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March 14, 2021 8:32 am  #1


Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

I've heard of non-commercial stations fundraising before, but I have to say this is a first. A Detroit radio station is making an urgent plea to its listeners and donors: help us raise money for a new transmitter before you can't hear us anymore. 

That's the pitch from WDET-FM, which on its web page, explains to listeners what a transmitter is, what it does and why they can't leave it anymore.

"A transmitter typically has a 15 – 20-year maximum lifespan.  When radio stations get a new transmitter, they typically retire the old transmitter to a backup position.

"WDET’s main transmitter is 21 years old and broken. WDET lost HD transmission capability in 2012 and was never restored.  Additional problems developed in the past few months.  Since January 2021 we have been operating on our backup transmitter – which is 34 years old and is also not working properly.  

"Some FM listeners hear a buzz during the broadcast which is from very old capacitors that are performing erratically in the very old back-up transmitter. 

"We are restoring the functionality of the 21-year-old main transmitter by ordering a key part called an “exciter” from the manufacturer, Continental Electrical.  They are still supporting old transmitters but parts are becoming obsolete.  Continental has not built a new transmitter in 10 years!"


They blame COVID for funds being needed elsewhere. As daunting as the task sounds, they claim they don't need all that much money. The goal is just $180,000. And they're looking to the public for one donation at a time. 

I have to say this is pretty unique. Normally, when these stations go on a fund-raising blitz it's so "we can continue to bring you this kind of programming," or "you support the station." I can't remember a new transmitter request or a lack of parts ever being used before, but it's an interesting angle. And given WDET's history, I'm pretty sure it will work. 

WDET Needs Your Help To Fund Our New Transmitter 

https://wdet.org/media/daguerre/2021/03/13/da801249245c44117085.jpeg
 

 

March 14, 2021 1:10 pm  #2


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

For context, this is the main NPR station for SE Michigan and has a signal that extends well into Southwestern Ontario.

 

March 14, 2021 1:28 pm  #3


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

All the stranger, then, that they would let one of their most important pieces of equipment fall into such a terrible state for so long. A 34-year-old backup TX? How did they ever let things go for so long?

     Thread Starter
 

March 14, 2021 2:20 pm  #4


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

Always figured transmitters these days were going for $200k. You could probably buy a house (or two) in Detroit for that much!

 

March 14, 2021 4:12 pm  #5


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

geo wrote:

RadioActive wrote:

  stranger, then, that they would let one of their most important pieces of equipment fall into such a terrible state for so long   

Could it be that there are other NPR frequencies that serve that market?

Both 89.7 (Penetang) and 99.1 (Toronto) are on my FM pre-sets (CBC) and both are listenable over a wide area.   If one or the other begins to fade, I simply hit the other button.      Perhaps that's what Detroit NPR fans could do (?) 
 

There’s Michigan Radio, which is a mini-network affiliated with NPR with stations in Ann Arbor, Flint and Port Huron (though not in Detroit itself), so parts of Metro Detroit would be covered by those three stations. Not sure if the Ann Arbor transmitter reaches Detroit, I’ve never checked when I’ve been in Michigan.

There’s also WKAR in Lansing, which last I heard is still a daytime-only service but has an AM signal that reaches some of Metro Detroit.

For what it’s worth in terms of public radio alternatives, CBC Radio One Windsor has a very poor signal in parts of Detroit. I was in Michigan in 2019 and while the CBEW 97.5 signal comes in fine on I-75 to the south, it fades out very quickly on I-94 northbound in the city, and I don’t recall it being particularly strong downtown. It seems to be a highly directional, lower power signal designed to cover the immediate Windsor area (unlike the clear-channel CBE on 1550).

Last edited by MJ Vancouver (March 14, 2021 4:17 pm)

 

March 14, 2021 5:17 pm  #6


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

According to Radio Locator, Ann Arbour's WUOM easily reaches Detroit with their 93,000 watt signal. I'm guessing Ann Arbour is maybe 40 miles west of Detroit.

 

March 14, 2021 6:32 pm  #7


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

WDET is #14 with a 2.9
WUOM is # 21 with a 1.8

Detroit doesn't seem to be seeing the same NPR growth as many other markets.

