding to abolish all Class "D" FM stations (specifically, those operating at 10 watts).  An overabundance of these low-powered, mainly high school & college radio stations were cluttering up the FM band, particularly in the 88-92 MHz range.  An ultimatum was issued by the FCC; either increase your power to 100 watts, or leave the air.  KBHI decided to do the latter.
  With no money for a new transmitter, no funding from the school, and a sharp decline in booster participation, KDHS was prepared to sign off for the final time. Instead, the station looked at a third option…one the FCC overlooked.  KDHS decided to emulate KRJC, the AM station at Modesto Junior College.  The transmitter was output reduced to 1 watt, and KDHS became a “Campus Carrier”.  The signal could barely reach the outer edges of Downey Park to the north, and if you were more than 100 feet off campus, the signal was entirely lost.  Furthermore, this meant that there was no protection by the FCC if a more powerful station petitioned to operate at the 90.5 FM frequency.   

Literally, on life support, the station remained on-the-air.  The staff knew there was absolutely no money for repairs.  With the loss of the “1 credit class”, student participation had dwindled to a handful of believers.  The listening audience at one time probably consisted of only one listener…the DJ on-air.  

KDHS remained on the air until the spring of 1983.  The once powerful 10 watt transmitter fell into severe disrepair and was unable to even crank out the single watt needed to remain on the air.  The staff numbered less than 10, and the school insisted on reclaiming the office & studio space for a teacher preparation area. KDHS was officially gone.

When the license was allowed to expire, the Seventh Day Adventist Academy in Ceres petitioned the FCC in 1987 to acquire the 90.5 FM frequency.  KADV, Your Christian ADVantage was launched in 1989 and remains on the air today. However, the call letters would not fade into obscurity.  They were later claimed by Delta High School in Delta Junction, Alaska.  In June of 2002, the FCC granted a license to KDHS-LP, a 100 watt high school station, which broadcasts at 95.5 FM, and on the internet. 
Steve Falconer (standing) & Kenn Shearer at the controls of KDHS.
Ron Underwood, Faculty Advisor
(Kenn now lives in Tulsa, OK and works for the City of Tulsa.) 
KDHS Goes Off The Air
After 11 years of broadcasting,   Downey High School's student run FM radio station went off the air November 26, 1980, a victim of hard times.  KDHS began operations on September 5, 1969  from studios between rooms 50 and 51, 10 watts of power, and a tower and antenna on top of the main building at the school's Coffee Rd campus in Modesto. 

According to faculty adviser and English teacher, Burton Vashe,  it has been difficult to raise funds to operate the station during an this era of tight money.    Vashe, who has served at KDHS faculty adviser since 1972, said  donations by businesses and other Downey boosters have fallen off drastically, which provided the funds needed to buy records and equipment.

“Contributions to the station had averaged about $3,000 annually until about two years ago, when the KDHS staff was put on the “barest of barebones budgets”   according to Vashe. 

Another important element in the decision to cease operations was a decision in the Spring of 1979 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  mandating stations with output power of 10 watts or less increase power to a minimum of 100 watts. "This would have cost thousands of dollars, money which we didn't have and could not raise” said Vashe.  The station's coverage was limited because of their meager 10 watts of power which produced a signal with a range of 5-10 miles. The station  was on the air from 2-8 PM weekdays.

According to Senior  Steve Falconer,  the station's general manager,  “everybody's pretty upset, but we knew it was coming.”  Falconer, who has been on the staff for 3 years,  said that student body apathy also hurt. The staff was down to 16 students, mostly freshmen and sophomores.

KDHS featured youth oriented music and campus news. Being a non-commercial FM station,  they were not allowed to sell ads to support the station.   The station also provided live coverage of some Downey football and basketball games and other special programs of interest to high school students citywide. 

Several students of the station have gone on to work in the commercial radio business, one of which landed a job with ABC radio in San Francisco.

January 3, 1972

If Beethoven is your bag, or if rock music by “Sweet Hog” sends you,  you will dig KDHS. Whatever turns you on may heard by tuning to 90.5 FM radio station, owned and operated by Downey High School students.

With a good FM radio and antenna,  listeners may hear KDHS from 5-15 miles from the station on campus on Coffee Rd.. 

