WMNF station manager Jim Bennett on Transmitter/Antenna project; Grayson challenges the rich

11/18/10 Robert Lorei
Radioactivity: Live Call-In (Thursday) | Listen to this entire show:

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Good afternoon, welcome to WMNF's Radioactivity program. I'm Rob Lorei.

Our station manager Jim Bennett will discuss our transmitter/antenna project that will temporarily reduce our signal strength and, eventually, improve it.

We'll also talk about aggressive debt collectors who are using Facebook to hunt down their targets.

We'll hear a short speech about tax breaks from member of Congress Alan Grayson and we'll look at Tea Party backed congress members who are recipients of farm subsidies.

Jim Bennett, station manager of WMNF is here. Hey Jim, how are you?

"I'm doing okay. We're getting ready for this project that's going to be happening fairly soon, actually in just a couple of weeks and it will affect the way in which people are able to hear us in terms of our sigal coverage area, which will be diminished during this construction project that's happening up at our tower."

Let's tell people where the antenna is, where is our tower and antenna?

"It is in Riverdale, I think"

It is in Riverview, and that's a little bit south east of Tampa and we don't own this tower that we're on, you know a lot of people think that towers and antennas are the same thing, those big pieces of metal that go up into the sky. The big piece of metal that goes up into the sky is a tower and hooked to it, bolted to it, somewhere in the sky there, is a typical antenna. We, in this case, we share our antenna, who do we share it with?

"There are bunches of other stations, including television stations as well, and generally the way that it works is, if you want to call it a business or an industry, it's kind of like very high priced real estate, if you will. There's not a lot of tower sites available, depending on which tower site you're on, your signal coverage is better or worse, and you're really a tenant along with everybody else and you pay for it."

We're renting this space on this tower for our shared antenna and a new radio station wants to come in and get on the same antenna we're using, right?

"It is that, and so what they have decided to do, and again because it's a business, they have decided to have, in essence, a larger antenna so they can accomodate more tenants. That's the project that will happen. They will take down their current antenna, where we are residing, and put up a new antenna. That project could take as short as, and the general feeling that we hear from up there, is that it could be as...they believe that they'll be able to complete the project in 10 to 15 days. It could be as long as two months. It really depends on whether there are severe weather problems, or if they run into some sort of technical problem."

As we know, we're following what's happening to WUSF, they've had tremendous problems getting their new station on the air. So when does this project start?

"It starts December 1st, but actually the movement of the antenna, and by the way, what will happen is when they start taking that antenna down, in order for us to continue broadcasting, we have to be on some sort of antenna. So they're moving us lower down on the tower to another position with another antenna, which is, in essence, called a backup or auxiliary antenna."

And the lower you are on the tower the weaker your signal is, because FM is line of sight.

"And, also, if that antenna that you're moving to is not as large as the one that you're coming off of, your pick-up pattern will also not be the same, so there's a combination of factors and there's also an unknown about that auxiliary antenna in terms of the actual amount of signal strength that we'll be able to get out. Bill Brown, our engineer, is working on trying to find out for sure if there's another variable that we didn't anticipate with signal strength of that antenna not being what we had been assured that it would be."

So, for our listeners who are far away from Riverview, and that would be places like Tarpon Springs, and maybe Dade City, maybe Venice, south of Sarasota, people that can count on a fairly good signal right now, as we go lower on this antenna, they're going to have a harder time picking us up.

"Right. On our website right now at wmnf.org we have a little bit of explanation about what's going on and there's also, in essence, a contour map that shows you what our what our coverage will be like, what we anticipated it will be like, which may actually be like according to this auxiliary antenna that they're working at right now, what it should be like during the construction project of putting the new antenna on the tower, and what it will be like after that project is completed."

So we're getting on this new, improved, antenna and at the same time you and the development staff here, Sheila, our engineering staff, and Bill. You guys wrote a grant to get a new transmitter, right?

"It was actually by coincidence. We basically decided that we need to apply for a digital grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to allow us to increase the power of our digital signal which will help our HD signals that we have, but more importantly, in combination with this antenna project, having that new transmitter that actually has more power, that will allow us in this construction process with the antenna, to have a better signal. So we're working extra diligently, if you will, expeditiously to try to get that new transmitter installed before this antenna project gets well under way. The antenna project, they'll be doing stuff to the tower itself which won't affect us, probably from December 1st through the 4th and they're predicting that the 4th is when that antenna move from the old antenna to the auxiliary antenna will happen. So it'll probably be December 4th, so it could be two weeks or it could be all the way until the end of January if some things go horrendously wrong."

