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Tech triumph: Transmitter replacement signals new era

Toby Mills testing a new transmitter. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Gareth Winter

Arrow FM, Wairarapa Access radio station, has replaced its 21-year-old transmitter.

Regular listeners had noticed many intermittent faults – an occasional outage and variable audio.

Although they have been able to access their favourite programmes through the station’s podcasts, streaming live on the internet, the live view on Wairarapa TV, and video podcasts, there is a special pleasure in hearing a live broadcast on the radio.

Station manager Michael Wilson is delighted with the quality from the new transmitter, saying he appreciated that listeners had been very patient.

“Thanks for putting up with the varied audio quality over the past few months. We are excited to be back with really good quality audio.”

Replacing the transmitter was not easy, because there are all sorts of problems with worldwide supply of computer componentry as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, using an industry contact in Singapore, Wilson was able to find a replacement – but it was not easy.

The transmitter is manufactured by an American company at its factory in England, and was originally planned to be sent from there, but after a few hiccups was eventually shipped from a facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Once the new transmitter arrived it had to be installed at the transmission tower at Popoiti.

The tower, which provides all radio and TV for the Wairarapa valley, is perched high on a hill-top position east of Greytown, and accessible only through a narrow and sometimes precipitous farm track from the Longbush Valley.

Fortunately, Arrow FM enjoys a unique collaboration with Toby Mills, sound engineer and owner of Noise Productions and Wairarapa TV, which also broadcasts from Popoiti.

Mills provides technical help to Arrow FM.

As he was installing the new transmitter this month, he explained some of the advantages of the updated equipment.

Popoiti broadcast tower in Gladstone.

The Popoiti site is exposed and prone to lightning strikes, so whenever anything happened at the site, technicians had to make the arduous drive up through the farm track.

As well as providing better audio quality, the new transmitter will allow remote access, so technicians can log in from the studio and see how the transmitter is performing.

The new transmitter also has a feature those listening in cars will appreciate – it has RDS capability, meaning those who have modern audio in their car will be able to see station and programme information.

Toby Mills appreciates the diagnostics the new transmitter will provide to the station, as it means he will not have to go charging up to the tower whenever anything minor happens.

In many cases the problem will be able to be fixed at the station.

Michael Wilson is appreciative of the collaboration with Toby Mills.

“Here at Arrow FM, we only have a small staff and we are spread a bit thinly. Toby has been a big help assisting us to develop some automated processes for the station, releasing staff to help our broadcasters and the listening community more.”

He also looked back 21 years to when the replaced transmitter arrived.

“There must be something about transmitters. I had just started the managers job here and the transmitter was somehow lost in the shipping as it came across the world.

“It took quite a bit of sleuthing, but I eventually managed to track it down in a hangar in Kuala Lumpur.”

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