Summit Public Radio & TV hopes to raise $450,000 to keep broadcasting free TV and radio
FRISCO — Many folks in Summit County don’t know it, but even in the High Country, you can still put some rabbit ears on any old TV and watch broadcast channels without the need for a cable or satellite subscription. There also are radio stations — like Colorado Public Radio, Spanish language news and music — that can be tuned into even though their original transmissions can’t get over the mountain range.
Those radio stations and TV channels are available in Summit thanks to a little shack on Bald Mountain, which houses transmission equipment that relays signals from the Front Range and Eagle County and pumps them across Summit County. But the transmission station is aging and needs a new power line, and the folks who run it are seeking help from the public to keep free TV and radio broadcasting across Summit.
That transmission station and the service it provides is maintained by a small group of people who make up Summit Public Radio & TV, a volunteer-run nonprofit.
The organization started operations in 1957, when locals wanted to find a way to bring TV and radio to the Blue River Valley. Back then, the placement of the transmission station was determined using an International Harvester Travelall four-wheel drive rambling truck, which roamed around the mountains with a television and antenna trying to find a location with the best signal to rebroadcast.
The spot with the best reception was on a ridge nearly 1,000 feet from the peak of Bald Mountain. The shack was erected and fitted with a television translator powered by a gas-fueled generator. To keep the transmission station running, a volunteer would drive up to the station every day for a month to refill the generator, which ran out of fuel and cut transmission daily.
The reception quality in the valley was good, and residents decided a permanent power supply was needed. So a bunch of volunteers stepped up to build a power line up the mountain using salvaged utility poles from nearby mines. The power line was built from French Gulch up to a transformer on Bald Mountain and once electricity started flowing up to the station, free TV went live in Summit and has continued to operate ever since.
At the moment, the media nonprofit transmits 11 TV channels, including the regional CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox affiliates, Rocky Mountain PBS and Colorado Public Television. The station also transmits 6 FM stations, including KUNC for National Public Radio on 88.1 and 90.7, KCME All Classical on 89.3, KUVO Jazz on 89.7, KQSE Spanish on 107.1, KSKE Country on 95.3 and The Colorado Sound on 94.3.
Tim Orwick, a board member for the nonprofit, said the power was boosted in the ’70s but hasn’t been upgraded since despite growing demand.
“We’ve pretty much maxed out the capability of that power line,” Orwick said. “Voles and marmots and other critters have eaten away at insulation at places. We’ve had a few minor faults, power leaks and loss over the length of the cable.”
Orwick said the nonprofit has been worried for the past eight or nine years that the transmitter will stop working one day due to a break in the power line, which runs for two miles across rocky and steep terrain. The current power going to the transmitter is 480 watts, and the organization is seeking a new power line that supplies up to 14,000 watts.
The nonprofit has been working since 2011 to upgrade the power, but the cost is exorbitant.
“We went to Xcel, asked if they would put in a power line, and they said, ‘Sure, just write us a check for half a million,’” Orwick said. “We have a budget of about $50,000 a year.”
Orwick said they then consulted with people in the power business, who advised that the project would take multiple years to complete, with the need to install a switching cabinet, a new transformer and other equipment aside from the power line itself.
The nonprofit also would need to run the line across multiple old mining claims, town of Breckenridge open space, county property and U.S. Forest Service public lands. Aside from negotiating easements across those various properties, the media group would need approval from the Forest Service after an environmental assessment for the new power line. That permitting process is underway after amendments to the power line route and design.
Orwick and other board members are now seeking help from the county, other town governments and residents to help fund the power upgrade along with trying to speed the permitting process along as the board files for a special-use permit from the Forest Service.
Out of the $450,000 the nonprofit is trying to raise through its Power the Towers campaign, it already has raised $250,000 from a variety of sources including the county and town governments, private companies and individual donors. Orwick said the new power line would be an investment for the community, with the boosted power allowing the possibility of additional over-the-air channels broadcast across the valley along with attracting other users to the site, including broadband providers, network security and private-user networks.
As far as the permitting, Orwick said the public could help by writing to the Forest Service and encouraging it to expedite approval of permits required for the power line.
To learn more about Summit Public Radio & TV, to inquire about donating to the Power the Tower campaign or to see if you are able to receive over-the-air television, visit the nonprofit’s website at sprtv.org.
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