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WKDW, the Little LPFM That Could

An LPFM station bounces back after lightning strike and hurricane double whammy

With a little — actually a lot — of help from its community, WKDW(LP) is nearing a full recovery after its tower was struck by lightning and Hurricane Ian ransacked its facilities and equipment. Those events happened just a couple of months apart.

WKDW is licensed to North Port, Fla. With a 0.1 kW signal on 97.5 MHz, it serves the North Port and Warm Mineral Springs communities in the Sunshine State. Lately, however, it hasn’t been all blue skies for this low-power station.

On July 27, the top of station’s tower took a direct hit from a lightning strike. According to Station Manager R.J. Malloy, the impact fried both bays of its Nicom antenna — as well as a power splitter — and easily bypassed lightning arrestors for its cable system.

“Once inside the building, the pulse took out the BW Broadcast TX500 V2 transmitter, an EAS box and all of the related support power supplies,” said Malloy. “Not finished there, the inductive surges took out all of the CAT-5 routers in the system and two computers.”

The surge came through the ground wire and blew the plug out of the socket.

The tally of damages from the lightning strike was approximately $35,000.

“Initially, we had no idea if we would be able to recover,” said Malloy.

But recover they did, thanks to the generosity of WKDW’s dedicated listeners.

“Once the word got out about our fate, they came to our aid like a cavalry charge,” said Malloy. “From the elderly lady in a walker who came in and wrote a check for $10 for ‘her radio station,’ to a local church with a check for $1,000, to our local Police Officers Association who gave us $250, and a single donor who wrote a check for $8,000.”

All in all, the station raised $36,000 in just 12 days — just enough to cover the damages — but, according to Malloy, they were only halfway to the finish line.

“We had to navigate the supply chain issues,” he said. “To our rescue came Ric Goldstein from SCMS Inc. in Pineville, N.C., who was able to source every part that we needed including the transmitter, an Ecreso FM, shipped directly from WorldCast in France and expedited through U.S. Customs.”

Dual antenna array with amateur radio stick and lightning arrestor ready to be cranked up to full height.

Then came installation time. Malloy said the North Port Area Radio Club — a ham radio group whose repeater is hosted in the WKDW building — came with volunteers, equipment, lifts and tools to put the tower back into operation.

WKDW’s  tower, an MA-850 made by US Tower, is shown cranked down to minimum height for repair to the antenna array. Volunteers from the North Port Area Radio Club are on the lift.

While one crisis was averted, that wasn’t the only natural disaster WKDW would face.

On Sept. 28, Malloy said Hurricane Ian brought sustained winds of 175 mph, with gusts well over 200 mph, right up to WKDW’s doorstep. For 12 hours the facility was buffeted by the storm.

“Palm trees were snapping off in the parking lot and power and internet quickly stopped,” said Malloy. “At this point we had a little water on the floors throughout the facility. Then around midnight came the storm surge and the flood and we were helpless to stop it. Water began gushing under the doors and cars parked in the lot were turned sideways and pushed up against the front curb from the force of the surge. The thin film of water on the floor was now ankle-deep.

“When the sun rose in the morning after Ian passed by, all we could see was water all around us. It would be another 10 hours or so before we could be rescued. We are still counting the damage five weeks later. Carpets, furniture, file cabinets and anything on the floor was damaged.”

Any equipment and power supplies that were on the floor were also gone. “Let that be a lesson — never, ever keep electronics on the floor,” said Malloy.

While WKDW is still adding up the damages, Malloy estimates that it will take another $25,000 to recover.

As they did the first time, Malloy said community volunteers came in to clean up the grounds and get the WKDW offices back up and running.

WKDW’s Studio B back in operation after damaged equipment was replaced.

In the weeks since Ian, the new WorldCast Ecreso 700 transmitter has been installed and is operating at 1/3 power.

“We install the new winch this week and go up to full height and full power by this weekend,” said Malloy on Nov. 15. “So far all systems good to go while in test mode. It’s been a long, hard road but we are still here serving the communities of North Port with our all-volunteer team that’s 72 members strong, including 46 show hosts.

“We are here because we serve our community and they support us in continuing our mission of ‘Building Community Through Open Communication.'”

As for Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall in central Florida as a Category 1 storm Nov. 10, Malloy said it was a “non-event here in North Port, as the radio gods decreed.”

WKDW has a digital stream broadcast 24/7 through its website on broadband as well as a terrestrial broadcast on 97.5 FM for the North Port area community.