Tide Radio, Bach FM Build New Microwave Radio System

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The new microwave tower stands taller than the trees that surround it. It is located next to the parking lot of the James City County Social Services building.
The new microwave tower stands taller than the trees that surround it. It is located next to the parking lot of the James City County Social Services building.

Two FM radio stations that serve as emergency broadcasting systems for James City County are now better poised to stay on the air through extreme weather thanks to a new radio tower.

The new 104-foot tower, erected in mid-April, beams the Tide Radio and Bach FM radio signals from the stations’ studio in James City County to a tower in New Kent County.

The stations, which are owned by WYDaily parent company Local Voice, previously relied on a T1 data line that ran from the studios to the New Kent County radio tower.

That line was partially underground and partially strung up on telephone lines, so inclement weather sometimes caused it to fail. A failure meant Local Voice had to wait for Verizon Wireless to dispatch technicians to find the problem and fix it.

The new system transmits the signal of the two stations from the radio studio to the new tower, which is located on public land next to the parking lot of the James City County Social Services building. A directional antenna mounted on top of that tower then shoots the signal about 10 miles to the New Kent County radio tower, where the BachFM signal is converted back to an FM radio signal and transmitted.

The Tide signal is sent via directional antenna from the New Kent County tower to one in Gloucester County, where it is converted to an FM signal and broadcast. The entire system now relies on concentrated beams of microwave signal that won’t be interrupted by inclement weather nor the timing of Verizon Wireless technicians.

“Sometimes you had intermittent operation for days while the phone company was trying to get someone to work on it,” said Paul Knight, Local Voice’s vice president of engineering. “We keep a set of spare microwave units, and if there’s a problem, we can immediately address the problem and restore service.”

That’s especially important for when James City County needs to use the stations for emergency broadcasting. Emergency officials at the county have a phone line hardwired to the studios to take control of the stations in the event of an emergency.

“We’re really excited to have everything in place and our infrastructure ready for emergency service,” said Tom Davis, the president of Local Voice. “We’re relied upon to get information out there. Now we can be sure we will be there.”

To make sure the new system remains stable, Knight and his team built the new tower to withstand winds of up to 135 mph. The directional antenna mounted on top is firmly built into the tower so inclement weather events do not allow for even slight alterations of its positioning, which would sever the link between the new tower and the radio tower in New Kent County.

Local Voice Media Vice President of Engineering Paul Knight (left) works with a crew lowering a new microwave tower into place.
Local Voice Vice President of Engineering Paul Knight (left) works with a crew lowering a new microwave tower into place.

Local Voice received permission from the James City County Board of Supervisors to build the tower on county-owned land in January 2014. The media company paid the full cost of the tower.

The company also pays $250 per month to the county to lease the land where the tower now stands. That rate will climb by 3 percent each year Local Voice uses the land. It signed a five-year lease agreement with the county, which has up to five five-year renewals built in.

Local Voice has had a formal relationship with the county since 2006, when the company — then known as Davis Media — signed a contract agreeing to broadcast emergency information for the county in exchange for a generator the county purchased with grant funding to keep the New Kent County radio tower on the air if it loses electricity.

After receiving permission to build the tower, Local Voice spent the next year working through drafting a lease with the James City County Attorney’s Office, finding contractors to pour cement, working through the permitting process with the county and waiting on a delay by a parts supplier. By the time that was done, it was too cold to begin work, prompting the delay until late April, when the tower came online.

The Tide can be heard at 92.3FM, while Bach FM is available at 107.9FM.

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