“The existing transmitter is reaching the end of its useful life,” the station’s Indiegogo statement warns. “Its impending failure is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.”
This crisis more or less began in 2012, when Pacifica filed a Special Temporary Authority request with the Federal Communications Commission to operate at reduced power. Here’s what Pacifica wrote to the FCC (all caps in original filing):
“ON MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2012, THE LICENSEE DISCOVERED MELTED METAL IN THE TRANSMITTER AND CONCLUDED THAT THE SYSTEM WAS IN IMMINENT DANGER OF FAILING. ACCORDINGLY, THE POWER WAS REDUCED. DESPITE REPLACEMENT OF SEVERAL PARTS, THE STATION HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO RESUME 100 KW [kilowatt] ERP [effective radiated power] OPERATIONS. THE STATION IS CURRENTLY OPERATING AT 12 KW ERP OR 12% OF AUTHORIZED POWER, PENDING RESOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM.”
An April storm made matters worse. “OUCH. Lightning struck our transmitter,” read a splash message on KPFT’s website, according to the Houston Chronicle.
This was followed by no less than seven STA filings for further extensions. The station managed to boost its power up to 50 percent, but getting the several hundred $k (at least) needed for a replacement transmitter has proven challenging. In May of 2014 KPFT General Manager Duane Bradley told Current that Pacifica’s unstable internal situation was not conducive to raising funds for new gear. “It’s been difficult in the Pacifica world of political shenanigans to affect a campaign locally,” Bradley explained.
Still, it appears from the last STA filing that KPFT has through fundraising and loan promises obtained most of the money for a replacement that will restore the station to full power. Pacifica has even ordered one: a solid state Nautel GV30D, “now sitting on a loading dock in Maine, ready to be bound for KPFT here in Houston.” What’s needed at this point is just $20,000 more.
If you read the Indiegogo campaign’s history of KPFT transmitter issues, you’ll see that the problems are a lot more complicated than lightening storms. It look years of effort to get KPFT to 100 kilowatts in 2007, but the station’s transmitter location conditions have also caused trouble. They can’t “sustain the heat and power requirements for a vacuum-tube transmitter operating at this newly authorized 100kW ERP, and we were forced to reduce power back to the previous level to prevent fire or other catastrophic damage.”
Bottom line, a solid state machine must be obtained:
“Matters such as these for broadcasters carry a sense of urgency in that the FCC has a ‘use it or lose it’ approach to all users of broadcast spectrum. We are in real danger of having the KPFT license permanently rolled-back to it’s pre-2007 limit, unless we prove to the FCC that we actually have the means to build the facilities to their maximum limits.”
So it’s a now-or-never moment for KPFT; hopefully a critical mass of Houstonians and Pacifica supporters will come through.