Emma Stoltzfus — Staff Writer
KDCR was off the air for six days earlier this month as the Dordt-supported radio station replaced their antenna.
The tower initially received damage from a lightning strike on April 13th—Friday the thirteenth—during a violent thunderstorm.
When installation of the new antenna began on Oct. 1, a combination of equipment issues and weather caused the six-day radio silence.
While KDCR could not broadcast their program over radio for the duration of the installation, listeners could still tune in through the live-stream on the station’s website.
Since the damage, the antenna has been operating at a fraction of its normal power. Due to the height of the tower, KDCR could still be picked up with moderate quality as far as Sioux Falls.
The station had several big local events during downtime—including a Dordt v. Northwestern football game and KDCR’s 50th anniversary open-house.
The smaller, original tower and antenna used to reside next to KDCR’s office—where Dordt’s rec center is built. According to Jim Bolkema, KDCR Music Director, they once had a problem with students climbing the radio tower and hanging underpants from the guide wires holding it up.
The current tower sits in a cornfield north of the fairground. It stands tall at 500 feet—about the equivalent of stacking nine Dordt clock towers and “The Gift” on top of each other. At night it’s possible to see it’s flashing red lights from Dordt’s campus.
Regardless of the lightning strike this summer, the forty-year-old antenna needed an upgrade. Bolkema said that when he placed a call about getting the parts he got a response of laughter and “you gotta be kidding, you aren’t using one of those are you?”
Pursuing an insurance claim to replace the entire antenna became the easiest option. The price-tag for purchasing and installing the ten new transmitters totaled up to about $70,000. According to Bolkema, the insurance covered all but the deductible.
The new transmitter bays are large and encased in black covers to protect the equipment from ice buildup. The ten transmitters lined up on the cardboard boxes they arrived in looked like just as many odd-looking lollipops. The old bays are much smaller in size—easy to lift with one hand and similar in appearance to a mixing beater made of thick metal pipe.
The lines leading up to the antenna at the top of the tower are pressurized in order to keep moisture from causing damage. This took additional time to put in place as the line had to be checked for leaks.
“Really it’s just glorified plumbing.” Bolkema said as he explained how the transmitters connect together with pipes and brackets at the top of the tower.
Richard Haan is a private consultant who along with Bolkema kept an eye on the installation process. He compared how a radio tower works as being similar to a balloon squished between one’s hands. The radio waves are sent out away from the tower across the cornfields and small Northwest Iowa towns instead of straight into the ground or up into space.
Brian Watts works for Kilowatt Broadcast Specialists, a Sioux Falls-based company that did the transmitter replacement. Minutes after lowering himself down from the top of the tower, Watts described the work as similar to skydiving. “You can see forever and a day, and it’s actually quite relaxing,” he commented.
A large orange winch served to raise and lower the transmitter bays, equipment, and workers using a long steel cable attached to the top of the tower. Without a pair of binoculars, the men working at the top of the tower are mere specks up against the grey clouds.
KDCR’s website posted a small note announcing the completed installation and thanking listeners for their patience and support.