If she’d had to raise money to pay for the engineering, KCLU general manager Mary Olson would have had this to say about expanding to the Santa Maria area in June 2013: nice idea.
The same goes for every CLU broadcast milestone: without the highly skilled, pro bono aid of Tim Schultz ’77, they were all just nice ideas. Student-run cable radio in 1977? A National Public Radio station owned and operated by the campus since 1994? KCLU in Santa Barbara? A new broadcast center in 2011? iCLU student radio on the Internet last year? Nice ideas.
At any rate, CLU accomplished all of this without ever making a significant investment in engineering, because of Schultz’ generosity, technical mastery, and willingness to crawl and climb with bundles of cables.
“Well, it’s my alma mater. Part of me feels like since I started it, I’ve got to continue it,” he said. “I don’t want to let it go. If they really came to me and said, ‘Tim, your services are no longer welcome. We’ve found somebody else to do it,’ yeah, it would crush me, it would break my heart, but I would understand.”
That is not about to happen. Over the decades, Schultz has worked thousands of hours for free for CLU on jobs that, these days, would pay hundreds of dollars an hour. Since October, he’s had the full-time task of researching the acquisition of 89.7 FM in Santa Maria, tearing apart the transmitter there, at the end of four miles of dirt road, and rebuilding it.
“He’s our hero,” said Olson. “He’s the guy who rents the truck. He’s the guy who climbs the tower. When the satellite dish came, Tim is the guy bolting it to the pad. There’s no problem he can’t solve. The guy is brilliant.”
As the vice president of engineering at Spanish-language broadcaster Univision until he stepped down in 2009, Schultz bought and fixed up dozens of television stations, many in small markets, so he’s faced all sorts of challenges. The worst thing for a broadcast engineer, he said, is refining a system while the station is on the air, which he compares to “changing the tires on your car while it’s rolling down the street.”
Mercifully, the transmitter in Santa Maria was turned off for some of May and June, after the station changed hands and the engineer started pulling old equipment off the tower. Schultz – who carried his very own spectrum analyzer to assess matters – had not been impressed with the signal quality. To stay within his budget for improvements, he had to keep some of the existing structure, though bulldozing the whole thing would have been simpler, he said.
In June, KCLU signed on in northern Santa Barbara County and southern San Luis Obispo County, and Schultz was still not out of a job.
“It just seems to be a continuously evolving thing, and they keep asking me back, and so I keep coming back,” he said. “It is kind of like, ‘Hey, I built the thing.’ I feel like I’m raising a child. It has certainly blossomed into something a whole lot more than we ever, ever, ever envisioned.”