HUNTSVILLE, Ala. WRJL(FM) is a small radio station on the Appalachian Plateau in northern Alabama, just south of Huntsville, broadcasting to an area with approximately 1 million potential listeners, including parts of southern Tennessee. The station is a classic family-run operation, first hitting the airwaves about 20 years ago as a 1 kW AM station.
WRJL took the leap into the FM world in 1996. My father took it as a good sign when he found out the frequency 99.9 FM would be ours, as he said it was nearly 100 percent gospel. Harris was our choice of transmitter then and was again in January when the station’s signal was boosted to expand its audience reach. The power increase meant that the station needed a new transmitter, and the situation dictated that the job be done quickly. We believed the Harris Z-Series Z10CD transmitter was the right choice, and our faith quickly was rewarded.
The station first installed a 6 kW Harris 5CD transmitter after moving to the FM dial. We knew we wanted to reach a broader audience and applied for a power increase from the FCC as soon at the 6 kW license was granted. It took nearly a decade to get the permit for the increase to 25 kW, and in the interim, we considered selling the station. A last-minute change of heart left us with the three-year construction permit close to expiring.
The 5CD was very reliable, and that track record was a major reason we again turned to Harris. Other factors include Harris’ excellent technical support. We all know that technical problems always seem to happen at midnight on a weekend. It is comforting to know that someone at Harris will be available on the phone when calling for support.
Installation of the Z10CD was not difficult. The transmitter arrived at the station on Jan. 12, and we had it installed four days later, swapping out the 5CD and placing the new transmitter in the same spot. Things have come a long way since 1996 in regards to transmitter design. The modular design of the Z10CD is a major plus, with 18 power modules that include two hot-swappable amplifiers apiece. The transmitter will even run at lower power on a single module.
Initial start-up began with one module, adding other modules one by one to slowly raise the power. This allowed us to test the system with the station’s old antenna without the risk of frying any equipment.
It was clear we made the right choice as soon as we heard the signal coming from the Z10CD through the old antenna. The tower crew then installed the new antenna and transmission line, and the transmitter was on the air by Jan. 20, 2009, at the licensed power of 25 kW.
The Z10CD, coupled with the Harris DigitCD exciter, provides excellent reliability and performance for the FM service today, and while HD Radio is not part of this round of upgrades, it is something we look forward to utilizing in the future. With the addition of an HD Radio-compliant exciter, the Z10CD offers the station an efficient upgrade path to HD Radio broadcasting. It also protects the station’s investment by allowing reuse of the DigitCD analog exciter as a redundant exciter in the future.
The transmitter upgrade had an immediate effect on sound quality, and we realized there were shortcomings in our end-to-end audio chain. The station uses fiber optics for STL transport and the studio equipment is up to par, but it quickly became apparent that an audio processor upgrade was required.
Other audio challenges originate from the music, which is played from a computer system. WRJL is a southern gospel station, and most of the music was originally recorded for an old AM station. Lower quality settings were used because the AM station was unable to broadcast with much fidelity, and hard drive space was very expensive in those days.
The station is now re-recording its entire music library. Processing the 30,000 songs will take much longer than the Z10CD installation, but combined with the new processor and antenna, our signal really grabs the attention of our listeners when those old gospel songs are broadcast. Thanks to everyone who helped us pull off this upgrade in record time!
The author is chief engineer for WRJL(FM).
For information, contact Harris Broadcast at (513) 459-3400 or visitwww.harris.com.