September 25, 2012
Over the past few months WGCU FM has faced multiple technical problems that have manifested themselves to listeners in the same way - giving listeners the impression that we were either unaware of the problems or didn’t care. We assure you that that was not the case. We hope the information below will help you understand what caused the problems and what we have done in the short term and what we are looking at for the long term to resolve these problems.
Why have you been losing the 90.1 FM signal?
The signal loss that listeners have experienced was caused by a number of different factors --- some man-made and others created by Mother Nature. The temperature inversions that cause the formation of fog are a problem for us as our station-to-transmitter microwave link path crosses nearly 25 miles of geography that includes much water and wetlands. The temperature inversions literally deflect the radio waves and cause microwave fade resulting in the intermittent loss of signal. These temperature inversions occur predominantly in the early morning hours during spring and fall and generally disappear around 8:30 am when the ground level air temperature equalizes. They also can occur in the early evening. Although this is an annual phenomenon, weather conditions created a more significant problem for us this year.
Is there anything WGCU can do about microwave fade?
Late afternoon thunderstorms are another source of microwave fade. Torrential downpours that cross through the station-to-transmitter microwave path also cause momentary loss of signal in exactly the same way that causes satellite TV subscribers to lose their satellite service during rain storms. WGCU has taken steps to minimize these nature-induced microwave fade occurrences but until we can establish (and afford) a direct fiber optic cable connection between the station and transmitter these intermittent fades will be with us. This is the ideal solution to the fade problem but it is a very expensive solution not only in construction costs but also in recurring expenses.
Does lightning really strike twice?
Earlier this summer we suffered three lightning strikes which damaged microwave transmit-and-receive equipment on both our station and transmitter towers. To restore service we temporarily had to compromise our signal quality the effect of which mimicked the microwave fade signal loss problem. It is unusual for us to experience one lightning strike a year so experiencing three within the span of two months created problems which we could not have anticipated. The new equipment installed during the transmitter project will provide back-up systems that we didn’t have in the past.
Was it Mother Nature or human nature?
The man-made issues that plagued us resulted from the improper set up of new encoding and decoding equipment that was installed during the transmitter project work done earlier this spring. Once we were able to isolate the problem, we worked with the equipment manufacturer to resolve it.
What happens when “new” isn’t necessarily better?
Most recently, satellite receivers supplied by NPR caused WGCU (and stations across the country) major problems with the loss of program signals from the NPR satellite – again mimicking the microwave fade signal loss problem. NPR is currently working on a software “patch” to fix the problem and stations will not switch back to the new receivers until they are proven reliable.