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CoastAlaska introduces portable radio station

'Radio To Go' unveiled at expo over the weekend

Posted: September 26, 2011 - 12:28am  |  Updated: September 26, 2011 - 10:58am
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CoastAlaska Engineer John Cone poses next to the "Radio To Go" on Friday at the Juneau Preparedness Expo at Centennial Hall.  Jonathan Grass / Juneau Empire
Jonathan Grass / Juneau Empire
CoastAlaska Engineer John Cone poses next to the "Radio To Go" on Friday at the Juneau Preparedness Expo at Centennial Hall.

CoastAlaska has developed a new kind of portable radio station to aid its seven Southeast stations and even those statewide.

The regional public radio organization introduced its “Radio To Go” at the Juneau Preparedness Expo on Friday and Saturday. The system is a portable broadcasting center that can be transported by any land, sea or air vehicles to act as emergency replacement when regular stations are affected or to aid in newscasts in remote areas.

The modular system can act supplement part or a whole station that is taken off the air. CoastAlaska Engineering Director Brian Zittlau said this is a valuable asset for Alaska radio, where harsh weather, tsunamis, earthquakes or other severe disasters can take down regular broadcasting capabilities.

“Here in Alaska, we have a lot of situations of emergencies so we were trying to develop a situation where if any of our radio stations for any reason would go off the air, we can deploy this and get information out to people,” said Zittlau.

“As an engineer, this is kind of one of those dream kind of projects you get to do, said Zittlau. “It’s got a lot of possibilities with the major possibility of saving lives.”

The “Radio To Go” breaks down into four large box-sized modules with the transmitter, studio and accessory case each weighing about 50 pounds. The other module is a mast and antenna that combines to about 30 feet yet collapses for portability.

It comes complete with microphones, headsets, secure digital card capability and audio and digital playback so it can be used to live broadcasts quickly. It also include CD playback and an iPod dock for recorded programs.

The idea is that it can be packed and shipped to a location quickly as air cargo, by boat, car or pickup truck.

The “Radio To Go” runs on AC power. CoastAlaska engineer John Cone said the invertors allow them to be run on 12 volts of DC power in case the former isn’t available. He said this allows it be run on car, truck or boat batteries if need be.

It transmits on FM frequencies using 150 watts. Zittlau said the reach of the broadcasts depend on the terrain. He said depending on conditions, it can even go higher with an output of 300 or 350 watts including gain.

Zittlau said the mountains throughout Southeast can add difficulty to transmissions, which is why translators for signals are placed throughout the region.

The antenna mast is designed to stay up in high winds or unlevel ground.

Zittlau said the system can be deployed to any stations requesting it for emergencies. He said it’s designed for simple setup and is working on the instructional material now.

It can be used in any Federal Communications Commission licensed area. The FCC can also issue temporary special clearances to operate in emergencies.

Working off a grant by the Denali Commission-with CoastAalska matching the funds-two such units were built, costing about $10,000 each. The two units will be situated in separate areas of Southeast.

Zittlau and Cone said these the only units like these in the state that they’re aware of. Zittlau wasn’t aware of any others in the rest of the country either.

Zittlau said “Radio To Go” will be displayed for other radio centers at a public broadcasters convention in Anchorage.

CoastAlaska has seven radio stations in Southeast.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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