SAU’s KALA radio celebrates 50 years

Anne Marie Amacher
Oswaldo Sanchez, left, and Luis Lara conduct an interview in studio on KALA radio during the Spanish segment June 22. The radio station is based at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — KALA radio station at St. Ambrose University has been on the air for 50 years. And for more than 40 of those years, programming has also been offered in Spanish.

The nonprofit radio station, located in Galvin Fine Arts Center on campus, held an open house June 22.

David Baker, KALA operations manager and programming director, said the original license was granted in 1967, but technical issues impacted the station’s start. In 1969, broadcasts began in Ambrose Hall. The station moved to its current location upon completion of Galvin Fine Arts Center.


Ken Colwell, professor of communications, director of Ambrose Communication Center and general manager of KALA, said despite the rocky start, the station has continued nonstop since Feb. 14, 1969.

At first the station was on the air from 3-11 p.m. on weekdays and from 7 p.m. Sunday until 6 a.m. on Monday. The most popular time for students tuning in was Sunday night into Monday morning when they returned to campus after a weekend away.

The station initially operated at 10 watts of power, which did not reach far. But the signal reached the students on campus, and that’s what made it popular. When students called to request songs, all phone lines for campus went through the switchboard. Because of the number of calls, KALA was the first office on campus to get a direct phone line that bypassed the switchboard, Colwell said.

By the 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission informed all radio stations that to increase power and strength they would need to upgrade to 100 watts. But there was a catch — they must be on air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If not, then the frequency could be shared with other radio stations. St. Ambrose considered but decided not to share a frequency with the former Marycrest College, Colwell said.

Today the station is broadcast in high definition (HD) at 10,000 watts on 88.5 FM and 106.1 FM.\

Baker is a full-time paid employee at the station and Colwell works about quarter-time with KALA. Both started at the radio station as students at St. Ambrose. They are assisted at the radio station by interns, work-study students and volunteers (students and people from the community). They prerecord some segments, especially during breaks when fewer students are on campus. “Students work side by side with our community volunteers,” Baker said. Business owners, church pastors and others donate their time to the station.

KALA programming includes music, such as jazz, blues, world, urban adult contemporary, new rock, Hispanic, Latin jazz and Gospel music. The station also provides public service programming (syndicated and locally produced), and local, national and state news. Throughout the year, KALA might offer music features, news and live home/remote coverage of St. Ambrose sports events and even community events. Baker said KALA also sponsors many musical events in the Quad-City area, such as the annual Blues Festival. Volunteers also promote KALA’s presence by attending events in the community, such as at Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, Ill.

Oswaldo Sanchez and Luis Lara have been doing the Spanish programming since it started at KALA more than 40 years ago. Others assist them. “We are all volunteers,” they noted. Spanish programming is on the air from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 3-5 p.m. Sundays. The volunteers play a variety of music from Mexico and Latin and South America. They have listeners from Mexico and Texas, thanks to social media, they said. The duo said when they first started at the radio station music was on 8-track tapes. As technology progressed, the radio station also updated and has gone digital.

For people interested in listening to KALA, but not within reach of the signal, visit the website and listen at

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