To former broadcaster Jim Henderson, Half Moon Bay seemed like the perfect place to start a local radio station. “There’s a sense of community here that you don’t find in urban areas,” said Henderson, founder of KHMB, Half Moon Bay’s only community radio station. The AM 1710 station first aired Oct. 15, 2009. It started with a constant loop of an hour-long radio magazine featuring local shows, mixed with local business ads. “I’d like to do a little well rather than a lot and sound amateur,” said Henderson, who has worked for numerous radio stations in Northern California. KHMB has evolved since its beginning more than three years ago. The station now plays an eclectic variety of music for most of the day, including ’60s and ’70s music, and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. And the weekly radio magazine airs once each day, at different times. “We have 22 people in China that listen to us,” said Henderson. The station can be heard around the world through KHMB’s website. Henderson is not quite sure who the people in China are, but he says many people in San Mateo and San Francisco also tune in to the station online. He suspects these listeners are Half Moon Bay residents who “work over the hill” and are listening at work. Radio Magazine Henderson’s mission is not to hear his own voice on the air. Rather, his goal is to provide a medium for other local voices. “I want people to turn on the radio and hear their neighbors and friends,” he said. “I want to make this truly a community resource in every way.” The radio magazine features local voices speaking on a variety of topics. One of Henderson’s own neighbors hosts the popular segment Coastside Carousel. Christopher O’Donnell’s show features music and interviews with local musicians. O’Donnell likes to bring the artists into the intimate setting of KHMB’s cozy downtown recording studio. The interviews feel more like sitting down in the living room for a chat than a formal show, he said. “I like them to feel like they are coming for a visit, not to promote themselves,” said O’Donnell. The magazine also includes a weekly feature story. Past stories have included interviews with a local retired astronaut and a retired Secret Service agent. An upcoming feature will focus on the recall election for the Coastside Fire Protection District board, with interviews with incumbents and the candidates challenging their seats, said Henderson. Keeping with the community-centered content, Community Bulletin Board details nonprofit news. And Pet Patrol, a segment hosted by the owner of Kibbles ‘n Gifts Pet Shop, is popular with animal lovers, Henderson said. Henderson hopes to add more shows to the station that speak to particular demographics, along with developing a daily Half Moon Bay news program. Emergency communication Besides being a source of local information, the small station has the potential to serve another important purpose. Henderson has offered KHMB as a potential communication tool in the event of a disaster. He is working on a plan with the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services to bring information to the isolated coastal area in an emergency. “If there was a county-wide emergency, Half Moon Bay would be the Staten Island of New York,” he said. “If cellphone towers went down, you could turn on your car [radio] and get some information.” Getting on the air Getting on the airwaves wasn’t easy. Henderson first tried to get a low-power FM frequency through the Federal Communications Commission, but nothing was available. He finally found a way to secure a low-power AM frequency. A group of radio transmitters on top of a building in downtown Half Moon Bay distributes a good signal to all of Half Moon Bay proper and some “fringe areas,” Henderson said. In the future, Henderson hopes to set up another group of transmitters near the airport, allowing for neighbors in El Granada and Montara to tune in. There are some quirks that affect a low-frequency AM station, including weather. On foggy days, the signal reaches a little farther than it does on sunny day. “We’re probably one of the few stations operating like this,” said Brad Mencarelli, who has worked for major Bay Area radio stations, including KGO, ABC’s local station. Being near the ocean also impacts AM signals, he said. This may be the reason an AM 1700 station in San Diego can sometimes can be heard on their 1710 frequency, said Mencarelli, who handles the station’s automated broadcasting. The KHMB automation computer known as Hal — a reference to the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” — sends the pre-recorded shows and music lineups to the transmitters. Mencarelli also helps local business owners to record professional-quality commercials. After years of working as a sound engineer, he knows how to flawlessly mix music into radio commercials. He played an ad just recorded by a woman advertising her local in-home care business, with the soothing music he had mixed into it. “She’s never done radio before,” said Mencarelli, admiring the woman’s on-air voice. Spinning records After attending the College of San Mateo, Henderson worked in broadcast radio in Stockton, Tahoe and Santa Rosa, among other places. He recalled his first job working as a DJ in Stockton in the ’60s. On weekdays from midnight to 6 a.m., he played Top 40 records. “You were ‘spinning’ the hits,” he said of the old radio days. He ended up in the rental car business, but never lost his love of radio. If you live in Half Moon Bay, tune in to AM 1710. For more information, or to listen live or to archived shows, visit: khmbradio.com.
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