KBCS 91.3 FM Celebrates 50 Years of Community Radio with Plans for Expansion

The KBCS 91.3 FM radio station celebrated their 50th anniversary on Feb. 3 this year. The station has gone through so many identities over the years but has remained true to its community radio station roots. The station started when a group of BC students formed a radio club and requested a broadcast station, only to be turned down. In proper ‘70s fashion, they then decided to hold a sit-in protest at the president’s office, resulting in the station being granted. With a tiny 10-watt transmitter and outdated equipment donated by KING-FM, the station began broadcasting. Craig Sanders, a faculty member who helped start the student media outlets, shared, “We had early on a Collins radio board, and it was the same kind of board that I grew up with in high school…and that was 1949… Ancient.” For the first month, the station had no record library and relied on individuals bringing records from home. Raoul Van Hall was a junior at Sammamish High School when he joined the station as a deejay on KBCS’ first day, playing “Hello Hooray” by Alice Cooper as his first song. Compared to the bigger commercial radios that are popular today, he referred to community radio stations as a “bright spot in radio.”

Looking at KBCS now, they have grown from a small student radio station to a professionally managed radio station. They currently operate an 1800-watt transmitter and expanded their listening area to the south and east in March 2013 by moving the broadcasting tower to Cougar Mountain. Since their initial launch, they have also added the Thom Hartmann program in 2013 as well as other programs such as Democracy Now! and The Grit. Additionally, from 6 to 7 a.m., listeners can enjoy the BBC World Service through 91.3FM. In 2011, KBCS received recognition when Sonya Green, their news and public affairs director, was named the Woman of the Year by the Bellevue chapter of Business and Professional Women. Additionally, the station was awarded the Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability in 2017 for a story featuring the experiences of a wheelchair user navigating King County Metro’s bus system. KBCS has evolved musically as well, going from jazz to adding folk and currently featuring a blend of Americana.

Currently, the station has between 30 to 40 volunteers who create weekly fresh content from home studios, a practice that began during quarantine and has continued. The general manager, Dana Buckingham, has described the volunteers’ work as having ingenuity and a can-do spirit that reflects their passion for community radio, saying, “That was amazing…shows how much passion people have for community radio, that our volunteers have for community radio…it restored my faith.” In addition, the station has many student interns from the UW, high schools and other institutes. As of now, digitizing 50 years of tracks, records and cassettes is a significant undertaking that is being done by students acting as music librarians. Any community members are welcome to volunteer. If interested, contact Buckingham

The news program today is focused on social justice, concentrating on progressive news stories. Buckingham explained that the program is driven by empirical evidence and tells stories that mainstream media won’t, such as reports about domestic abuse. The program’s increasing progressiveness has been accompanied by an increase in vulgar comments, but Buckingham noted that the station has a loyal community. 

As seen, the station is still progressing. As KBCS continues to grow, they hope to be more involved with student volunteers and expand their original content. The station is considering hiring a part-time news producer to train more citizen journalists. Additionally, Buckingham has described how he would like to move to new facilities on the BC campus for safety reasons. He said, “I only want to work at a college because I love all of the arts and culture and things that you have offered there.” Keep an eye out for a KBCS event up in Kingston.