So we should expect a diminishing of our power, our signal strength for a while, while this change is made and then once the change is complete, we're on the new antenna and we're using the new transmitter, how will that affect listeners once everything's finished?

"Actually, I'll give you a good example, our signal will be stronger than it's ever been, partially because of the new transmitter but partially because of that new antenna that we'll be on. So, for instance, a good example would be to the south of Sarasota our coverage will be much better throughout all of Sarasota than it ever has been and that's a good example if you sort of...Look at the map on our website and you'll see our extended range of coverage all the way around the circle, our ever widening circle. We'll actually get to the fish in the water, too."

That's great news and you're listening to a live interview with our station manager, Jim Bennett. Jim, a lot of people who live in places like Venice and Tarpon Springs, maybe in eastern Polk County who might miss us while we're going down in power, they have an alternative and that is if they've got a computer they can listen online but right now I think we can only have about a hundred fifty people listening online at any time. That's not very many, if we've got right now to this show, 10,000 or 15,000 people listening.

"We've actually anticipated that there'll be a higher demand and so we're going to, in essence, take some bandwidth temporarily from our HD signals, particularly HD 3, to allow more people to listen to WMNF proper, if you will. So that should address, in a very low cost way for us, being sure that more people can listen to our signal. We're gong to actually communicate to our listeners regularly to give them updates on what's going on with the tower and the antenna. And when we know something we'll pass it on directly to you because we want to stay in contact with our listeners. It's going to be very, very important to make sure that you continue to support us to help us get through this period of time and with good luck we'll be back on at full strength and better coverage than we've had before in a shorter period of time than we anticipated with good luck. But we're definitely going to make sure that our listeners are aware of what's going on and we really appreciate the fact that they'll support us by listening on the internet if the can't get us in the way that they have before."

So what's this going to cost us and is all the cost covered in our current budget and given, I think people widely know our financial difficulties, do we have enough money to cover the project?

"Yes we do, we actually did budget sort of a worse case scenario. In terms of the antenna project our cost primarily is a labor cost for Bill Brown, our engineer, to be up there while it's going on. We originally had an amount which we've lowered because we anticipated that we had put too much in there. It was originally going to be about $15,000 worth of labor for Bill Brown's services during that time. Now we're anticipating that at most it would be $7,500 that that project would cost. Some of that will be split up between the transmitter project which is separate but going on at the same time, and some of it we're separating out as just for the antenna project. We took money from that wonderful bequest that we got last summer to anticipate the costs for this antenna project, our costs, also for the costs of our new transmitter, that we got a grant for, we've actually put about $24,000 of that bequest into the transmitter project. About $7,500 into the antenna project and it won't end up being quite that much. In fact we have just sold one of our old backup transmitters that wasn't in use. Over the course of two years it will be $11,000 to us so that's almost half of the money that we were going to squirrel away to our new transmitter project."

We're getting a couple of email questions, Roger used to listen to KUNN in Albequerque and he lived in the Southwest and he says here that you should make some suggestions on how to improve reception on the website. He's particularly interested in T type antennas. Do we have information about... because a lot of people do like to listen to us but they live in Venus, Florida or they live in Dade City and the reception's kind of spotty. Do we have information on our website?

"We sure could put some in and maybe we'll try to sort of figure out what can be of help during this period of time and have language about that. And where it's not going to really make a difference just so people will be quite aware beyond us saying 'go look at the map', we'll say if you're living in these areas it may be very difficult for you to get consistent reception."

Roger said that he had pretty good results with a T type antenna. And Gregor then writes, he said "why isn't WMNF on satellite radio?"

"Wouldn't that be fantastic? I've often dreamed of the same thing. It is, in essence, a kind of business situation where, from my understanding, in working in some previous organizations that the satellite services are not necessarily interested in having an entire station on air because they would view it as competition in a way. Particularly if you were doing something like fundraising on their satellite footprint, if you will. But they might be interested in one or two programs that they would put on a specific channel that might be, for instance a public affairs channel and they might have this show on, let's say. Beyond just a few shows they're probably not going to do it unless you decided to make them an offer that they couldn't refuse. Financially."

So Jim, if people want to contact you about the antenna move which begins the first week in December or this transmitter power increase that we're going to have. A new improved transmitter with more power, can they write you?

"Sure can and my e-mail, it's on the website but it's also jimb@wmnf.org"

Jim Bennett, station manager of WMNF, thanks a lot.

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