broadcasters have scaled back their shortwave operations, citing
changes in consumer habits, costs of operation and the revolutionary
changes brought by the Internet.
Master control of
WYFR, now WRMI, where all of the audio is distributed and computers
control transmitters, frequency and antenna changes.
by Thais White, WRMI
So I was interested
to learn that the former WYFR in Okeechobee, Fla., described as the
largest shortwave facility in the Western Hemisphere, would reopen,
as we reported at www.radioworld.com/wyfr.
reached out to several people involved to learn more.
first is Jeff White, general manager of Radio Miami International,
which has bought the big station from Family Radio and is moving
programming and call letters of shortwave station WRMI from Miami to
take advantage of Okeechobee’s bigger, more powerful signals.
Radio was co-founded by Harold Camping, a prominent radio
evangelist known to many in the public for his headline-making
predictions of Judgment Day. The organization had
shuttered WYFR earlier this year in an apparent cost-cutting move.
Camping died in December.
declined to discuss the purchase details but said Family Radio had
been “very generous with us.” I asked how his four staff in
Miami would be affected when WRMI’s 50,000-watt Wilkinson
AM50,000B transmitter was turned off.
office in Miami will remain open for the foreseeable future. In
Okeechobee, we will be employing at least two full-time engineers who
have worked with WYFR for nearly 30 years, and probably several other
part-time engineers who also worked for WYFR for many years before
being laid off in recent months.”
Okeechobee facility has 13 transmitters, including a dozen 100 kW
systems and one 50 kW. It uses 23 antennas that serve the Americas,
Europe and Africa. Quite a step up from WRMI’s 50 kW main signal.
notes that since 1994, WRMI’s primary target
areas have been Latin America and North America. “With the
Okeechobee facility, we will provide significantly better coverage of
these targets due to the more sophisticated antennas — log
periodics and double rhomboids with higher gain — and due of course
to the higher-powered transmitters. And now we will have the
opportunity to broadcast to other parts of the world such as Europe
and Africa, which we have never been able to do in a serious way
originates some of its own programming, including “Viva Miami,”
heard in English and Spanish; but most of its airtime is sold to
outside organizations. Part of the sale
agreement is that the new station will provide Family Radio airtime
to transmit programming to the Caribbean and South America. Still,
most content will be brought over from existing WRMI.
station call letters will change from WYFR to WRMI, and the new
facility will air essentially all of the programming currently on
WRMI’s transmitter site in Miami,” White said. “This is a
diverse mixture of political, religious, musical and cultural
programming in English and Spanish, including a number of DX programs
intended especially for shortwave listeners.
expect that two hours per day will be Spanish-language programming
from Family Radio. About nine hours per day will be English-language
religious programming from the Radio Africa network operated by Pan
American Broadcasting, based in Pleasanton, Calif. In addition, we
will make airtime available to other organizations, including
running from the transmitter building to some of the 23 antennas.
Beside the transmitter building, a cow relaxes beside a pond, which
it shares with a few alligators.
by Thais White, WRMI
provided me with a historical and technical overview of WYFR that I
recommend; I’ve posted it at http://bit.ly/17J3i1Y. It
explores the station history dating to the late 1920s and call sign
W1XAL, its growth based in New England, its handoff to Family Radio,
and a lengthy period of transition to Florida starting in 1977. It
also gives technical details about Okeechobee’s high-level
plate-modulated transmitters and complex antenna arrays.
Jeff White told me
he appreciated the help of Dan Elyea, longtime WYFR station
engineering manager, now retired, in the agreement.
presented us to Family Radio Vice President Tom Evans. Tom and the
Family Radio board have given us their confidence, and we will do our
best to keep this station going for many years to come.” (Evans did
not respond to questions I submitted to him for this story.)
then I touched base with Elyea. He told me he was present at both the
birth and demise of WYFR as it existed under those call letters.
“Back in 1973,
after serving with radio station ELWA (medium-wave and
shortwave) near Monrovia, Liberia, I joined the staff of Family
Radio in preparation for the upcoming purchase of WNYW (later to take
the call letters WYFR) in Scituate, Mass.,” Elyea wrote me.
