The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

The Day a Cow Took Our Radio Station Off The Air

Throughout my years as a Broadcast Engineer I have seen a lot of things disrupt the transmission of a broadcast station whether it be TV or Radio.

I have seen just about all types of critters shut down a transmitter: moths, flies, snakes, an occasional mouse – but nothing like this!

I was sound asleep when my phone started its frantic beeping indicating we had a problem somewhere. It was 1:30 AM, I looked and found that we had lost our audio feed out in central Nebraska. Being that we program the majority of our stations on the network using the Internet as a way to transport the programing out to the various transmitter sites I figured it would be back shortly after a brief outage. There were late night storms prowling out on the plains this morning and brief power outages were not uncommon. I went back to sleep.

My alarm clock went off at 6:30 and I was up to start the day. I arrived at the studio by 7:30 and found right away as I walked into my office that our signal – KJWM – was silent. You see I have this computer monitor that shows all the stations audio levels, and if one or more are dark then I know there is an issue.

After a few phone calls to one of the Engineers with the local television station who owned the tower we are on, I asked if the power was out due to storms overnight. I was told that they indeed had power. Okay then, what was up with our equipment? So, I loaded up a few things not knowing what I would find and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to our site south of Wood River.

The drive was uneventful for the most part, I chatted with a few friends on the ham radio and made a few phone calls to other broadcast folk. I arrived at the site. It is literally out in the middle of a pasture. Knowing there is usually livestock grazing, I make it a point to close the gate behind me as I was not in the mood to play cowboy. So, I pulled up to the building and went inside. Lights come on, check; air conditioning is on check; the transmitter and a rack full of gear not on.

As a general rule when going out to a site I think about what I may encounter and what tools I need to have at the ready. I had my Volt meter and a screw driver in my back-pack so first thing was to check breakers, they were all on so then it was remove the cover from the breaker panel. Checked for Voltage coming in from outside; no Voltage! Well then, maybe we had a blown fuse out at the meter.

Out in the middle of the pasture (oh, did I say our site is in the middle of a pasture?) there is a pole that has our power meter and a disconnect box. When we put the station on the air several years back I made it a point to fence around the pole so any livestock would not rub on the box, thereby removing it from the pole. After a short walk I got to the pole and noticed the switch that was on the side of the box was in the down position – which is off!

I probably looked like Stan Laurel from the old Laurel and Hardy days standing there scratching my head wondering “who in the world would walk out to this pole at 1:30 in the morning, in the pitch dark – and possibly stormy weather – to shut off a radio station’s power?” After checking the fuses in the box (they were fine) I flipped the switch back on and walked back up to the building.

Upon entering I could hear the sounds of morning programming on Spirit and observed everything was back on. I went ahead with my usual routine and did a quick maintenance and calibration then proceeded to head out.

The only thing I can surmise from this is that a member of the local bovine community must have managed to reach her nose in over the wire fence to scratch an itch and thus shutting down KJWM-FM. This is a first for me…. I grew up around cattle and horses and I’m fully aware of what these creatures are capable of but to shut off a radio station?

Oh, there was a fix for this! As I do not like to put locks on electrical panels or switches for safety, a simple pin worked just fine. If the fire department would ever need to de-energize the site, all they had to do is pull a pin.

And should Miss Bossy want to scratch that itch again, she will not be able to shut the power off.

Contributed by Mark H Voris
Chief Engineer for the Spirit Catholic Radio Network

Exhibit 1:

In my early career as the “electronic janitor,” for a station in Pennsylvania, I noted that the meter readings could no longer be calibrated on the home-brew remote control panel. I could calibrate the plate current and the plate voltage. However, the antenna current, that normally read near full-scale could no longer be calibrated. I started to investigate.

It turns out that the “remote control” unit consisted of a DPDT toggle switch, three meters, three potentiometers, and a nine-volt “transistor radio” battery. The battery was getting low.

Transmitter ON/OFF was provided by connecting the physical-pair phone line in series with the 120-volt coil of the plate relay.

Contributed by Richard B. Johnson