Volunteers are preparing to install solar panels on the roof of the KUHS studio building.
It is not easy to carry out a low-power FM operation. Raising funds to build the station, building studio and broadcast facilities, growing and training a volunteer staff, creating a format that will serve your niche, and of course the endless need for fundraisers all need to be mastered.
A misstep in one of these areas can cause the organization to falter. Despite all of these challenges, KUHS (LP) in Hot Springs, Ark., Appears to have knocked one out of the park.
The combination of ready-to-use technical solutions, enlightened management and innovative fundraising has created a cultural resource for central Arkansas that has been operating successfully since 2015.
KUHS is also considered to be the only solar-powered station in the country.
Driven by the sun …
The station story began when Zac Smith, a tuba player and amateur radio operator who was then living in Winston-Salem, NC, read about the FCC's plans to assign part of the spectrum to LPFM.
“I thought, ‘How cool would it be if there was a DJ booth in a coffee shop and you could drop a tune or talk about your latest philosophical revelations?'”
That thought led Smith to work with broadcast engineer Bob Nagy and Bill Solleder, the founder of Hot Springs non-profit Low Key Arts. Their 2013 application was approved by the commission, and they spent the next 18 months raising $ 35,000 and preparing to file.
The first step was to find a transmitter location. Smith and Nagy explored the summit of nearby West Mountain, which was covered in cell phone, radio, and emergency service towers. They found a long empty AT&T microwave relay building that was available.
The KUHS transmitter is located in this former AT&T microwave relay building on West Mountain.
The power supply had been cut and the two of them did a quick math to calculate the power requirements of their LPFM. They found that a solar system is less expensive than restoring commercial electricity and estimated a payback period of two years. The system was $ 2.75 / watt, including batteries. Since the installation work was entirely voluntary, there were no labor costs.
Nagy designed a 2.4 kW solar array for the site and took steps to ensure that as many devices as possible were powered directly from DC to avoid power hungry DC inverters.
The station bought a Bext exciter that ran on 24 VDC. Nagy designed a system to convert the solar system's native 12.8 VDC into + 5 VDC and other voltages for auxiliary devices.
Initially, the KUHS solar system used lead-acid batteries to store energy, which Smith said was probably not the best choice.
“They were the cheapest option, but they turned out to be very maintenance-intensive. Corrosion of the battery terminals was a constant problem and the cells had to be topped up with deionized water. Even worse was the damage to our other devices from the corrosive gases they released. “
When it came time to replace these, the station used sealed 200 Ah lead-acid batteries – more expensive but practically maintenance-free. The battery system has enough juice to power the transmitter site during a cloudy winter week.
In 2016, KUHS also installed a 6 kW solar system on the roof of the Hot Springs studio. It powers the lights, studio equipment, and part of the air conditioning. The system is grid-tied so that excess electricity is bought back to the utility company. They paid $ 2.15 / watt for this installation. There were many volunteers on the project, but the switchgear was installed by a licensed electrician.
To get from the studios in downtown Hot Springs to West Mountain, they chose a 5 GHz WiFi system from Cambium Networks with PoE (Power over Ethernet). A pair of Barix boxes provided the AD and DA conversions.
… And from volunteers
KUHS took steps to update in 2018. The frequency was changed from 97.9 to 102.5 MHz to reduce interference from other stations. A Pira P132 RDS encoder was purchased to add text to the signal and a BW V2 30W TX exciter was purchased for better sound and remote management. The frequency swap was celebrated with a gala event in the local theater.
Station DJs run dry with remote equipment before a live broadcast.
The station has 60 to 65 DJs. One of the key factors for success is that everyone on the station, including Smith and Nagy, is a volunteer. Smith said the idea came from Nagy.
“He was really adamant. He said that at every volunteer station he's been to, once you raise enough money to get a person part-time, everyone stops making an effort. They say, “Well, let the paid person do that.” He adds that part of the KUHS culture is to urge volunteers to ask for help when they need it, but also to emphasize that no one is going to do your job for you.
Smith's actual job is the master brewer for the SQZBX Brewery and Pizza Joint, which is in the same building as KUHS. The two companies sometimes fertilize each other, with visitors to the station patronizing the brewery and brewery customers discovering KUHS.
A KUHS campaign asked listeners to post pictures of their pets on Instagram. The favorites were posted by the broadcaster and the first prize winner received a radio.
The programming philosophy of KUHS provides access to the community and the broadcasting of diverse music genres that are neglected by the mainstream media. Smith uses a community garden analogy to describe the programming.
“We are maximizing our share of the radio spectrum not for money, but for access.” Volunteer DJs love a certain type of music that they think is underrepresented in the hot springs radio waves. Each of them take a 1-2 hour shift to bring their musical passion into the community.
Planet Sounds, hosted by DJ Modest, offers all genres of world music. Sonny Kay, Danny P and Operator OT present “Endlich Freitag”, where they play “motivating, agitative and otherwise driving punk and pop” that is guaranteed to get a Friday evening moving. And in “Half Machine Lip Moves” you hear “Alien soundtracks from the industrial underground”, which bring you EBM, industry, power electronics and noise, dark surroundings, no waves, synth punk, cold waves / minimal waves, noise rock. the experimental sounds of interior and space and more.
Unusual for 21st century radio, the KUHS studios have turntables and some of the volunteers base their shows on different genres of esoteric vinyl.
Most vinyl DJs bring their own material. The station has a small library with around 200 LPs, 50 singles and around 200 CDs. Most were donated when the station started.
“With the internet what it is in terms of a musical resource,” said Smith, “I decided early on that being an archivist would not be our forte.” What would you collect in a small space with 60 or 70 DJs? “
Keeping a full-time job while managing KUHS requires careful time management. One trick Smith uses is automation.
“One of our board members is a programmer and he was able to automate and glue many small tasks that I have to do with Python.”
KUHS is a member of the Grassroots Radio Coalition, an offshoot of public radio that focuses on community access and voluntary participation in broadcasting operations. In 2016, the station hosted the annual Grassroots Radio Conference.
The annual budget for KUHS is approximately $ 12,000. This relatively small number is possible because of the combination of volunteer workers and regular contributions from a stable financial base that includes several major benefactors, key contributors, and numerous Hot Springs dealers. Additional income comes from music festivals. All of this makes Smith very grateful: “Nobody really wants the job of going door to door asking for money.”
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