780 AM | 96.1 FM 


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The Challenges of Staying On-Air

Van Craft with AM Transmitter, Nome, Alaska
KNOM engineer Van Craft next to our (repaired) AM transmitter hardware. Photo: Ric Schmidt, KNOM.

Thanks to your support, KNOM beams throughout 100,000 square miles of Western Alaska, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. For the vast majority of these remote stretches, our AM signal (780 AM) is the sole carrier of our programming, so when a very rare failure occurred at our AM transmitter in late January, thousands of listeners temporarily lost access to our station.

Like many crises in rural Alaska, the problem took extraordinary measures to solve — with support from both near and far. It also underscored the importance of our ongoing efforts to expand and modernize our studios.

After our AM transmitter went offline, we received messages of support from our listeners and community members almost immediately, both on the telephone and the web. Listeners were “looking for KNOM every day,” one person wrote on Facebook; another “miss(ed our) music and news.” One kind telephone caller from a nearby community shared that his 100-year-old grandmother was looking forward to hearing our radio signal restored, so that she could pray the nightly Rosary.

In the meantime, KNOM’s staff and volunteers mobilized to assess and repair our AM transmitter. Retired volunteer engineer Les Brown provided telephone support from his home, and current engineer Van Craft (whom readers may remember from last month’s Static) flew from Anchorage to Nome on two consecutive weekends to tackle the problem with general manager Ric Schmidt.

Van Craft with AM transmitter part
Engineer Van Craft holding the part he used to restore KNOM’s AM transmitter to working order. Photo: Ric Schmidt, KNOM.

After some tests and trial and error, Ric, Van, and Les determined that several parts within our AM transmitter’s rectifier / diode array had burned up — an understandable problem, considering the transmitter’s age (more than 20 years old). While exact replacement parts would take 4-6 weeks to be made, Van helped us determine that a stop-gap solution could help us restore our AM signal much more quickly. After lots of hard work, he used the part he’s pictured holding (above) to restore our transmitter to working order. Thanks to his ingenuity, KNOM — 780 on the AM dial for tens of thousands of rural Alaskans — was back on the air. In remote St. George, Alaska, as one listener wrote us on Facebook, we were finally “loud and clear” once again.

Of course, thanks to your support, we hope to be “loud and clear” on both our AM and FM signals (96.1 FM, in Nome) for many years to come, and our Tom and Florence Busch Digital Studios expansion and renovation project is a big part of that effort. Our new studios will increase our production capability and make our broadcast hardware better connected (to the web) and, thus, more easily assessed and repaired, even from afar — allowing engineers like Van to see problems as they develop, from halfway across the state or around the world.

Ric Schmidt and Jayson Smart in KNOM's digital studios
Ric Schmidt and Jayson Smart (of Alaska’s Rasmuson Foundation) in KNOM’s under-construction digital studios. Photo: Laura Collins, KNOM.

We’re happy to report that work continues to move forward with our studios’ construction (even if it’s sometimes necessarily delayed by the limited availability of skilled labor in rural Alaska). One of the supporters of this progress is Alaska’s Rasmuson Foundation, which gave KNOM a grant of $50,000 in 2014 for our studio project. Rasmuson’s Jayson Smart visited our studios last month; he’s pictured with KNOM’s Ric Schmidt, above, alongside a stack of computer hardware that will control our new studios. Thanks to you, the studios should be up and operational later this spring or summer.

(Other photos, above: our AM transmitter site, several miles outside Nome; a transmitter part, mid-repair.)

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Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.