The History of KSTO
KSTO evolved out of student participation with WCAL. Student workers desired to have a radio station that would serve student interests. The first outline of a model radio station appeared in a November 5, 1954 article of The Manitou Messenger. Broadcasting did not begin until the fall of 1957 on AM 630, although some records show broadcasting may have started in the spring of 1956. Each day the station opened at 8:00 PM with “Fram Fram” and ended at 10:30 PM with “A Mighty Fortress.”
In 1965, KSTO started installation of its AM Carrier Current system. The Low Power Broadcast Equipment Company, which installed the equipment, advocated this system, citing the station’s ability to utilize the steam tunnels that connect each building as a means of running the necessary wires to connect each residence hall to the station.
After the new system was installed, things ran well for the station. It was a popular medium for students to express their opinions, and its music format reflected the progressive views of the campus at the time. Sports were a prominent part of KSTO’s broadcasts, offering many broadcasts of away basketball and football games to those unable to attend events off-campus. The station also had a weekly publication of St. Olaf’s “top ten” hits, with information on the music of the time.
In the early 1970’s, new problems arose with the station. A fire which originated in the KSTO section of the WCAL building on April 12, 1970 caused damage in excess of $3,000. The blaze, caused by the overheating of an electric converter in a United Press International teleprinter, destroyed the printer and broadcasting equipment belonging to KSTO. There was also damage to the structure of the building and some loss to facilities belong to WCAL.
As WCAL expansion needs were met by the college, KSTO’s were not supported by the school. To compound the station’s difficulties, WCAL was expanding into KSTO’s building space, which inhibited its ability to function properly. There were also problems with the station’s signal being interfered with by band and orchestra practices. So the managers, feeling that the station was in danger of losing its place in the St. Olaf community, began a search to move out of the radio building. This search eventually led them to KSTO’s relocation in the basement of the St. Olaf Student Center.
In the spring of 1985, the KSTO staff for ’85-’86 prepared a report that detailed numerous problems facing the station at that time, and introduced a proposal of changes to insure the station a future on the St. Olaf campus.
The equipment purchased in the sixties had reached an unacceptable level of unreliability, of the eleven transmitters on campus, five broke down regularly. The equipment in the production room was inoperable, which prevented the station form producing the needed advertisements to maintain an influx of outside revenue. Also they cited a series of problems past management had with area businesses–which they said made it almost impossible to deal with these businesses any more. They also looked into the feasibility of moving to an FM signal at that time, but citing a similar study done by Carleton’s KRLX, did not believe such a move was feasible due to a lack of available FM frequencies. The report form LBP Inc. said that the system was in good condition, needing only minor repairs to fully function in all ten halls. Despite the report, the necessary funding was not allocated to KSTO. After the spring of 1986, KSTO went off the air.
The station did not operate during the 1986-87 school year. But that spring, a group of five students including Dan Brooks, Pat Swanson, Paul Newsom, and Tyler Steben, submitted a proposal to the administration to reinstate KSTO radio as a part of the St. Olaf community. Their proposal requested a $6,500 operating budget, which addressed the changes outlined in the LDB Inc. evaluation of the station’s carrier current system. In 1987, KSTO returned to the airwaves, on its AM signal–the same year KRLX made the jump from a carrier current system to their FM signal.
For the next several years KSTO continued to operate on its St. Olaf allocated funds, and even managed to interest some local Northfield businesses in advertising on campus through the medium of radio. Businesses such as Grundy’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, The Rare Pair, and The Quarterback Club all paid modest amounts to advertise through KSTO.
As the years rolled by KSTO’s transmitting equipment began to break down and burn out once again. Lack of attention and maintenance along with modernizations to the power grid on the St.Olaf campus weakened KSTO’s AM signal by the year. Finally the signal had deteriorated to such an extent that KSTO was no longer receivable in most of the St. Olaf residence halls. Advertisers quickly learned of this deterioration and pulled their sponsorship. KSTO became little more than a group of dedicated employees who tried to persuade a small college campus to listen to a deteriorating AM signal filled with static. Finally some of those dedicated employees decided to do something about it. The staff of the 92/93 school year petitioned the college and the student body to pool money from the CAP fee paid by all students at St.Olaf for a period of three years in order to create an FM conversion fund.
During the 96/97 academic year those funds which had been accumulating for the past three years were made available to KSTO for its FM conversion. The technical director for KSTO for the 96/97 school year was Christian Green- it was he who was given the task of converting KSTO to broadcast an FM signal. Chris began work on this project long before the funds even became available. He researched the possibilities of broadcasting via a conventional broadcast signal which would reach all of the St. Olaf campus, as well as a good part of the city of Northfield. However, he also proposed an interesting alternative to a full scale FM signal. Chris also researched a system of broadcasting via slotted coaxial cable. This would enable KSTO to broadcast only to the residence halls at St. Olaf. It was eventually decided that keeping KSTO as an “on campus” station would be the best course of action. So the planning began. Chris worked closely with Tom Nelson, the Chief Engineer at WCAL, who had been placed in charge of determining how exactly the FM conversion fund was to be used. Together they designed a system using CROWN transmitters strategically placed in several of the residence halls, along with slotted coaxial transmitting cable, to broadcast KSTO throughout the St. Olaf Residence halls. WCAL and KSTO began laying the needed cables and transmitters.
Only a few weeks into the Fall 1996 semester Chris was forced to leave St.Olaf and return to Iowa City for treatment of a cancerous condition. With Chris gone the rest of the KSTO technical staff continued to work towards FM conversion well into 1997. In January of ’97 Christian A. Green died of cancer after undergoing various treatments in his home town of Iowa City, Iowa. But he left behind what is perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of KSTO, a fully developed FM campus broadcasting network.
Please follow this link to The Christian A. Green memorial web site, which was created by his friends here at St. Olaf in his memory.
During the 1999-2000 school year, KSTO was shut down shortly into the first semester for the move into the new Buntrock Commons. Here, it could be seen by all students and visitors during opperation. It reopened in the spring of 2000 and continued with all new equipment and a wonderful new studio.
The broadcasting over Real Audio began in April of 1997 with the first experimental broadcast to the Internet. Using a free RealAudio player, any user on the internet could listen to KSTO at AM quality with a 28.8 modem. KSTO’s server “streams” audio to the listener in real time, making it possible to listen to KSTO broacast live.