Last year, RIPR purchased 89.3FM and began broadcasting on it in July 2017 from its current location in North Dartmouth. But while 89.3 is a pretty good signal right now, we bought it because we knew we could improve the signal quite a bit, too. There are three main components to this:
- Move to a different, taller tower in Tiverton.
- Install a new, directional antenna using panel antennas (instead of sidemounts).
- Purchase a new transmitter.
While it's difficult to really quantify these things, we're roughly doubling the coverage area of 89.3. And more importantly, we're making it so all the Narragansett Bay communities will receive a lot stronger signal than they do now. And most importantly, we're increasing the broadcast antenna height from 384ft to 902ft. More than doubling, but we're keeping most of the power; usually when you double the height, you have to reduce power by 75% to maintain parity.
I mention this because this week (April 23rd) the project is kicking into high gear!
- Step 1 is to reinforce the tower so it can handle the extra weight- and wind-load of the new panel antennas. These bad boys are seven feet on a side and there's four of them. The tower crew is loading up their equipment and reinforcement steel into a tractor-trailer in West Palm Beach, FL today (4/23). It'll arrive later this week. The crew themselves will be here on Wednesday or Thursday to start the prep work: getting unloaded, getting the winch mounts set up (when you're hauling several tons of weight up to almost 900ft above the ground, it takes a serious winch and elevator system that all has to be installed first) and otherwise preparing to weld several tons of steel reinforcement brackets at various locations on the tower.
- Step 2 is to install the antenna. The Shively antenna ships from Bridgton, ME on April 26th and should arrive by the 30th. It'll take a day or two to assemble everything on the ground, then a couple days to hoist and weld everything into place up top. They'll also first have to remove the defunct MediaFlo UHF antenna from that height; we're reusing the existing RF rigid line (we ran tests on it already) and that'll save us a bundle.
- Step 3 is to prep the shelter. There's a ton of equipment that goes into making a radio broadcast besides just the transmitter: audio processors, redundant studio/transmitter links, HD Radio exporter/importers, battery backups/UPS's, RF dummy load, etc etc etc. All that will soon be purchased and installed. This will be an all-digital signal path, or in several places, it'll be Audio Over IP (AoIP) digital. Additionally we'll be fixing up the existing Kohler diesel backup power generator, and adding additional redundant air conditioning to the existing pair of Bard HVAC units.
- Step 4 is to install the transmitter. The Nautel GV15 transmitter ships from Bangor, ME on May 2 and should arrive by the 4th. With luck the shelter will already be all set and waiting, but it's possible that we'll install it concurrently with all the other shelter equipment.
The magic question, of course, is when will this be finished? Right now, I can't tell you that because I don't know. There are several factors, including waiting on the FCC for formal authorization to begin operations from Tiverton, that we can't put a date on yet. Certainly we're hoping to be done in the month of May but the FCC bureaucracy giveth and the FCC bureaucracy taketh away. Or at least "done enough" to begin broadcasting from Tiverton. There might be additional time needed to get some of the redundant systems installed after the fact. And there'll be some work done to the existing Dartmouth facility to convert it into our formal "auxiliary site".
But I figured everyone would be excited to know that after many, many months of negotiations and planning with tower crews, we are finally ready to begin the project!