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May 1-8, 2003
Hunting towers for
a decade and a half has taken your editor to some awfully remote
spots, far off the usual tourist routes - places like North Bay,
Ontario; Brookneal, Virginia; Yankton, South Dakota and even
the top of a rock in Bullhead City, Arizona.
as much as we enjoy traveling to unusual places to see interesting
sites, there are some places where we're just not likely to get
a good excuse for a trip any time soon. Take, for instance, Nome,
Alaska, out there on the Seward Peninsula, beyond the reach of
any road and just shy of the Arctic Circle. You won't see the
NERW-mobile out there (or even the NERW-dog-sled; Nome is, after
all, the end point of the famed Iditarod race)...but never fear.
That's where our friend Les Brown comes in. A former Rhode
Island broadcast engineer, Les has spent the last few years (of
his "retirement," no less!) up there in Nome tending
KNOM radio, one of two station combos in town.
And when we ran into him on the floor of the NAB convention
last month and he asked if we'd be interested in sharing some
pictures of Nome towers with all of you...how could we ever say
So here we are, virtually speaking, at 64 degrees north and
then some, on a "nice day" at the edge of the Bering
Sea, looking at the two AM stations that serve Nome and much
of the surrounding area (including a fair amount of sparsely-populated
land across the water in eastern Russia!) That's the Bering itself
back there in the distance in Les' photos; the two AM stations
of Nome are right by the water's edge on Nome Council Road, just
a couple of miles east of the center of town.
KNOM runs 25 kilowatts by day, 14 kilowatts at night, non-directional
on 780 kHz from that 230-foot folded unipole (there's a National
Weather Service VHF transmitter on the top, too); it's in the
process of trying to go 25 kilowatts fulltime, once it can resolve
a problem with a little crescent of interference that would fall
on an uninhabited slab of ice. Those are 16-foot plastic fence
poles surrounding the tower base - in the winter, the snow can
drift pretty high up there. (And people still pick on Rochester
Inside the transmitter building is a Nautel transmitter, which
pretty much seems to live up to its reputation of being bulletproof.
Les says it's been on the air six years without having caused
one minute of downtime. There's also some filtering going on
here, in a Kintronics box ojust out of sight, to keep KICY's
850 kHz out of KNOM's 780 signal (and vice versa!)
Down the road at KICY, those are three relatively new towers:
one is a Magnum tower that went up in 1996 to replace an earlier
tower that suffered a collision with a small plane, while the
other two are military surplus and went in four years ago as
part of a power increase for the 850 kHz facility. KICY runs
25 kW most of the time, Les says, but goes to its 50 kW directional
facilities from 11 PM until 3 AM to broadcast paid religious
programming on a narrow beam right into Russia.
Speaking of beams,
Les also sent along this picture of a set of very old towers
on Beam Road, about a mile and a half east of Nome and not far
from the 850 and 780 sites.
What are they? Here's Les: "They have been out of service
since sometime in the early 1950's. They're about 130-feet tall,
arranged in a square with one tower at the middle. They each
rest on a base insulator with a funny reverse taper at the bottom
to make it work. Each has a copper screen counterpoise.
There were many of these sites around the U.S. These were
part of a chain that went from Fairbanks through Nome, to Wales,
thence on to Russia. They were used for navigation of aircraft
being sent to Russia under the Lend-Lease Program during World
War II. There were multiple transmitters phased into the towers.
One transmitted a Morse ID and (it is said) weather in Morse.
The others were paired with one pair transmitting "A"
(.-), the other transmitting "N" (-.) so that, where
the two overlapped, pilots heard a continuous buzz under the
Morse ID, etc. Any deviation from course would produce either
an A or an N, so if you had even a general idea of your position/direction
you could correct your course."
Les says the towers haven't been lit in years, and each leans
in a different direction now...
A little history at this point: KNOM(AM) signed on in 1971,
the culmination of more than a decade of work by Jesuit priest
Jim Poole and fellow Catholic missionaries. It's still licensed
to the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska, and functions as an
outreach to the many tiny villages that dot the permafrost on
both sides of the Bering Sea - and it's staffed largely by volunteers,
many of them traveling from the Lower 48 to spend a year as staff
announcers at KNOM.
Kelly Brabec in the KNOM studios - she's one of the fulltimers
there, serving as assistant program director and afternoon host.
And on the left, that's KNOM-FM, which joined its AM counterpart
in 1993, simulcasting the AM with a whopping 88 watts of stereo
power on 96.1 from the tower behind the studios on East Third
Street. (There's no reason to run more; it covers the compact
center of Nome just fine, though KNOM does have more than a dozen
translator applications pending in small villages around the
KNOM just won its third Crystal Radio Award from the NAB for
its community service; it's certainly one of the more unusual
radio stations out there, and deserves a hearty salute for doing
what it does.
And that's not to slight the other guys in town, either; KICY
has been on the air since the early sixties with a similar blend
of religious and community programming. (It also has an FM service;
KICY-FM runs 84 watts on 100.3 from a four-bay antenna back there
behind its studio building at Seppala Road and West D Street.)
In addition to the overnight Russian programming, KICY carries
Paul Harvey, Moody religious programs and a number of ministries.
Oh, and before we forget: no, those aren't towers on the fybush.com
front page this week - that's "Velvet Eyes," the pet
reindeer who belongs to the president of the local amateur radio
club. Says Les: "Velvet thinks she's a dog since she has
lived with dogs since she was about 3-weeks old. Though her
official name is "Velvet Eyes", her friends call her
"Stewie".....in drooling anticipation. Hey! Not every
day you can look forward to a stew made from vegetable and beer-fed
Nome...it really is a different sort of a place.
A big, hearty "thank you" to Les for sharing the
sites (and sights) of Nome with us. Check out KNOM's Web site to learn much more about that station (KICY has a Web site also, albeit with less historical detail) - and come back and visit again next week, when we're back in temperate climates...
Want to see more neat sticks all year
round? Nashville's WSM (at right) is one of the more than
a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar,
still available from Tower Site of the Week and fybush.com.
If you liked last year's edition, you'll love this one: higher-quality
images (in addition to WSM, this year's edition includes Providence's
WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma
City; WTIC, Hartford; Brookmans Park, England; WPAT, Paterson;
Four Times Square, New York; WIBC in Indianapolis; WWVA in Wheeling,
W.V.; WGN Chicago and more), more dates in radio history, a convenient
hole for hanging - and we'll even make sure all the dates fall
on the right days!
This year's edition is still available in limited quantities!
And this year, you can order with your Visa, MasterCard,
Discover or American Express by using the handy link below!
Better yet, here's an incentive to make your 2003 NERW/Site
of the Week subscription pledge a little early: support NERW/fybush.com
at the $60 level or higher, and you'll get this lovely calendar
for free! How can you go wrong? (Click here
to visit our Support page, where you can make your NERW contribution
with a major credit card...)
You can also order by mail; just send a check for $16
per calendar (NYS residents add 8% sales tax), shipping included,
to Scott Fybush, 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester
Thanks for your support!