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Working Out the Last-Minute Bugs : Radio: With arrival today of KCLU-FM, the county gets its own NPR outlet.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal Lutheran University’s new public radio station was due for its debut in less than 24 hours and programming director Mike West was a little distracted.

West had a few odds and ends to take care of Wednesday before the darkened ON AIR sign above the production room door at KCLU-FM’s Thousand Oaks studio would be turned on at the crack of dawn today.

In front of West sat a stack of 80 compact-disc recordings of contemporary and classic jazz. By the time Ventura County’s first National Public Radio-affiliated station was on the air, West was hoping to have listened to each one.

But reviewing the discs, making notes on style, tempo and appropriateness of each for the contemporary jazz format of KCLU-FM 88.3, was rapidly becoming a mathematical impossibility.

“Earlier I would listen to the whole CD,” West said, hitting the fast-forward button on the compact-disc player. “But now we’re out of time.”

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This week has been a mad scramble of last-minute preparations for West, general manager Dan Kuntz and the rest of the station’s staff. There are four paid positions and nearly 30 volunteers, including students and faculty members.

The equipment in the booth KCLU will use for talk shows was still being installed Wednesday, the schedules for the volunteer broadcasters have yet to be determined and West was resigning himself to a lot of early mornings and late nights.

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But that, he says, is quite all right.

“If you make the commitment, you’re just going to have to forget about your free time,” West said. “You just have to put the time in if you want to have quality programming.”

The station will be on the air from 5 a.m. to midnight every day, starting with NPR’s “Morning Edition” news program. “Fresh Air,” a talk-show about contemporary issues, and “All Things Considered,” a news show, will air from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. In between the NPR programming, KCLU will air jazz, some local news and a talk show dealing with issues specific to Ventura County three times a week.

“We’re starting off with a real simple philosophy,” West said. “But the schedule is designed to grow. We are really going to try to be the hometown station for Ventura County.”

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National Public Radio is already available in the county, but KCLU said some residents complain that it is hard to find on the radio dial. Ventura and Oxnard pick up Santa Monica’s public radio station KCRW-FM 89.9 signal from a 200-watt transmitter on top of Laguna Peak at Point Mugu State Park, said KCRW engineer Will Lewis.

But south of the transmitter, the signal goes fuzzy again until the listener travels closer to Los Angeles.

In Ojai, KCRW’s signal converts to another frequency, 102.1 FM. In Moorpark and Santa Paula, it picks up again at 102.3. Both signals come from weaker transmitters of eight to 12 watts. By next year, Lewis said, the station hopes to boost the power on its Laguna Peak transmitter. KCRW has 5,000 subscribers in the county.

Meanwhile Kuntz and West are hoping to attract listeners who are tired of adjusting their dials as they drive around the county.

“I’ve heard from so many people, ‘I can’t wait to get public radio clearly,’ ” West said. “This area is really crying out for a nice strong signal.”

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KCLU’s signal is transmitted from a 1,200-watt tower on top of Calleguas Peak, four miles from the Cal Lutheran campus. It will be capable of reaching 500,000 listeners, according to Kuntz. But because of nearby mountain ranges, residents in Ojai, Santa Paula and Fillmore mostly likely will not get the station.

Tuesday night, the station began sending out a test signal every six minutes, starting with the sound of a crashing wave, followed by the sound of approaching horses’ hoofs and a voice saying, “Listen. We’re getting turned on soon.”

“We didn’t want it to sound like a storm is coming,” Kuntz said. “But we want it to be an exciting change.”

For Matt Smith, a junior communications major from Oceanside, working as a disc jockey at an NPR affiliate is a far cry from the old student radio station, which went on the air through cable television, and then only on campus.

“Basically nobody listened,” Smith said. “We just had fun amusing ourselves. We had to touch the antennae with the TV cable to get a signal. We were supposed to be on all the time, but no one really knew how to get on the air.”

“This is way more professional,” he added. “It’s amazing to me that I can get this kind of experience on campus.”

FYI

To celebrate the debut of KCLU-FM, Cal Lutheran is holding an open house and “Sign-On” party from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. today. The public is invited for refreshments, a presentation by radio personality Norman Corwin, and a chance to record messages to be aired on the station. Call 493-3151 for information.


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