Community radio station KXCI 91.3-FM hopes a successful fundraising campaign will boost both its signal and membership.
The nearly 30-year-old nonprofit station aims to raise $750,000 for a variety of improvement projects — nearly half of it going toward the installation of a booster transmitter in midtown.
Currently, its broadcasts air from a transmitter atop Mount Bigelow, but formations such as Pusch Ridge block the signal from reaching parts of northwest Tucson.
“The problem itself dates back about 20 years,” said Randy Peterson, KXCI’s general manager. Until recently, FCC regulations restricted the power of a second transmitter, which would not have allowed KXCI to mitigate the problem.
“Digital television re-opened bandwidth for other applications,” Peterson said.
The booster transmitter would be attached to the existing Los Altos tower in midtown. The total cost of installing and operating the new transmitter for three years is $350,000, said Peterson. After that, the station believes funds generated by new members will take care of the increased operations costs.
“Given studies of public radio and TV, three years is about the point at which people become members,” Peterson said. It would take an estimated 180 new members to cover the additional $18,000 annual cost.
“The great news is that this (transmitter) should help us reach about 30 percent more of Tucson, geographically,” Peterson said.
This area includes the Catalina Foothills, where the signal is often weak or difficult to pick up at all. The new transmitter is also predicted to enhance reception in central and downtown Tucson.
As of Nov. 21, KXCI counted $286,400 in pledges. The current phase of the fundraising effort, which started in October, will last until the end of February. Then the station will reassess its needs, Peterson said.
This capital campaign is the most ambitious in the station’s recent history. The fall 2013 membership drive raised $120,000; the station’s total operating budget is $608,036.
In addition to building the transmitter, KXCI would use about $400,000 to update its website, pay off the South Fourth Avenue studio mortgage and make other improvements to the station.
In the midst of the campaign, KXCI will mark its 30th anniversary in Tucson on Dec. 6. The monthlong celebration includes a slew of shows at venues such as Club Congress, the Rialto and the Fox Theatre
“I can’t think of any group that does a bigger part in downtown or has promoted downtown more vigorously than KXCI,” said Michael Keith, CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership.
“The new capital campaign is going to be enormously beneficial to downtown,” Keith said.
KXCI carries diverse programming, from Democracy Now to musical shows featuring Latin jazz and bluegrass. Many are hosted by and showcase members of the community.
Matt Milner, an associate at the Snell & Wilmer law firm, has hosted KXCI’s “Locals Only” program for about two years. The Monday night music show centers on Tucson talent.
“Most commercial radio stations at this point have barely, if any, local presence,” Milner said. “It’s unique to be able to turn the spotlight toward local music, the music being made by our community.”
Each show features a live performance from a local band in the second hour.
“It leads to some really exciting and unique performances and some insightful interviews because of that sense of spontaneity,” Milner said.
Matt Baquet, 22, drums for two alternative bands, Dream Sick and Prom Body. Both have been featured on “Locals Only.”
“When I’ve played on there live, I’ve had people I wouldn’t expect be like ‘Hey, I heard you on the radio last night,’ ” Baquet said. “As a musician, that feels really good.”
He added that playing on the station is an opportunity for new bands to hear their music recorded live before producing an album in studio.
Baquet is a Tucson native who spends the majority of his time downtown playing shows or working at Hotel Congress.
“I think Tucson is changing right now, and if KXCI can do this, they can really help the people not in downtown Tucson realize there is a lot of life down here,” Baquet said.