Making Radiowaves

Oct 1, 2015

This past summer has been an active time here at JPR as we’ve been addressing both long and short term issues that impact our service to the region.  I thought I’d take a moment to update you on some of those recent developments.

Jackson County News And Information Service Gets FM Frequency

After about a year of concentrated effort to acquire and construct an FM translator for our News and Information Service in Jackson County, we were finally successful and able to begin service on 102.3FM in mid-September.  

The coverage area of the new 102.3FM frequency is very close to the existing daytime signal of KSJK/1230AM, covering most of Jackson County.

Broadcasting is a highly regulated industry and the initiative to make this happen was multi-layered, requiring extensive legal and technical work and the joint support of Southern Oregon University and the JPR Foundation.  We’re thrilled to be able to announce this significant service improvement and encourage our Jackson County listeners to tune in to the new frequency. The change improves the audio quality of the News and Information Service in Jackson County, especially during programs that feature music, such as A Prairie Home Companion and West Coast Live. Another big improvement is that 102.3FM has much better coverage during evenings.  We hope listeners who never venture onto the AM band will newly discover the excellent programs the News and Information Service offers at the new spot on the FM dial. The coverage area of the new 102.3FM frequency is very close to the existing daytime signal of KSJK/1230AM, covering most of Jackson County.

Improvements In Del Norte And Curry Counties

After enduring several years of congestion on the FM band that has caused interference and degradation of our FM translator signals serving Crescent City and the Brookings area, we’ve developed a plan to improve our service in these areas pending FCC approval.  Listeners in the Crescent City area may have already noticed an improved signal at 91.1FM and we’re still working to improve this signal further.  In addition, we’ve filed an application with the FCC to change the frequency of our Brookings translator to one with less congestion, which should improve that signal significantly. We’ll keep our Brookings members updated via email when that change gets approved and implemented.

KAGI/930AM Problems

There’s no easy way to say it — our News and Information Service station serving Grants Pass and Josephine County has been doomed lately.  In 2013, the tower site we lease near Grants Pass was hit by lightning and the KAGI transmitter suffered extensive damage.  We limped along operating at low power for several months while we filed an insurance claim, which ultimately provided approximately $16,500 toward the cost of a new $34,000 transmitter.  We installed that new transmitter last year and it was humming along nicely … until this summer when one of the most intense and powerful lightning storms we’ve seen in Southern Oregon once again struck the KAGI tower radiating frenetic energy the wrong-way through our transmission system.  Despite the extensive surge protection we had installed at the site, the transmitter once again suffered damage, although nowhere near the extent caused by the previous strike.  This time, in an effort to learn from our mistakes, we kept the station off the air while we methodically traced every electrical circuit in the transmitter building to ascertain where energy from the lightning strike could have found its way past our surge protection system. While this effort was underway we also re-grounded the entire building. This was a difficult task and was very dislocating for regular KAGI listeners, but we felt it was a step we needed to take before making new repairs that could again suffer future damage and cause future outages. We were successful in finding several weak points in the electrical system of the KAGI transmission system and addressed them before repairing and putting the KAGI transmitter back into service. This past week, an unrelated microwave failure once again caused a KAGI outage and I could only imagine the frustration KAGI listeners must be experiencing.  I can assure you that things will improve in the long term after the extensive investment we’ve made in the KAGI site and we’ll continue to take necessary steps to improve the facility.

Northern California And The Klamath Basin

  This summer local power utilities have announced an unusual number of “planned maintenance” outages that have affected several JPR transmitter and microwave relay sites.  Soda Mountain, just east of Ashland, in particular has been impacted by several planned outages which have interrupted our signal going east to the Klamath Basin and south to Siskiyou and Shasta Counties. We’ve done our best to notify listeners affected by these outages via email but recognize we don’t have email addresses on file for the majority of our listeners.  With this summer’s high fire danger it has not been possible to operate a portable generator on Soda Mountain to limit the duration of these outages. Hopefully, these maintenance outages are now over and will result in more reliable power service in the months ahead.

As you can see, making three simultaneous JPR signals flow from your radio can be tricky business.  Unlike major metropolitan areas, most of our transmitters and relay sites are located in rugged, remote areas that take hours to get to and lack infrastructure improvements like backup power.  We’ll continue to do our absolute best within our means to proactively improve our technical plant while also responding as quickly as humanly possible to reported outages.  Thank you for your patience and support as we collectively work together to create a diverse and dynamic public radio service for Southern Oregon and Northern California communities.

Paul Westhelle is JPR’s Executive Director.