Written and photography by Susie Ouderkirk
How’s It Going?
A new voice defining Las Cruces is perched 150 feet above the Rio Grande at La Llorona Park. It’s so high up, it’s almost written in the stars, which is appropriate for a radio station that came to be in an uncannily predestined way.
KTAL-LP Community Radio Station at 101.5 FM, which shares a radio tower with KGRT Radio off Picacho Avenue, is on its way to becoming Las Cruces’ first public radio station for the people and by the people. Its call letters are pronounced “Que tal,” which means, “How’s it going?” in Spanish.
I sat down with Nan Rubin, chairperson of the board of KTAL, to learn more about this new station and what it means for the city. Her involvement has a dusting of destiny all over it.
Nan has been involved in community radio for 45 years in a diverse number of places around the country; she started two stations from the ground up, and has worked with community media all over the globe. Here in Las Cruces, she was responsible for organizing the technical facilities at KTAL and now handles much of the fundraising.
A Little History
In January of 2000, the FCC created a new class of radio service called low power radio, which explains the “LP” in the KTAL call letters, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website. The low power services are made up of, “relatively small public radio stations” suited for local areas and are “designed to fit into the slices of the commercial FM band where there aren’t any other stations,” Nan explains.
“Starting a new radio station begins with the FCC, which has application windows at certain times during the year” in which someone can apply for a radio station, Nan says.
“I came to Las Cruces in 2013 to retire,” but as fate would have it, she arrived within one week of the opening of one of those specific FCC windows. Of like mind, community activist Kevin Bixby of the Southwest Environmental Center had filled out the necessary FCC application and sent it in.
“After I got here, I wondered what I was going to do,” Nan says. “But the week I got here, I got a call from a friend who does community radio and he said, ‘I just helped a guy in Las Cruces file an application,’ and I said ‘Are you kidding me?’” She contacted Kevin and asked him if he knew what he was getting into. “He said, ‘No, I don’t!’”
The Nuts and Bolts
According to Nan, one element to starting a community radio station is technical: getting a signal to your transmitter and having a place to put your antenna.
“We knew there was a frequency here at 101.5 or 101.7, but we had to fit within that frequency and couldn’t interfere with any stations nearby. So we knew the transmitter had to go within a certain area.”
KTAL’s initial tower was located at the I-25 and the Village of Dona Ana intersection, which Nan knew wasn’t ideal. Searching for a better tower location, she discovered that another group had applied for the same frequency and had a spot on the KGRT tower. Enter more kismet: the other group “just kind of disappeared,” she said, and KTAL found its new antenna location. The unique geography of the Mesilla Valley allows the station to reach as far north as the Border Patrol checkpoint, 20 miles up Interstate 25 and south all the way to Anthony, and from just past the fairgrounds west of Las Cruces up through the town of Organ on the East Mesa.
“You also need a place for your studio,” Nan said. “If it’s not in the same place as your antenna, you have to make sure you can get your signal from your studio to your tower.” The group found its studio on Wyatt Drive, which allows for ample parking and ADA access for Nan, who uses a wheelchair. “It’s actually quite good for us.”
With an antenna tower and studio set up, it was time for KTAL to find its voice. To do that, the KTAL board reached out to the community for fundraising and underwriting, and for volunteers to do programming, support work and administration duties such as running the office: “all the routine things that a non-profit needs,” Nan says.
The Four “E”s
KTAL has a mission: “We want to be reflecting the issues in the community and we want to be reflecting the voices in the community,” Nan says. She refers to her own idea of the four “E”s: economy, education, environment and entertainment. “Those are the kinds of issues that cut across the community.”
She’s enthusiastic about the current programming from 8am to 10am Monday through Friday. Topics covered range from local politics to economics to health issues, cultural events and animals, all hosted by Las Crucens. And KTAL is open to suggestions for program ideas, on-air talent and community involvement.
So preset your number 1 button to KTAL, at 101.5, and take Las Cruces everywhere you go through the magic of radio airwaves.
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free…”
-Rush “The Spirit of Radio” from the 1980 album “Permanent Waves”
Community Radio Station at 101.5 FM
… on its way to becoming Las Cruces’ first public radio station for the people and by the people. Its call letters are pronounced “Que tal,” which means, “How’s it going?” in Spanish.