KSVY radio expands reach
Sonoma Valley’s community radio station is reaching new heights - and distances.
That’s thanks to the installation of a new, higher and more powerful antenna that expands KSVY’s reach up to 450 square miles.
In comparison, the station’s former antenna, positioned near Sonoma Valley High School, has about a 10-mile radius, said station General Manager Bob Taylor.
The upgrade bolsters KSVY 91.3 FM's broadcast for all of Sonoma Valley and reaches potential listeners in southern Sonoma County, Petaluma and Rohnert Park and as far as St. Helena and American Canyon in Napa County, station officials said in an announcement.
“It’s a huge change,” Taylor told the Index-Tribune. “I still haven’t driven out to see how far it goes – but you can get us equally strong in Petaluma as you can here.”
The former omni-directional transmitter site was “not ideal,” described station officials in the announcement. Located near residential areas, the configuration created "shadows," where objects and buildings obstructed the signal at low elevation. Listeners would often find the station signal fading out past Schellville to the south and past the Springs to the north.
According to KSVY, the new antenna is a directional, panel-type antenna with a focused signal within a specific frequency pocket with a more extensive range and far fewer shadows and dead spots. The new site also requires less power, and benefits from the significantly higher elevation in the rural hillsides southwest of Sonoma.
Installing a more effective antenna has been a goal of KSVY officials for years. Taylor said they’d initially filed an application with the FCC for a construction permit for a new antenna in 2008, but didn’t have the funds to build one. After renewing the three-year permit multiple times, the FCC informed the station they were ending its permit renewals, said Taylor. “So we knew we’d better do this.”
Station supporters launched a fundraising campaign. “Kicked off by Simon and Kimberly Blattner,” KSVY officials said in the announcement, the campaign “led to an incredible response.” Grants from the Sonoma Valley Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma County and what Taylor described as a “seed grant” from the Jack London Yacht Club were key to funding the project. “A final push from the ‘Signal Booster Society,’ a listener and volunteer fueled fundraiser, also contributed to the antenna upgrade,” said KSVY officials.
While the FCC forced KSVY’s hand in establishing a new antenna before its construction permit lapsed, Taylor said the fires, power shutoffs and other emergencies of recent years were also factors in the station ramping up its fundraising efforts to expand its reach.
Taylor recalled a time prior to the 2017 wildfires when he questioned his future at KSVY. “It was a radio mid-life crisis.”
Then in October of 2017, when the fires raged throughout the county and power went out, he was aghast at the amount of misinformation being broadcast from local TV stations. “It was like an, ‘Oh we get it’ moment,” said Taylor. “People were listening to us to find out where to go and when to evacuate.”
The station’s ability to spread accurate and up-to-date emergency information to all corners of the Valley became paramount, he said. However, the limitations in scope and vulnerability to power outages of the original antenna became “concerning disadvantages” and station officials realized the “challenges for the local community and region have outgrown the site's usability.”
While KSVY has transitioned to a new antenna, the former site and antenna are not obsolete and can act as a backup transmitter, offering more resilience to the station's emergency communications plan, said Taylor.
Taylor said that when news of KSVY’s expanded reach first appeared on an FCC licensing listing, someone from Rohnert Park offered to buy the station.
“But we said, no - we’re a local station,” laughed Taylor. “Our mission statement says we’re here to educate Sonoma Valley.”
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