During Blackout, Unwelcome Sound on Radio: Static

 

When the power went out last Thursday afternoon, the number of news sources accessible to many San Diegans dwindled down to one: radio station AM 600 KOGO.

TVs and computers stopped working. Cell phones struggled to make calls or get online. And much of the radio dial turned to static as at least a dozen stations vanished from the airwaves, in some cases failing to reappear until the next morning.

KFMB-AM and KPBS-FM, the region’s two other news stations, both went off the air, although KFMB returned by the evening. Until then, KOGO almost entirely dominated the local news world. Its staffers were a lifeline to many, piecing together what was happening during the blackout’s first minutes, when San Diego Gas & Electric remained incommunicado.

The blackout spotlighted just how much the county’s emergency news broadcasting relies on KOGO. Both KOGO and its emergency-alert system backup, a sister sports talk radio station called KLSD/1360 AM, are housed in the same building and use transmitters that are less than two miles apart.

Now, however, KPBS is poised to provide another backup. The station, which went off the air during both the blackout and 2007 wildfires, is buying a $10,000 mobile unit that will allow it to stay on the air during a disaster even if its transmitter and studios are damaged. KOGO has a similar mobile unit, although it didn’t need to use it during the blackout, when generators powered its studio and transmitter. (Both stations are news partners of voiceofsandiego.org.)

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The unit, expected to arrive in the next few weeks in time for wildfire season, will allow KPBS to broadcast at limited strength in a power outage, said spokeswoman Nancy Worlie, meaning it would only reach part of the county. The station hopes to buy generators that will keep its transmitter on the air if the power goes out. It wants to study becoming the county’s backup emergency alert station, she said. (KOGO’s sister station, KLSD, currently has that designation.)

Emergency alert stations, which are designated by the Federal Communications Commission, must be able to stay on the air in an emergency even if the power is out. Radio markets are supposed to have two designed alert stations: a main one and a backup.

KPBS plans to get a federal grant that would pay for a generator for its television broadcasts, and then the station would pay another $200,000 to add generators for the radio station, she said.

Station employees were talking about the generator plan when the power went out Thursday. “This didn’t just came up because of the power outage,” Worlie said. “It’s part of our long-term plan to be a news service for the community.”

During last week’s blackout, KOGO allowed KPBS’s reporters to appear on its broadcast and report on the outage. The switchover is reminiscent of the 2007 wildfires, which knocked out service at KPBS’s transmitter on East County’s Mount San Miguel. KPBS broadcasted on a different frequency, using the signal of music station KBZT — “FM 94/9.”

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

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Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

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11 comments
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

KPBS either has a weak signal or faulty equipment. I would think some of Joan Kroc's bequest might have gone to strengthening the station's capacity in its primary market of San Diego County rather than going to buy another station in the boondocks.

michele wood
michele wood subscriber

I was able to receive an FM station in my car about what was going on here in San Diego, but I do believe that they were being routed through KPBS. Anyway, their information made the blackout tolerable. Thanks KPBS

shellymichele54
shellymichele54

I was able to receive an FM station in my car about what was going on here in San Diego, but I do believe that they were being routed through KPBS. Anyway, their information made the blackout tolerable. Thanks KPBS

susanf
susanf subscribermember

KPBS' off-air static was the first sign (for me) that something had gone seriously wrong on blackout day. of course, it would have been nicer (and probably an easier commute) with those friendly voices offering advice about which traffic jams to avoid.

susanf
susanf

KPBS' off-air static was the first sign (for me) that something had gone seriously wrong on blackout day. of course, it would have been nicer (and probably an easier commute) with those friendly voices offering advice about which traffic jams to avoid.

LinDee Rochelle
LinDee Rochelle subscriber

I don't know where you received your information or what archaic equipment you were listening to, but practically from the beginning of the blackout, I was happily listening to KSON ... with full news reports and bouncy music to fill in the gaps and give us something else to talk about. Their generator worked just fine ...

Irishwriter
Irishwriter

I don't know where you received your information or what archaic equipment you were listening to, but practically from the beginning of the blackout, I was happily listening to KSON ... with full news reports and bouncy music to fill in the gaps and give us something else to talk about. Their generator worked just fine ...

Robert Dean
Robert Dean subscriber

Really wish they get the news right, I was listing to Jack all day.. It was casue of them I found out Albertsons was open during the black out. So please if your going to report news.. Please get it right..

tarion1969
tarion1969

Really wish they get the news right, I was listing to Jack all day.. It was casue of them I found out Albertsons was open during the black out. So please if your going to report news.. Please get it right..

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson subscriber

Am I mistaken or hasn't KPBS been doing emergency tests for years? What exactly have they been testing?

hardcover
hardcover

Am I mistaken or hasn't KPBS been doing emergency tests for years? What exactly have they been testing?