It’s easy to take the technical side of radio for granted. A host sits in a studio and speaks into a microphone and it’s beamed out across the province through … magic?
In fact, CKUA has a team of engineers who are kept busy ensuring the equipment is working and the music is playing. There’s another group, however, that you might not know about — CKUA’s transmitter monitors. These 14 tech-savvy souls keep CKUA on the air even when weather, power outages and well, ravens, are working against them.
“Our transmitter monitors are extremely important to us,” says Kris Rodts, Director of Engineering, IT and Facilities at CKUA. “When there’s an issue, they’re usually the first ones we call.”
“They save us driving hours to the sites every time there’s something wrong,” adds Rod Setter, CKUA’s Engineering Supervisor. The CKUA engineering team is based in Edmonton so transmitter monitors are their boots on the ground for the 14 transmitters located outside of Edmonton and Calgary.
Monitors take care of basic maintenance, make sure that all is ship-shape and troubleshoot problems.
“Problems” can mean CKUA is suddenly off the air — radio disaster! The causes? Everything from power outages and ice build-up to troublesome ravens stashing berries in a satellite dish.
Greg Halinda, has been working with CKUA’s Fort McMurray transmitter since 2009. A ham radio operator since he was a teenager, he says the work is right up his alley.
“Complicated mechanical and electronic stuff fascinates me,” he says, then laughs. “Kind of a geeky thing.” The Fort McMurray transmitter is located in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood, an area completely devastated by the 2016 wildfire.
“There were trees that burnt right beside the fence around the area where the transmitter is,” says Greg. The transmitter itself was fine. “It’s a survivor.”
Len Whyte has been monitoring CKUA’s Lethbridge transmitter since the 1990s.
Retired after a long career in radio and television – including research for NASA – he says he’s happy to stay connected to radio technology.
“It keeps my finger in the pie, one might say, knowing what’s happening in the broadcast industry and how it’s changing,” he says.
The monitors are often CKUA listeners, too, so sometimes they know there’s an issue before they even receive a call.
Greg was introduced to CKUA as a teenager. “I had this buddy and in high school he was listening to CKUA and into blues,” says Greg, “and I thought, ‘blues?” Isn’t that for old people? What does that have to do with us young guys who like rock ‘n’ roll?’” But eventually he was hooked.
Though the job comes with little fanfare or recognition, this gang of 14 quietly save the radio day on a regular basis.
“Our transmitter monitors are intrepid souls,” says Marc Carnes, CKUA CEO. “They’ll head out to our sites in minus 40 or the middle of the night … whenever we ask them for help.”