Teenage disc jockeys, some call themselves “platter spinners”, announce songs and put out bits of information in a smooth relaxed style.  Sometimes, of course,  they drop the stylus on the record or put a record on the wrong speed,  but they step out of their mistakes calmly.

When school is out each day, the students gather in the small, three-room studio, just off the main school wing to broadcast from 3 to 10 PM  Monday through Friday.

About 40 students make up the station staff and received no pay or classroom credit. Most do not plan to pursue a radio career. The experience and enjoyment are sufficient reward.

"I think station work has turned me into a critical thinker," says Rick Maze, news director, who also gives editorial comment.
"It helps develop responsibility and personality," says  Carlene Scimeca, the Public Relations director.

The station was formed by a group of interested Downey High School students, who broadcast the first program on Sept. 5, 1969. A 60-hour broadcast marathon was held last September to celebrate the the two-year  birthday of the station.

The 10-watt station is only one of  three high school stations in California. It is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and is affiliated with the National Educational Radio Network.

Sixteen of the staff members have third-class radio telephony licenses, with broadcast  endorsements, meaning they have passed the FCC rules test and are qualified to operate equipment without assistance. But when help is needed, faculty adviser Burton Vasche is standing by. And whenever radio equipment needs minor adjustments, teenager John Oesau, chief engineer, is on the job.

There are no commercials on the easy-listening station. There are public service announcements, such as anti-drug news and theater ticket

Sherry Corbin, station manager, says the operation is expected to cost $2,000 this year with funds coming from the associated students and from donations from the KDHS Booster Club, made up of Modesto merchants. She says KDHS soon will be supplying background music for Cable TV, weather dials and other programming.

The schedule includes Voice of Vista, 6 p"m. Mondays; The Classics, (classical mu- sic) announced by Vasche, 10 PM  Tuesday; The Other Three (news from the other high schools), 8 PM  Wednesdays; Knightline (phone in discussions), 7 PM, Thursdays; Rallies, 1:30 PM Fridays; football, 5:45 PM  Fridays; Campus news, 4 and 7 PM  daily, and Sportline, 4 and 8 PM, daily.

Students opinions on social issues may be reflected in editorials or be heard in Protest music.

Some thoughts; 


"I don't see an end to it. Without it there wouldn't be anything to do. Unfortunately, nations thrive on war, and history repeats itself." - Miss Corbin.

The establishment:

"I don't like the idea of working for money and job regimentation,but if you have a regular job,
you can't escape it. That's why I'm going to be a forest ranger." - Tom Lotko.

The relevance of school:

"I think teaching methods are becoming obsolete. The teacher soon will play a minor role in the classroom, with students contributing more to class activities," - Bill Hines.

KDHS Student Broadcasters Offer Varied Fare

By Christine Richert
Sherry Corbin
Bill Hines
Rich Maze
Carlene Scimeca
KnightTime broadcast on KDHS-FM in May 1964

Downey High's KDHS On The Air tomorrow
September 5, 1969 Newspaper Story

The final tests have been  made, the transmitter is operating  properly and the broadcasters  have their scripts ready.  Radio station KDHS at Downey  High School, will go on the air for  the first time at 9 a.m. to-  morrow.   One of the few high school  radio stations the country,  KDHS, 90.5 on the radio dial,  will feature campus news, Downey  High School sports, features,  more music without  commercials  according to  its promotional brochure.   

Regular broadcasting will, be  2:30 to 7  pm Monday through  Friday, but the first' three days  will be a 12 hour operation,  from 9  a.m. to 9 p.m. to introduce  the station to students.  KDHS is licensed by the Federal  Communications Commission  and will be, governed by  of Education policy and the student  dent council.  It will have a transmission  range of from 3 to 10 miles,  depending on the receiver, covering  a general area bounded  by Riverbank Road to the north  Wellsford Road to the east, Carpenter Road to the west, and Whitmore Avenue on the south. 

Cost of the station is about  $2,500 per year.  The student  council will pay all costs of  equipment purchase, installation  and operation.  Members of the staff are Gary Copeland, station manager; Vicki McGhee, program  director; Jeff Cree, chief engineer.   Joanne Stotts, news director;  Monroe McBride, traffic  manager; Jeff Landon,  sports director;  Forest Carmichael  music director and Jelyn Gaskell, council  representative.  The station, originally was scheduled  to begin operating last spring but was delayed because of technical difficulties.