PANAMA CITY, Fla. — WKGC is a student-operated, 100 kW, NPR member station broadcasting from Gulf Coast State College in the Florida panhandle. We play NPR in the morning and the afternoon, and air student shows in the evenings and on weekends.
WKGC operates three HD Radio channels in addition to its main FM signal, with the option to set up a fourth HD Radio service in the future. Two years ago, we evaluated transmitters that would provide the headroom we required to accommodate HD Radio multicasts and other digital services. We also wanted a transmitter that would reduce the maintenance requirements of our aging tube transmitter from another vendor. The higher efficiency of a modern solid-state transmitter was certainly on our minds.
GATESAIR FLEXIVA FAX30
Our evaluations led us to a GatesAir Flexiva FAX30 transmitter. The 30 kW transmitter has certainly provided the headroom and the maintenance reductions we sought. Our signals are also clearer and more robust, extending our FM coverage north to the Alabama line and blanketing the well-traveled Interstate 10 with our HD Radio signals.
Reliability has been the most important benefit — a benefit proven by its performance during Hurricane Michael in October 2018. The HD Radio processing and distribution architecture can be delicate, yet the GatesAir Flexiva importer and exporter have proven highly stable with no dropouts. This is an especially impressive feat with four audio channels and visual art moving over the E2X (exporter-to-exciter) connection.
The FAX30 design has paid dividends on efficiency, particularly from the footprint and maintenance perspective. The transmitter is much smaller than our tube unit, freeing space for a new UPS unit that otherwise would not have fit inside the building. Its compact build also accelerated the installation process, with an easy lift and quick connections to the existing conduit.
The interior of the transmitter is clean and open, with plenty of room to work inside. Its filter boards are accessible, and power amplifier modules and power supplies are removed and replaced with ease. Maintenance is limited to keeping the air filters clean, and keeping an eye on the air conditioners.
SURVIVING HURRICANE MICHAEL
When power or phase changes happen, the FAX30 automatically adjusts and stays on the air. This reliability proved instrumental to our station and surrounding communities as Hurricane Michael came ashore. This was the worst storm to ever hit our region, with wind gusts exceeding 200 miles per hour. We made our final checks at the transmitter site and our studio, which is located in our Emergency Operations Center, as the storm made landfall. We fully expected, reasonably so, to lose our signal.
Our generator tripped 30 minutes into the storm, which was an ominous sign. The generator wouldn’t phase correctly, and we immediately went off the air. Although we were only a quarter mile away, we had to cut our way through downed trees to reach the generator. The FAX30 was back on the air immediately after hitting the reset button.
The FAX30 operated as usual from that point forward. The transmitter adjusted its power up and down as the phases went lower and higher. We were live on the air from the EOC during the first part of the storm, and delivered important news and information to our listeners through the entire storm and beyond. We were the only station on the air for the majority of the storm, and a critical lifeline for many listeners.
REDUCED COST, INCREASED EFFICIENCY
My colleagues and I are looking at ways to further reduce our operating and energy costs. We have certainly reduced the time and money associated with changing tubes and other maintenance requirements that solid-state technology eliminates. Looking forward, we intend to purchase a GatesAir Flexiva FLX30 liquid-cooled transmitter, which will substantially reduce our current cooling loads at high power. We also plan to install another FAX10 transmitter on our backup tower for additional on-air redundancy.
For more information, contact GatesAir in Ohio at 1-513-459-3447 or visit www.gatesair.com.