Radio K

by Joe Carlson

It was a public radio station director’s worst nightmare: Midway through a pledge drive involving several local bands and celebrities, what was supposed to be a momentary pause in broadcasting ended up killing the signal for four days.
After spending the better part of a week in silence, 770 AM Radio K went back on the air Saturday morning.
“We really got screwed out of this deal,” said Radio K Program Director Mike Helget.
Thousands of radios across campus fell silent Wednesday morning as the station disconnected power to its transmitter to ensure the safety of engineers working inside the station’s transmitter tower.
Engineers began working on the tower that morning, almost a month after they were scheduled to begin installing a back-up transmitter for 88.5 FM KBEM, a jazz station that transmits regular traffic reports.
Normally, KBEM transmits from an antenna in downtown Minneapolis. But increased interference from buildings caused the station’s management to look for an antenna where they could install a back-up transmitter, said Radio K Station Manager Andy Marlow.
KUOM and KBEM have had “friendly relations” for years, Marlow said, and thus the two agreed to cooperate.
But managers at Radio K received less than a week’s notice that the tower crew was supposed to begin installation work during Power Surge, the station’s semi-annual fund-raising drive, Marlow said. Installation company officials told Radio K they wouldn’t be able to reschedule the service until September 1999.
“We were at the mercy of the installation crew,” Marlow said, pointing out that transmitter service companies have recently been swamped with work for cell phones and digital television.
Originally, engineers told Radio K they could install the KBEM equipment while the station broadcasted from its tower in northern Falcon Heights. But sparks literally flew as workers climbed the tower, forcing Radio K to pull the plug, Marlow said.
“We told listeners it would be a couple hours,” Helget said. “It ended up being the better part of four days.”
In the interim, regular listeners were caught off-guard by the station’s absence.
“For some reason, I thought (the DJ) said to check every hour, but they ended up being off for a long time,” said Josh Collumb, a University senior in fine arts and an employee at Thrifty Outfitters.
Thrifty Outfitters, which contributes about $400 a month to Radio K, often plays the campus station in the store during business hours.
The pledge drive, which coincides with Radio K’s fifth anniversary, will continue through next week, featuring performances by Happy Apple, the Love-cars and Dylan Hicks.