Worth noting that NPR is very different from the CBC in that the stations aren't uniform. The affiliates are independently owned (often by universities) and can run their own programming schedules. Some, like in Boston, compete against each other. And like anything else, some are run much better than others.


 
 

March 14, 2021 6:58 pm  #8


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

RadioAaron wrote:

WDET is #14 with a 2.9
WUOM is # 21 with a 1.8

Detroit doesn't seem to be seeing the same NPR growth as many other markets.

Worth noting that NPR is very different from the CBC in that the stations aren't uniform. The affiliates are independently owned (often by universities) and can run their own programming schedules. Some, like in Boston, compete against each other. And like anything else, some are run much better than others.

I’ve listened to four NPR stations in my life - KUOW Seattle, WBFO Buffalo, WQLN Erie, and WCPN Cleveland.

WQLN-FM airs a mix of NPR news and music programming, so it’s very different from the other three. KUOW has a very strong local news department and a good mix of NPR, BBC and American Public Media programs, and is run by the University of Washington. They are one of the top-rated stations in the market and they have some Canadian financial supporters (myself included). WCPN seemed very dry and academic-sounding the one time I listened to them. Like Detroit’s WDET, last I had checked WCPN doesn’t have strong ratings in its local market; right-leaning WTAM 1100 is dominant there for radio news/talk (though they also have the Cavs so that helps them).

Last edited by MJ Vancouver (March 14, 2021 7:04 pm)

 

March 15, 2021 9:42 am  #9


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

MJ Vancouver wrote:

RadioAaron wrote:

WDET is #14 with a 2.9
WUOM is # 21 with a 1.8

Detroit doesn't seem to be seeing the same NPR growth as many other markets.

Worth noting that NPR is very different from the CBC in that the stations aren't uniform. The affiliates are independently owned (often by universities) and can run their own programming schedules. Some, like in Boston, compete against each other. And like anything else, some are run much better than others.

I’ve listened to four NPR stations in my life - KUOW Seattle, WBFO Buffalo, WQLN Erie, and WCPN Cleveland.

WQLN-FM airs a mix of NPR news and music programming, so it’s very different from the other three. KUOW has a very strong local news department and a good mix of NPR, BBC and American Public Media programs, and is run by the University of Washington. They are one of the top-rated stations in the market and they have some Canadian financial supporters (myself included). WCPN seemed very dry and academic-sounding the one time I listened to them. Like Detroit’s WDET, last I had checked WCPN doesn’t have strong ratings in its local market; right-leaning WTAM 1100 is dominant there for radio news/talk (though they also have the Cavs so that helps them).

KUOW does very well in Seattle. #2 with a 7.3 share [stationratings.com] Other non commercial stations that have excellent ratings KPCC #6 in LA-3.6. WBUR #9 Boston-5.1. WLRN #8 Miami-4.0. Washington DC has two!! public stations in their top 10. American University's WAMU leads the market with a 13.4. WETA is a respectable 6th at 5.4.

 

March 15, 2021 11:18 am  #10


Re: Stn. To Listeners: Help Us Buy A New Transmitter Or We May Not Be Here

In my experience around the public media landscape on this side of the border, it's not uncommon for stations to make special fundraising pleas for specific needs that arise. Sometimes it's a big capital equipment need like WDET's transmitter. Sometimes it's the acquisition of a new signal or the launch of a new big project. There was a major capital drive back in the early 1980s here in Rochester to raise the money WXXI needed to add AM 1370 to its existing FM 91.5 (and WXXI-TV), allowing the FM signal to go all-classical and the AM to launch with what was then a mix of news, talk and jazz. 

I don't know the specifics about WDET's transmitter woes, but it's not uncommon these days for equipment like that to have only a 15 year usable lifespan. So much is software driven, and as the hardware gets more complex, replacement parts go out of production faster and become unobtanium. If it's the brand I think it might be, there simply isn't support for the product readily available now. Managing shorter lifespans for equipment and services and budgeting for shorter replacement cycles is part of the business these days.