“At that time WNYW
operated four transmitters and nine reversible rhombic antennas. The
property was small, the antennas were marginal; there was no room for
expansion. The management of Family Radio located a rural property
in Okeechobee County, Fla., that would address numerous shortcomings
of the Massachusetts site. In Scituate, I served as chief operator
for the station. In October of 1976, I moved to Okeechobee to
represent engineering aspects during the construction of the Florida
commenced from Okeechobee, he was appointed engineering manager.
told me that the site, approximately a mile square, is visited
regularly by tropical weather and lightning, while icing, another
concern of many an engineer, is not a factor.
“A large operation
like WYFR draws various complaints of interference,” he wrote,
“some legitimate; many not. For a while we were plagued by calls
from fire and police departments regarding interference to their
walkie-talkie units. These complaints were from out-of-state.
equipment operated in the VHF range — propagation would not support
such a frequency from Okeechobee, yet the complaints kept rolling in.
After doing some research, we discovered that the units used an
intermediate frequency around 17.8 MHz. And the cases were made of
plastic. Our legitimate shortwave transmission was going right
through the case and into the IF circuitry. Bad design. Our solution
was to declare a range of those frequencies as off-limits for us
(based on the IF bandwidth of the units).”
Radio distributes programming to many locations by satellite, he
said, it’s easy to misidentify a source of interference.
“One day in 2008,
I got a call from the FCC monitoring station in Vero Beach, Fla. They
felt that a potentially interfering transmission was coming from
WYFR. It was definitely Family Radio programming. Turns out it was a
station in Germany that was carrying Family Radio programming to
India. Several times, that same mode brought puzzling accusations
that were related to other overseas relay sites.
engineers descended on our site with vans full of equipment,
attempting to identify interfering signals (to aircraft) that they
suspected to be WYFR. Many hours of testing later, in each case it
was determined that it was another site (once in West Palm Beach,
once in Pennsylvania) that was the actual source of the
interference.” Same programming, but wrong location source.
can tell Elyea loves the site. He told me about the creatures that
have been seen there. Among them: anhingas,
doves, egrets, starlings, sand hill cranes, eagles,
hawks, burrowing owls, swifts, quail, rabbits, turtles, ibis,
gold silk spiders, black widow spiders, jumping spiders, scorpion,
raccoons, armadillo, opossum, foxes, snakes, skunks, alligators,
feral pigs, deer and vultures.
He worked there
until this summer, when Family Radio shut the doors.
“The closing of
WYFR disappointed me greatly,” he reflected. “In many ways my own
life was poured into this station for 40 years. Sort of a
death-in-the-family feeling. When the possibility for the site to be
brought back online by Jeff opened up, I was delighted, and I have
been cooperating with Jeff in every way that I can, to assist in
making this return to life a reality.”
The buyer, Radio
Miami International, was founded in 1989 by Jeff White and the late
Kiko Espinosa, its chief engineer.
first it broadcast via hired airtime but went on the air with its own
FCC license in 1994. WRMI currently has a corner reflector antenna
beaming 160 degrees toward the Caribbean and Latin America. A
yagi-style log periodic antenna beaming 317 degrees toward North
America is currently not used. Both of those likely will be scrapped.
a former radio news correspondent, also has managed commercial
shortwave radio projects Radio Earth in Curaçao, Netherlands
Antilles; and Radio Discovery in Santo Domingo, Dominican
Republic. He is active in the international shortwave community,
currently as secretary-treasurer of the National Association of
called WYFR an important part of the heritage of shortwave
broadcasting. He told me the decision to invest
in the facility “is an indication that we believe that shortwave
still has a bright future. Things are indeed changing. The major
players on the shortwave bands are changing. But that offers new
opportunities. And the shortwave receivers and listeners are still
there. They have told us that. And they are waiting for bold new
programming initiatives, which will be a big challenge for us and
everyone else who remains committed to shortwave broadcasting.”
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