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Radio Stations in Puerto Rico Struggling

Broadcasters need … pretty much everything

The WIVV(AM) transmission site on Vieques Island in sunnier, pre-Maria times.

It’s hard to determine exactly how many radio broadcast signals still exist on Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. We do know Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is shredded and will take months to rebuild so any radio stations on the air right now are probably operating on a backup power source. Communication to the island is so limited that not a single radio station there has been able to report its status via the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting Service. The website “radio-locator” lists 143 radio stations as being licensed to Puerto Rico.

A post Thursday on the Christian Radio Tech engineering LISTSERV provides a glimpse of possibly how bad things are on the U.S. territory right now. Terry Cowan, founder of New Life Radio, which operates KNLR(FM) in Bend, Ore., posted his account of what is happening with a trio of AM radio stations in Puerto Rico licensed by Calvary Evangelistic Mission Inc.: WBMJ(AM) in San Juan, WIVV(AM) on Vieques Island and WCGB(AM) in Juana Diaz.

“I have been in touch with David Lutrell of CEM and here is what we know. Nothing is known about the condition of WIVV and WCGB. David and his son drove out to the WBMJ transmitter site (Thursday) morning. They had to stop and help government crews cut trees out of the road but they made it. The WBMJ site is okay. No damage,” Cowan writes. “But the generator uses three quarts of oil per day. Not good if you are without power for months. The studio generator began to ‘smell’ like burning plastic during the storm and was shut off. They are awaiting a generator repair man to investigate. In the meantime, they are trying to get a UPS connected to a welder/generator to power the essential items in the studio. If they can do that they should be able to get WBMJ back on the air.”

Cowan writes on CRTECH, an online technical resource dedicated to helping Christian radio stations, that CEM is in need of a “60 kW diesel 120/208 three-phase generator” for the transmitter and a “40 kW diesel 120/208 three-phase generator” for the studio. “I mention this in case someone who is reading this can meet this need. They also need food and water,” Cowan says. He also asks “if there is anyone who has a 1 kW solid-state frequency agile transmitter sitting on a shelf” to help WGCB, which covers the southern part of the island, and WIVV get back on the air. They are 5 kW stations, according to Cowan.

Cowan closes his post: “Pray for Puerto Rico.”

The FCC DIRS is a web-based system that is used by radio broadcasters to report communications infrastructure status and situational awareness information during times of crisis. No radio stations have reported in DIRS as of early Friday afternoon, according to the FCC. Since the island is without power and without internet service it’s likely any station off the air and trying to report it is unable to do so.

In a follow up email on Friday, Cowan told Radio World it is his understanding there is “one AM and two FM stations on the air in the San Juan area, but I have no way of confirming that.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued the following statement Thursday: “The FCC is proactively reaching out to communications providers in Puerto Rico to gather additional information about the situation on the ground and find out if there is anything that the commission can do to assist with restoration efforts. We are also working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and providing all requested support. Unfortunately, getting Puerto Rico’s communications networks up and running will be a challenging process, particularly given the power outages throughout the island. But the FCC stands ready to do whatever we can to help with this task. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico.”