Of all the components of the broadcast facility, the transmitter may be the most important in a disaster. That site can be pressed into service as a combination studio/transmitter location, especially if a backup generator exists. Back in the days of cart machines, we removed a rack of three decks, relocating them to the transmitter, to stay on the air when the studio flooded. It wasn’t the most glorious of 'studios', but we stayed on the air and covered all the spots. Nowadays with backup hard drive systems or even an iPod® for source material, a station can usually stay on the air during a disaster.
Having backup equipment is the key. When you upgrade your processing, keep the old as a backup. Ditto for the transmitter, and even the antenna. Here’s a thought – re-locate a low power antenna to an alternate site and power it with an exciter (be sure to check FCC licensing requirements). This eliminates the “all your eggs in one basket” problem, should the transmitter site be involved in the disaster, leaving you with no way to get on the air.
Backup equipment can include an RF reducing cone to feed the exciter directly into the transmission line, should the main transmitter fail. For AM stations, a coil of wire that can be pressed into a long wire antenna is useful should the AM tower fail. A frequency agile exciter operating into a broadband antenna can serve several stations, albeit one at a time.
An important consideration with all backup equipment is that it works and is reliable. If your backup equipment cannot be relied upon, you’re only fooling yourself – and setting yourself up for embarrassment. You’re better off buying a low power backup or exciter that works, rather than depending on a cranky 50-year-old transmitter that won’t come on the air!
Just like the studio, preparing a list of emergency contacts – police, fire, tower company, generator repair, transmitter spare parts number, etc. is something you hope you’ll never need, but be glad you have when the disaster arrives. If your transmitter site is in a remote location, befriending neighbors with station swag – like T-shirts or coffee cups – can give you an extra pair of eyes should you need them.
Prudent engineers will outfit their site with a surplus army cot, blanket, perhaps a small refrigerator and microwave, and some canned food. Keep your provisions in sealed containers to guard against infestation. Being stuck at a transmitter site with no provisions is no fun. Be sure to pick up a package of bottled water the next time it goes on sale.
Be visible to your local law enforcement team. They should know who you are, so you can gain passage to your transmitter site in an emergency. Station swag again works wonders. One station did a teddy bear collection among their listeners. All of the collected bears were then given to the local police to comfort children involved in an emergency. This kind of community service bonds you to your community, while serving a good purpose.
We hope the ideas presented in these three columns will serve as a catalyst to developing an emergency preparedness plan for your facility. Let me know what’s worked for you. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.