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Near Fire at KNOM Transmitter Site After Meter Explodes

“It’s been quite a week!,” says engineeer Les Brown.

He was supposed to arrive in Nome on Sunday August 7 for routine maintenance, but the only workable bus and airline schedule was for Wednesday August 4. Five hours after his arrival, the KNOM-AM transmitter started acting strangely.

Power dropped and the remote control became erratic. At first it appeared someone had intentionally lowered the power for the safety of a crew working on another tower very close by, but the note typically left to prevent someone from raising the power endangering workers was not there.

After a few more minutes, the transmitter shut down entirely and all telemetry from the transmitter was lost.
Les says he and general manager Tony Calumet went to the transmitter site and found darkness and silence – no
power. As it turns out, the City power had failed, turning on the emergency generator, which had then run out of fuel.

When electrician Pat Knodel went to investigate, he found the city’s electric meter on the transmitter building had EXPLODED – the back of it was blown out. All the contacts in the electrical box were scorched and some tension springs were destroyed. The entire building could have burned down!

As Knodel was attempting the repair, he found that due to supply chain issues, new parts were impossible to buy
anywhere in the country. He was told there may be a solution available in 2-3 months. However, with clever maneuvering, Knodel was able to clean the scorched contacts and improvise some tension springs so they could install a new meter. The utility service say failures like these are not uncommon due to the salty air by the ocean, but this event was extraordinary.

After overcoming more hurdles in locating the #1 diesel fuel the generator requires for cold temperatures, KNOM was
finally back on the air after about 12 hours of silence.

To prevent such City power failures going unnoticed in the future, the remote control software has been re-written to notify KNOM staff immediately if the generator kicks in.

As usual, the timing of Les’ visit was providential. “I think it says something about the mission being the right thing. WHY was I there ‘just in time’, when that wasn’t the plan??” he asks.

Image above: Pat Knodel (on the ladder) and a lineman from Nome Joint Utility System survey the damage at KNOM’s
transmitter.

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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.