story by Jamie Smith
SILOAM SPRINGS — This week marks a major milestone in the history of a local radio station. KLRC, the popular Christian radio station that has lived at 101.1 on the dial since 1988, is getting a new home at 90.9 and a much more powerful signal.
The station started broadcasting on the new frequency Monday (Feb. 18) with 100,000 watts of power behind it, the largest signal that is allowed by the Federal Communications Commission. Since 1990, KLRC has operated with 6,000 watts. The higher power will allow the station to reach thousands of more people with most of the expanded reach in southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma. There will also be improved coverage in Northwest Arkansas.
Brad Melton of Bella Vista has been a long-time KLRC listener and he said Monday it was the first time he was able to hear the station on his home radio. Previously, he and his family have had to listen to the live stream via the Internet on his phone or wait until they were in the car.
“Now I can set my radio alarm in the morning and listen to KLRC first thing in the morning and hear the inspiring conversation and the music,” he said. “It’s going to make it a lot easier and more convenient when driving around Northwest Arkansas as well.”
Over the years, KLRC has added a couple of frequencies on the dial to make up for dead spots throughout the listening area. In Springdale, the station is best heard at 100.3 and in Bentonville at 99.1. With the new signal and strength, there will only be the need for one frequency: 90.9.
“I will only have to have one preset on my car now,” Melton joked.
The new frequency will require somewhat of an adjustment for both the listening audience and the announcers.
“I’m sure I will mess it up,” laughed Mark Michaels, part of the morning show Mark and Keri duo. “We have a lot of cheat sheets up in the studio to remind everyone. It’s like living in the same house forever then having to remember a new address. It will take a while to get used to.”
Michaels has been a part of KLRC for many years, first as a JBU broadcasting student and now as an employee.
“We went from a tiny 6,000 watt signal and students were just trying to get the call letters right,” he said. “And now we see this thing grow. It’s more than the little engine that could story.”
KLRC began as a station to serve the John Brown University broadcasting program to give students hands-on experience with a real radio station. The station project was spearheaded by then JBU Communications Professor Mike Flynn. When it started in the early 1980s, KLRC was only 100 watts, which meant that it reached only JBU and the immediate surrounding community. Located at 90.3 FM on the dial, the radio station was housed in the Cathedral of the Ozarks on the JBU campus.
Flynn saw that the station needed more power to better serve the community and after a five-year effort, the FCC approved a power increase to 3,000. This required that KLRC move to 101.1 FM. In 1990, the station doubled its power again to 6,000 watts, which allowed full coverage in Northwest Arkansas.
Also in 1990, KLRC started hosting its annual Share-a-Thon, a fundraiser that provides for much of the station’s operating costs. The first year, the three-day event netted $10,500 in listener pledges. The station now has an estimated $1 million operating budget and 70% of that comes from listener donations.
KLRC holds the FCC distinction of being a non-commercial station, which means it can’t run paid commercial announcements. It can, however, broadcast underwriting announcements that tells what the underwriting sponsors offer. There can be no call to action, no pricing and no comparisons to competitors, General Manager Sean Sawatzky explained.
Over the years, there have been many other physical signs of growth and expansion at KLRC including the addition of paid staff. Sawatzky became the first paid staff member in 1996 and is now the station’s general manager. There are seven paid, full-time staff members and one part-time staff member, he said.
KLRC has had several major developments in recent years. In 2008, it launched MyPositiveEdge.com, which is an Internet-only station that provides Christian alternative and rock music with the focus being on teens and young adults. This is where most JBU broadcasting students get their on-air experience now, Sawatzky said.
While students are still heavily involved, KLRC’s on-air talent does look a little different than it did in the early years. Instead of being run entirely by students, the station has DJs who work the more prominent shifts. Many, like Michaels, are former JBU students returning to work with their alma mater. By having the same radio personalities working the prominent shifts, the station is able to have a better relationship with its growing audience.
The newest expansion began in 2007. That’s when the FCC opened for broadcasters to apply for a permit to build the only remaining non-commercial frequency in the area. Seventeen stations applied and another station finally got word that it would be allowed to use the frequency. When the KLRC staff called the other station to congratulate them, they got some surprising news: the station was no longer interested. The other station agreed to sell the permit to KLRC and the rest is history.
KLRC announced last August that it would be growing its audience and launched a special fundraising campaign to raise the more than $900,000 necessary for the new tower, which is located eight miles from Siloam Springs in Oklahoma. Nearly $600,000 of that money has already been raised, Sawatzky said.