KCHS radio station celebrates golden anniversary

WORTON — With a radio handle like “Captain Space,” there’s likely no more appropriate a song to launch your new radio station than “Rocket Man.”

At around noon on Thursday, March 28, 1974, after some opening news and other reports, Elton John’s classic song became the first track played on 90.5 FM WKHS, Kent County High School’s student radio station.

This year marks the radio station’s 50th anniversary, with a broadcasting program that has continued to grow over the last five decades.

“Ever wonder what it feels like to have your voice soar across miles, connecting us in ways only the magic of radio can? That’s the cool part of what we’re doing over at Kent County High School with WKHS 90.5 FM,” Superintendent Karen Couch said while honoring the station during the March 11 Kent County Board of Education meeting.

The station also received a certificate of recognition this month from the Kent County Commissioners.

“At 17,500 watts, WKHS is one of a handful of high-power high school radio stations in the entire country,” Ron Fithian, president of the commissioners, read from the certificate.

WKHS station manager Chris Singleton and fund manager Ken Collins are going big for this year’s golden anniversary.

The marquee event is Tunefest, a day-long concert Saturday, May 4 featuring local musicians and food trucks at Red Acres Farm, which is located just down the road from the high school in Worton.

Tickets are on sale at wkhsradio.org.

“Across the past five decades, more than 500 students have completed the Broadcasting pathway at Kent County High School,” Singleton said. “Our hope is to get as many of them together as possible this spring to celebrate this historic milestone.”

The station also received recognition for its anniversary from the Society of Broadcast Engineers, which paid special tribute to WKHS on March 19 by hosting a business meeting in the broadcasting classroom at the high school.

Guests included SBE Executive Director Jim Ragsdale, regional members and former WKHS managers and alumni.

“I just think this is a great initiative here,” Ragsdale said to the WKHS team and students. “I hope that you all do enjoy what you’re doing and then really take the opportunity to learn as much as you can, because it will pay dividends in the future.”

“Captain Space” himself, Jim Hammond, the first WKHS station manager, was on hand via livestream to speak about the station’s launch in 1974 and its early years.

“It was a pretty sophisticated program. It was built in one existing classroom right across from the nursing classroom and right next door to the graphic arts room,” Hammond said. 

He said that a review of daily schedules from those early years shows that from its start, WKHS and the broadcasting program were about much more than DJing the latest hits.

The March 28, 1974 schedule shows news breaks and programs such as “Women’s World” with student host Bonnie Lake, “Plants and Things” with members of the horticulture class and more.

“It was our mandate to be able to educate the students in lots of disciplines, not just music, but also public affairs programming and the news,” Hammond said.

Following Hammond’s run at WKHS were station managers Keith Hill, Walt Barcus, June Fox, Ted Dively, Karyn O’Brien, Rob Futterman and Steve Kramarck.

Speaking at the SBE meeting earlier this month, Barcus shared that he and Hammond agreed that being a station manager at WKHS and a teacher was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

Singleton, a WKHS and Kent County High School alumnus, became the station manager and broadcasting teacher in 2008.

Fred Willard and Dave Van Dyke were among the WKHS alumni in attendance at the SBE meeting.

Willard is now at TelevisaUnivision and Van Dyke works for WideOrbit, a broadcasting software company of which WKHS is a client.

“You all are very lucky to be in this program,” Willard told the current crop of WKHS students who sat in on the meeting. “I can tell you I’m still in broadcasting and most of my colleagues from the Class of 1980 are still in broadcasting because of this program.”

Van Dyke told the students and guests about all the fun he and his classmates had in the studio, trying to crack one another up during newscasts and genuinely enjoying their time on air.

He said Hammond was not just a radio station manager to them; he also was an important teacher.

“He taught us a ton and it had nothing to do with broadcasting,” Van Dyke said of Hammond. “We learned about timing and how to manage time. We learned how to work together. We learned how to get along with each other when there were certain people that drove us nuts. And yet, it all worked.”

The station has undergone a lot of technology updates in its 50 years. The broadcasting classroom includes a museum of sorts that features old consoles and other equipment.

Renovations have come in stages, such as opening up the record library — now that the music is all digital — so it now serves as a hallway between the broadcasting classroom and the WKHS studios.

A major studio overhaul was completed in 2018 and a new transmitter was installed in 2022.

WKHS has one of the most powerful signals for a high school radio station in the country. It can be heard up to 60 miles away, reaching across the Chesapeake Bay and into Delaware and Pennsylvania.

And, students are not the only on-air talent.

The station has expanded its programming to include local volunteers who share their musical passions and a partnership with Philadelphia-based WXPN.

When students and volunteers are not on the air, WXPN keeps the music going on 90.5 FM.

WKHS launched in the adult contemporary format for music, but these days the station is very much genre-defying.

Daytime listeners might enjoy a classic rock staple from the 1970s that goes into the latest hit in hip-hop.

“As the students will tell you, name a genre and an era and we pretty much play something from that period,” Singleton said.

Another hoped-for event on the horizon this year at WKHS is a linkup with the International Space Station.

WKHS teamed up with the Kent Amateur Radio Society in applying to make contact with the ISS through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program.

“I think there’s only 20 to 25 organizations chosen each year,” Singleton said.

If the WKHS application to make contact is approved, students will get about 10 minutes of talk time with the ISS as it orbits overhead at 17,500 miles per hour.

“That’s a direct link. It’s not from the internet. It’s directly from air to ground,” Singleton said. “So we’re hoping to see that happen.”

You can learn more about 90.5 FM WKHS, listen to the livestream and purchase Tunefest tickets at wkhsradio.org.

Find the station on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wkhsradio.

You also can stream WKHS on the Kent County Public Schools app, available from the Apple App Store and Google Play. Just search “Kent County Public Schools.”

 

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