Build Better Backups


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Well, let's consider some other potential issues, even with the transmitter site described. Let your pessimistic imagination run wild -- or let your prior (hard-fought) experience have a say.

Are both antennas on the same tower?

This is an obvious flaw. If the tower falls over because of a weather event, you're dead. I've seen it happen (in California, no less). Tower maintenance issues can also be problematic.

How is access to the transmitter site?

Again, think about weather-related events. Can you even get to the transmitter site under all circumstances? Probably not. Is the road too snowy? Is it flooded out because of a hurricane? Have trees fallen over the road? Have the authorities closed it down for some reason, like a forest fire?

What's the generator status?

It's important to have a reliable generator, clearly. How long of a power failure can be covered? Is there enough fuel to last a week? Longer? If not, can you get a delivery, or is a fuel vehicle unable to drive up the road? Is the fuel provider open for business? Can you contact the generator tech? Can he get to the site?

Having two of everything is the start of a good back-up plan, but also make a plan on how the equipment will be used when needed. Photo by Clay Freinwald.

Having two of everything is the start of a good back-up plan, but also make a plan on how the equipment will be used when needed. Photo by Clay Freinwald.


Vulnerable point: The three-phase main distribution panel.

If this panel encounters problems, then you're really in trouble. You can do I.R. studies, and maintain it, but no guarantees, of course.

If your transmitter meets these basic checks, you're have a highly reliable backup plan in place. If you want to be on 99.9 percent of the time, you're set. But if you want to stay on the air no matter what, there's more work ahead.

Alternate transmitter sites

No one can guarantee 100 percent on-air reliability mainly because, no matter how hard you try, there are circumstances out of your control. I would say 99.9 percent is pretty good goal, though. Having an alternate transmitter site is one way to overcome some of the obstacles in the planning I mentioned earlier. There are two alternate transmitter sites with which I am familiar that do just that.

Cougar Mountain

The combiner room at the Cougar Mountain transmitter site. Photo by Clay Freinwald.

The combiner room at the Cougar Mountain transmitter site. Photo by Clay Freinwald.


Cougar Mountain has one of the best and most well-known alternate transmitter sites in the country, for many reasons. Most of Seattle's FM stations broadcast from Tiger Mountain while maintaining backup sites at Cougar. My friend Clay Freinwald was a principal in the development of many of the backup transmitter facilities there and generously agreed to tell me about its history and capabilities.

- continued on page 3



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