Transmitter update: Factory tour!

Here at the station, we’ve been hearing a lot of “when is our new transmitter getting installed?” lately, and … we’ve got good news! Radio 1190 chief engineer Eric Scace and I headed out to Bangor, Maine earlier this month to see the newest addition to the station family, meet the folks who made it, and do formal “factory acceptance testing” before the transmitter is crated up and shipped out to Boulder.

So why does it take so long to build and install a new radio transmitter? Well … as much as “it’s complicated” sounds like a cliché answer, it really is true. Every radio station is a little different, and every radio transmitter is hand-built to meet a station’s needs — whether that’s to accommodate the power level (in our case 6,800 watts during the daytime) at which the FCC allows a station to broadcast, or to add the parts and circuitry to enable next-level functionality like a high-definition signal (more about that later!). So while our first step (after shopping around all the transmitter manufacturers, of which there are a few!) was to order Nautel’s NX10 model, we had some customizations to request, too. Once all those details got ironed out, the team at Nautel got to work with their electronics components, soldering irons, custom metal cutting machines, wiring assemblies … basically, just think of a desktop computer, but blown up to the size of a dorm room clothes closet. Oh, and with enough electrical power going into and coming out of it to fry an entire supermarket’s worth of eggs. “It’s complicated”, indeed. (Plus, remember all those supply chain issues during the worst of COVID, back when suddenly you couldn’t buy a box of butter at the store for six weeks? Electronics components got hit particularly hard by those bottlenecks, and some of them still haven’t recovered. Need some extremely fancy capacitors? There might be a few months’ wait.)

We ordered our new transmitter back in January, and were delighted to hear that it would be ready for final testing and shipment in early June … particularly since, now that classes were out for the summer, we’d be able to take a quick trip to sign off in person. Nautel has two factories where their transmitters are built — the main one is in Nova Scotia, but most of their AM transmitters are built at their facility in Bangor, Maine, which we also learned is home to a 31-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan and many, many Tim Hortons donut shops. In other words, it’s a good place.

Fueled by donuts, we met up bright and early (8 a.m., may it never happen again!) with Nautel’s “Two Jeffs” (Wilson and Welton) to get introduced to our new baby. Team lead Charlie Drillen showed us around the (fascinating and obsessively tidy) factory, and Eric spent most of the day with test lead Randy Dow working page-by-page through all the details of a 14-step test process to make sure everything about this big, complicated machine was in perfect working order — after all, it’s got to do its job 24/7/365 for many years to come!

In the end, almost two dozen women and men played a part in building the gear that will bring Radio 1190 to ears all over the Front Range. In our eyes, that makes them artists, so we figured it was only right to ask them to sign their work …

The artists sign their creation.

So what’s next? Our new transmitter is in the process of being packed and shipped out to us, which should take a few weeks — in the meantime, we’re working with CU Facilities Management to make a few enhancements to our transmitter facility in Marshall just south of Boulder, so that we can make room for our new Nautel and set up our current transmitter as a backup if it’s ever needed. Once that’s done, installation begins — including setting up the gear for broadcasting in HD AM, in full stereo quality in your car! — and we’re hoping to be ready to go early this fall, broadcasting at our full FCC-allowed power.

Check out a few more snapshots from the factory tour below, or head over to our Instagram and have a look at the highlight reel for all the details. And keep an ear out for the sounds of our new Nautel NX10 coming online early this fall!

Warming up for another chapter in the AM Revolution,
Iris Berkeley
Radio 1190 operations