KNP complex fire burns and continues to threaten radio station transmitters

The KNP compound fire crosses General’s Highway in this photo posted two days ago on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group website.

The KNP complex fire in the Sequoia National Forest has already burned tens of thousands of acres, but the past week has been particularly devastating for local radio stations whose transmission equipment was damaged by the blaze. , resulting in loss of signal strength.

B95, Soft Rock 98.9, New Rock 104.1, Radio Bilingue on 91.5 and KARM on 89.7 were all threatened by the forest fire.

John Ostlund, owner of One Putt Broadcasting with several Fresno radio stations, described the fire on Eshom Point, a mountain that hosts signals from several radio stations. The transmitter for one of its stations, New Rock 104.1, is at Eshom Point and barely missed the flames last week. He has been monitoring the progress of the fire several times a day since he was five miles from the transmitting towers about 10 days ago.

While it didn’t take a direct hit, he said they weren’t out of the woods yet.

“When the fire started we knew it could potentially reach Eshom Point, so we watched it when it was five miles, then three miles, then half a mile,” Ostlund said.

“Our transmitter site was only 50 feet from the B95 site which went up in smoke,” he said on Friday. “We thought, ‘There’s no way it’s spreading that far. “”

He said B95 and Soft Rock 98.9 have both been reduced to ashes and are operating from backup transmitters at a weaker signal on a nearby hill.

Rychard Withers, general manager of KFCF 88.1 FM in Fresno and a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, said the radio community was rather calm as people scrambled to determine their next steps.

“With FM, pitch is your favorite friend,” Withers said.

Ostlund described the tall towers near the trees where fires are raging.

“This fire is quite devastating,” Ostlund said.

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“It was the first big warning that fire was at hand,” said Ostlund.

Everyone rushed to make sure the back-up generators were running and the fuel tanks were at full capacity. The generators save fuel usage, but the signal takes a hit because the radio cannot broadcast that far without full power.

When replacing transmitters, engineers, consultants and contractors are needed, but even then it could take two to three months to remove stations from backup transmitters, Ostlund said.

“This is a problem that we will face for many months to come,” said Ostlund. “It’s devastating for those of us in this industry.”

A huge factor in the cost and speed of recovery depends on insurance. The franchise on Eshom Point is $ 50,000, which will cost everyone involved, Ostlund said.

“The insurance industry, since we have multiple forest fires in the mountains… the insurance industry has tried to protect itself,” he said.

He hopes the insurance will cover everything beyond the deductible, but insurance companies have a way of defining what is covered, he said.

While Ostlund’s broadcast towers are safe for now, he said they could be cut at any time.

For its 350,000 weekly listeners who tune in to One Putt’s five stations, they depend on radio coverage for sports, music and camaraderie, Ostlund said.

With lower streaming power on the generators, the audience will be affected and, in turn, the odds book – which comes out in the fall – could potentially affect future ad revenue.

Withers suspects that the three iHeart radio stations, KSOF, B95 and KFSO, will have to rebuild the facility that houses several broadcast equipment. But with snow in winter, it can take months for this to happen.

“We are part of the daily lifestyle of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Ostlund.

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