During this 30th year anniversary, I have had several people ask me if it has felt like thirty years, and the answer is yes and no. When I think back to all the improvements to the station and the additions to the library it does feel like three decades, but in time spent presenting this great music, it hasn’t seemed that long at all.
Another question that comes up is, ‘What was it like to get the station on the air?’
There were lots of frustrations, but my overriding impression was one of feeling grateful, because KPAC did not have to happen. It came into being because B.J. McClain, Wilford Stapp and J.C. Stromberger made it work by putting in thousands of hours and their own dollars into the idea that San Antonio needed and deserved a great music station.
These forward-thinking individuals thought that if Texans wanted a Classical Music station, then by gosh they should make it happen. KPAC was born of this desire, and no federal, state or city money was asked for. Considering we are not part of a college or university, this made the station a truly unique phenomena, sort of like being born without the benefit of a mother!
It all started back in 1976...
The gestation of Texas Public Radio goes all the way back to 1976 when the commercial Classical station in San Antonio went through a format change in the wake of new ownership. It was then that meetings were held to find ways of starting a great music station in the Alamo City.
Our trio of founders soon found out that the hand-shake that seals a deal in Texas doesn’t get one very far at the FCC in Washington D.C. But, progress was made and soon broadcast lawyers and endless phone calls to Washington started paying off. The closer the station came to being a reality, the more money and expertise were needed. The hardest part of all of this was raising money without anything to show your investors.
Friends were pulled into the fray and soon a small army of volunteers was working to get the word out, find the necessary money and keep the growing mountain of paperwork in order. KPAC’s expected power output was small, so the antenna needed to be up high. That brought us to the highest point in the county, on top of a ten story building in northwest San Antonio.
There, our 3,000 watts would have a decent reach. In fact, the reach was enough that the government of Mexico was brought into the equation because now, theoretically, KPAC could reach past the border, so another bureaucracy was added to the mix.
Countdown to launch
A lack of speed with two governments and the slow construction of KPAC’s studios pushed back our launch date. A magazine, the KPAC Key, a music listing was printed for October. One of our first programming “themes” was to air all of Haydn’s 104 Symphonies, in order, beginning on the first of October The question was, by the time KPAC started broadcasting, what Haydn symphony would it be?
1982 was passing into history and the Classical Broadcasting Society of San Antonio still didn’t have its radio station “on the air.” Our engineer, Paul Easter, was working furiously, and those of us who were full-time were here at the station cataloging our LP library onto index cards. Since I had some technical experience, I was also spending my time soldering and running errands for needed parts.
KPAC was into the home stretch and it was a real shock to find out at the eleventh hour that operating expenses for six months had to be in the bank to prove to the FCC that this station was really going to be a public benefit by actually having the cash to stay afloat. Resources were a rather hand to mouth affair and our founders were pulling lint out of their pockets, so a call went out to the physicians of our community and they responded magnificently, getting KPAC the dollars needed to convince the FCC that we were for real. These heroes showed their true commitment to Classical music and for that we cannot thank them enough.
By now it was early November, and our transmission tests were either successful or showing problems in the system.
November 7th, 1982: After a full day of work, most of the staff and board of directors were at the studios. Calls were being put out that “tonight might be the night.” Our engineer was tuning the transmitter and it was turning it on and off dozens of times that evening. Finally around 8 or 8:30 he said, “that should do it,” and then it came time to actually start broadcasting.
What should go first? We all had different ideas, but it was the engineer, who had no real knowledge of classical music, that pulled out the music he fell in love with while working in the studios – Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. An inspired selection! With that, KPAC was on the air.
Back then I was the overnight announcer, and it was already late evening. I was handed the reins and I found myself after a two and half year hiatus back on air announcing the classics. It was decided to ask that listeners call telling us where they were so we could get a better idea of the transmitters coverage area.
Truckers leaving San Antonio would pull over and let us know just how far our brand-new station reached. In all the excitement, I realized that everyone expected me to do my overnight shift and I had already been up nearly 18 hours, but youth and adrenaline were my allies and the first 9 hours of KPAC’s broadcast history were a done deal.
The next day we continued our scheduled broadcasts as if we had been doing it for years, which as far as the founders were concerned was true. So with KPAC on the air what was the first of those Haydn Symphonies to get broadcast to start our series? Symphony No. 34 in d minor, of course!