On the fourth floor of Trinity University's Richardson Communications Center, just outside KRTU's Studio B, there's a small picture posted on a tack-board. Vaguely dated as the mid-'70s, the shot certainly looks like it's from the time: a wood-paneled studio, dominated by a massive analog sound board and helmed by a young student engineer mustachioed in full Burt Reynolds fashion. It's a rare glimpse of KRTU's earliest days, back when the station first went live on January 21, 1976. The studio from the picture is still here, though it's more of an equipment closet now. Otherwise, there's not much that hasn't changed in the 40 years since 91.7 FM hit the airwaves.
There's the sound, which evolved from an eclectic mix of whatever records its DJs could scrounge, to featuring one of the premier jazz formats in the country. There are the station facilities, which, thanks to an AT&T-sponsored million-dollar upgrade in the late 2000s, rank first class among community or college stations.
Most noticeable to its listeners is the signal. Starting from 50 watts at its launch, KRTU has slowly but surely upped the power of its rooftop tower, sending its sound out further across San Antonio in the process. Now, at the cusp of their 40th anniversary, the station has announced plans for its biggest upgrade yet: a broadcast tower move that will allow the signal strength to triple from its current 8,900 watts to nearly 32,000 watts.
"It was an answer to the community," General Manager JJ Lopez said. "Most often the community feedback was 'I'm out in the UTSA area' or 'I'm down in the South Side, and I just don't get you.'"
Currently, the station reaches the edges of Bexar County, though plenty of coverage gaps have plagued areas on the outskirts of town. The upgrade will nearly triple KRTU's range, sending Jazz 91.7 FM from Bandera to China Grove from east to west, and Bulverde to Pleasanton from north to south. While the strengthening of the signal will expand the station's reception in all directions, moving its broadcast tower to the Medical Center area will most directly affect the city's Northwest side.
"I can't think of a better contour to have for a college station in San Antonio, so for us the move was a no-brainer," Lopez says.
That KRTU is boosting its signal will no doubt come as long-awaited news to jazz listeners who've long suffered through spotty reception in the Alamo Ranch, Boerne and Stone Oak areas. For the KRTU staff, however, the next step involves engaging with these listeners now in range.
"One thing KRTU has always done well is to be a San Antonio radio station," says Operations Manager Emilio Alvarez. "We have hosts from the community, no syndicated programs and tons of community events. With the tower move, the question on my mind is how do we affect our new broadcast community."
Most KRTU events, including their Sunday Jazz at the Witte, Artpace Rooftop Concert and Skyline Swing series, have centered in the Downtown core. The staff, however, is looking to expand those events outward along with the signal.
"I would like us to become a primary voice for those arts and culture organizations that need to be promoted and to get their programming out there. It's about taking our program outside of center city and bringing with us a lot of our arts partners," Lopez said.
The station does have a celebration planned for the official 40th anniversary date on January 23, though it will be a smaller affair, a "chance for staff, members and students to celebrate by telling some great stories from our history," says Lopez, who already has his sights set on a larger celebration, set for October 7.
"Our goal is to go live at our new 32,000 wattage on [October 7] and do a ribbon cutting, say our thank you to our members and listeners, and flip the switch."
Plans are also in the works for a community-wide concert featuring KRTU alumni and drummer Gerry Gibbs and his Thrasher Dream Trio to accompany the tower switch.
While boosting the signal is among the biggest upgrades in the station's four-decade-long history, KRTU's staff is already looking forward.
"I think the tower project is significant and quite indicative of the progress of KRTU over 40 years of service," said Lopez. "From day one, the success of KRTU with each decade and each passing staff has been about education, leadership and technology. This is the critical step that all other upgrades have led to that's going to take us into the future another 10, 20, 30 years."