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Last weekend’s storms brought an unexpected shock to KCSB-FM 91.9 employees, after a lightning bolt destroyed the on-campus radio station’s receiving antenna.
KCSB Chief Engineer Bryan Brown said the strike occurred sometime between Saturday night and early Sunday morning, causing some of the station’s internal monitoring equipment to malfunction. Nevertheless, KCSB continues to broadcast from its main transmission facility in the Santa Ynez Mountains at Broadcast Peak.
Brown said KCSB can still send information to the Broadcast Peak location because another antenna, the station’s studio-transmitter link (STL), is still operational. The STL antenna sends signals to Broadcast Peak, while the receiving antenna allows the station to monitor incoming signals.
He said the receiving antenna occupied the tallest point on Storke Tower and likely acted as a lightning rod, absorbing most of the lightning bolt’s electrical charge while preventing damage to other structures atop the tower. The tower also houses electronics like Cingular and Verizon cell phone transmitters.
KCSB Adviser Elizabeth Robinson said the damage came as a surprise setback after years of planned upgrades.
“It was nothing we could anticipate, nothing we could plan for,” Robinson said. “It just happened.”
Brown said former KCSB engineers had never faced a similar dilemma.
“I called the previous engineer and the engineer before him,” Brown said, “They had never heard of anything like this.”
Robinson also said she has never observed anything like last weekend’s events in her 17 years as KCSB adviser. She said the problem has led to a weaker KCSB transmission signal.
“We’re normally on par with everyone else,” Robinson said. “In order for people to hear us now, they need to pump up their volume.”
Brown said the downed receiving antenna only affected internal monitoring issues, such as the ability to hear the broadcast from the studio. It also affected the station’s ability to monitor its broadcasting power, as well as its ability to transmit sound via frequency modulation.
In addition, Brown said an unrelated technical problem has forced KCSB to temporarily broadcast in monaural (mono) sound instead of its usual stereo transmission. Mono sound reproduction transmits in a single channel, in which only one signal travels to the speakers, while stereo sound uses multiple channels and different signals to travel to two speakers.
Brown said he was unable to comment any further on the issue. However, he did say that KCSB’s overall operations have remained unaffected and that the station will continue broadcasting its programs.