How KKUP Began

by Jim Thomas

May 2024 marks KKUP’s 52nd year on the air. Over half a century of listener sponsored, community oriented, volunteer radio, providing a wide variety of listening alternatives to the community.

How did this all happen? How does a radio station get started anyway?

Well, in our case it was sort of like the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies where they said, “Hey kids, let’s rent a barn and have a show!” Only in our case it was a radio station.

In 1969, the Pinewood Private School in Los Altos had an educational radio station, KPSR. Mrs. Riches the head of the school, decided it was just more trouble than it was worth to keep it so she returned KPSR’s license to the FCC and closed up shop. Five college students who were working at the station decided to apply for the license, start a station of their own in neighboring Cupertino and call it KCUP.

This group, consisting of Dana Jang and Mike Emery from the University of Santa Clara, Dave Hurd and Joel Crawford from DeAnza Community College, and Kevin McCaffrey from San Francisco State, formed the Radio Club of Cupertino and with the help of the Cupertino Jaycees, applied to the FCC for KPSR’s vacated license. The initial application was denied because the Radio Club of Cupertino didn’t fit within the FCC’s guidelines for an educational institution. This wasn’t working out quite as smoothly as they had hoped.

“We were all pretty green when we started”, commented Dana Jang. “Actually, if we’d known how much bother it was going to be we probably never would have gotten into it.”

The group made a connection with the City of Cupertino Parks & Recreation Department, who became enthusiastic about the project as a vehicle to communicate with a younger generation, which escalated into going to City Council meetings and becoming politically involved. As Jang noted, it was turning into a lot of work.

About this time enter the Assurance Science Foundation of Mountain View. The Assurance Science Foundation was a long standing educational organization concerned with quality control in business and consumer problems. Dave Hurd’s father was a member of the Foundation and they agreed to act as licensee for the station. A second application was submitted to the FCC and this time it was accepted.

How did it become KKUP? “We had wanted KCUP for our call letters, but when you submit the application you list your top three choices and it came back KKUP”, remembers Jang.

After several failed attempts to find a suitable location for the studio, in June of 1970 all their efforts with the City of Cupertino paid off when the city agreed to lease their vacant Water Department building on Pasadena Avenue to the Radio Club for $1 a year.

About this time Dan Ethen started to take an interest. Ethen was Chief Engineer at KLOK, one of the South Bay’s top AM stations at the time, and had connections with stations all over the Bay Area. He knew who had equipment they might be willing to donate, how to handle the technical end of setting up a studio, and perhaps most important, he knew Loren McQueen. And Loren McQueen had a mountain.

McQueen agreed to lease the Radio Club space on top of Mt. Tomita (next to Mt Umunhum) to build a transmitter shack and tower — for $1 a year, provided that they build and maintain the facility and didn’t mind sharing the site with some World War II and Korean War radar equipment maintained by the military. This was in November of 1970.

The next year and a half was spent in stops and starts: building the transmitter and tower, trying to get Pac Bell to run phone lines up the mountain, (the signal was sent by phone line because the cost of microwave equipment was prohibitive at the time) outfitting, soundproofing and wiring the studio, applying for grants to help buy equipment and materials, and generally trying to make ends meet with various fundraising activities including Radio Club of Cupertino car washes.

Finally, after months of testing the equipment and signal, and over three years from when they first had the idea back at KPSE, KKUP started officially broadcasting in May of 1972. Aside from an audible radar bleep in the signal every eleven seconds provided by their Air Force neighbors on the mountain top, things seemed to be shaping up. The bleep was eliminated by extensive shielding of the equipment, and KKUP was open for business.

That’s been fifty-two years now and a lot of things have changed. From an annual budget of $2,400 to a budget of over $200,000, the change in the economy has affected KKUP the same as it has everyone else. Our lease with the City of Cupertino expired and we had to move into a new studio, complete with market value rent. Same with our lease on the tower. But even with our increased expenses, we still operate on a fraction of what it takes any other station to do business.

And there’s a lot that’s still the same. A belief, carried on from the earliest meetings of the Radio Club, in an all volunteer, community minded radio station providing musical, informational, and educational alternatives to our listening audience. A dedication to remain non-commercial, and to have our programming sponsored 100% by our listeners and to be responsive to those listeners. And to provide an opportunity to talented people with a passion for music and ideas to have access to the community through radio.

If this sounds like what you think radio should be, take the opportunity to tune in and listen to 91.5 FM and become a member and supporter of KKUP. We need your help to head into the next quarter century!

Special thanks to long time South Bay radio veteran Dana Jang for taking the time to offer his reminiscences of the early days of KKUP.