Summit Public Radio and TV broadcasts signals blocked by mountains
Ryan Summerlin July 4, 2013
Anyone who has ever turned on the radio in Summit County to catch the latest news on NPR or to relax to the soothing sounds of classical music, or who’s used a television antenna to pick up the local TV8 Summit channel or CBS, NBC or FOX, has benefited from Summit Public Radio and TV (SPRTV).
SPRTV is a local nonprofit that keeps Summit County connected to the outside world via antenna television and radio signals. Due to the surrounding mountains, through which the signals cannot travel, radios and TV antennas in Summit don’t receive these programs directly from their source. This is where SPRTV steps in, with its array of antennas and translators set up at a site on Mount Baldy. At 12,600 feet, the equipment can pick up signals sent from the Front Range and elsewhere, then re-transmit them to Summit County.
“We just literally pick the signal out of the air,” said Suzanne Greene, current SPRTV president.
Greene is one of a small number of dedicated volunteer board members who do what they can to keep radio and TV channels on the air for the community.
Can’t stop the signal
The origins of SPRTV go back to the 1950s, when a group of locals decided to take action and end the county’s signal isolation. They deemed Mount Baldy as the perfect spot and set up the first television translator, powered by a gasoline generator. Later, another ambitious group assembled to replace the gas with a power line. The endeavor reportedly required 50 volunteers to dig holes and set up poles to string the 10,000-foot line from French Gulch up to the translator on the mountain.
Several groups were involved with maintenance on the site before SPRTV came into the picture. First known only as Summit Public Radio, the “TV” was added in recent years to more accurately reflect the organization’s work. SPRTV received 501(c)3 nonprofit status in 1998.
Gary Peterson is SPRTV’s vice president of engineering and site management. He became involved with the equipment in a technical sense when it was under the care of the Blue River TV Association. Peterson lives in a cabin in Breckenridge Park Estates, just a short distance from the start of the power line. After speaking with the head of the Blue River TV Association, Peterson managed to get keys to the site and became “ad hoc site manager.”
“It was really ripe for improvement; a lot of things had just broken down,” he said, “so I actually learned all about the site just on-the-job training, so to speak, and about translators in general.”
Electronics have been a passion of Peterson’s ever since he tinkered with shortwave radio as a kid. Later, he worked as a shipboard interior communications technician in the Navy.
Over the years, Peterson has come to know the equipment on the mountain very well.
“I spent hundreds of hours up there every summer, there was so much to do,” he said.
Now, with updated equipment, Peterson will visit the site if circumstances require it, particularly in winter months.
“I think of the Baldy site, in the wintertime, a little bit like a ship at sea,” he said, “where you really aren’t going to be doing any major work up there, construction work and maintenance, it’s more a matter of just on a case-by-case basis when something happens.”
That was the case two years ago, when high-speed January winds knocked over a new shed and required equipment replacement.
For the most part, though, Peterson doesn’t mind the trek. He’s skied it before, with skins, although often he said he doesn’t even need them and can hike on the compacted snow.
Existing and expanding
Currently, the equipment on Mount Baldy supplies access to various FM radio and over-the-air TV stations, the list of which can be found on the organization’s website at www.sprtv.org.
The most recent addition was KQSE, a Spanish-language station out of Gypsum, in 2009.
“We decided that was a huge community service,” Greene said, adding that SPRTV continues to be pleased with its ability to offer the station.
Adding a new station isn’t as easy as wanting one, however. Because of the way the equipment works, SPRTV is limited to a certain number of stations that it can re-broadcast, so the organization takes care to be sure it provides a broad enough selection for its audience.
“So then you turn to technology and you say, how might technology help us?” Greene said.
It turns out, there may be a way for SPRTV to add one more FM station for its listeners. It’s a matter of using a hybrid-digital (HDFM) system, which essentially allows the older analog radio systems and newer digital radio system to work with the same translator. If SPRTV can convert its KQSE translator on Mount Baldy to HDFM, it will be able to provide the new station without getting rid of KQSE or any other current station.
Whether this is possible depends on a review by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), Greene said. When or whether that will come through is impossible to guess.
The new station that SPRTV hopes to bring in is KCFR, a 24-hour news channel produced by National Public Radio that Greene said has been heavily requested.
“There’s no question that that’s what (people want).”
Spreading the word
Greene and others at SPRTV hope to raise and maintain awareness about what SPRTV is and what it does for Summit County.
“Most people have no idea, because they think you just turn on the radio and it’s just there,” Greene said. “They don’t understand why there has to be this electronic site and these translators and these antennae high on towers just so they can get radio.”
SPRTV is not a radio station itself, something Greene said she often has to explain. The organization does not have a recording studio or produce any original content. It simply works to maintain the equipment on Mount Baldy that pulls the signals from the air and re-directs them down between the mountains.
To thank its current members, SPRTV is holding a reception prior to the National Repertory Orchestra concert that it is co-sponsoring for the Breckenridge Music Festival on July 27. From time to time throughout the year, SPRTV will put on small events like the reception and a picnic in August to show its appreciation for the sponsors that keep it running.
One hundred percent of all donations go directly to the maintenance of the equipment and needs of the organization, Greene said.
For more information, or to view the FM and TV stations available, visit SPRTV’s website at www.sprtv.org.
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