The Historic Context

Early Footsteps on the Path to Regional Broadcasting

It was terribly cold and windy that winter day in 1977. I couldn't imagine how the rigger could work barehanded as he attached cables to the top of the 80-foot tower. A small number of us watched with our hands in our pockets, shivering from the cold. We were eager for the completion of the new transmitting facility. For many years, the little ten-watt college radio station had few listeners outside of Ashland. When I had worked at the Medford Airport, a high-performance rooftop antenna was essential for picking up the station. The new transmitter on Mt. Baldy would make it easy for everyone in Medford to listen.

In view of Jefferson Public Radio's (JPR's) large network of stations, it would be easy to regard that first transmitter on Mt. Baldy as inconsequential. Compared to the previous ten-watt transmitter, however, it was an agent of momentous change. Many in the Rogue Valley were thrilled by the possibility of listening to public radio for the first time.

As we looked at the world that day from the top of Mt. Baldy, the nearby communities from Ashland to Central Point were clearly in view, but on the horizon, we saw only an endless row of mountaintops. This panorama represented the signal coverage from the new transmitter. Nearby listeners would receive a strong signal, but outlying communities had little chance of hearing KSOR directly. Although mountaintops blocked reception, they were ideal locations for small radio-relay stations called translators that could rebroadcast the signal to communities hidden from view.

As soon as the new transmitter was on the air, interest in public radio spread quickly to distant communities. The first translator provided coverage for Grants Pass. Other installations followed, eventually sending the signal as far Roseburg, Lakeview, Mt. Shasta City, and Port Orford. The translator network became the largest in the public radio system.

Because of its educational, noncommercial status, KSOR was free to use translators far beyond the limits placed on commercial stations. Even though the Cascade Mountains blocked the signal from many areas of Eastern Oregon, a chain of three translators eventually relayed the signal from one mountaintop to another in order to serve Lakeview, far to the east.

Transmitting classical music to Lakeview was considerably more difficult than sending them rock 'n' roll. Orchestral pieces have soft passages that are especially vulnerable to noise and distortion. The focus on preserving a high level of sound quality for listeners was new to the world of FM translators. On this and other fronts, the station set new standards of operation for itself.

For ten years, translators extended the range of the 2,000-watt transmitter on Mt. Baldy. In 1987, the transmitter was moved to King Mountain, a thousand feet higher, and the power was increased to 38,000 watts. About the same time, new FCC regulations led to an explosion of remotely controlled FM stations using satellite technology. This was the starting point for a new set of problems and opportunities for FM broadcasting. In 2008, HD Radio offers yet another innovation for the ardent listener.

The digital electronics of today is significantly different from the analog technology that gave form to the translator network. We easily accept the use of cell phones, GPS units and high-speed internet connections. While enjoying the innovations that enrich our lives, it is worth remembering the pioneering achievements of the historic first decade of KSOR translators.

John Patton, KSOR Engineer, 1976-1988