Touchy transmitter kicks Alamosa’s KRZA off the air
Community radio station raising funds for critical repairs
Silence is all that Taoseños have heard when they turn the radio dial to 88.7 FM.
The signal from KRZA, the community radio station out of Alamosa, Colorado, usually reaches Taos and even Santa Fe. But a series of issues interrupted the usual lineup of community news and shows, NPR programming and beloved norteño music. They’ve been off the air in the Taos area and San Luis Valley since late September.
Avid KRZA listener and self-described hermit Leland Dirks has been feeling the hurt, especially with no television and limited internet.
Dirks lives off the grid in Costilla County. During the Spring Fire this summer, which became the largest wildfire in the state’s history, he was glued to the radio for daily and hourly updates. But even when there wasn’t an emergency unfolding a few miles away, he’s often tuned in, including each morning during a two-hour walk with his dogs. “Diverse programming, covering LGBTQ issues, weather… I love that it’s community radio (and) how committed it is to all the communities of the valley,” Dirks said.
An extra hot summer started the cascading problems, said Gerald Rodriguez, general manager of the community radio station. “We have some old equipment up there, an old AC, and it finally gave out this year,” he said.
It took a while to get money to buy a new air conditioner and then to truck it to the top on an ATV. Everything was good for the day after Rodriguez installed the new cooling unit. That’s when the transmitter finally broke completely.“There were times I was racing the sun to get down,” he said.
For a small media outlet on a shoestring budget and an even smaller staff, the repairs to the transmitter — the all-important piece of equipment for a radio station — cost them a lot, both in time and now in money.
Throughout the summer, Rodriguez would make the long hike to the KRZA equipment on top of San Antonio Mountain near the New Mexico-Colorado border. He’d sling a bag of tools over his shoulder and soldier the three hours to the radio equipment on top of the mountain. He’d tinker with whatever part was messing up, call the manufacturer with error codes and do his best to put it back together before making the three-hour trek back down to his car.
Rodriguez probably did this 10 times over the summer.
At last, problems with the transmitter’s power supply forced Rodriguez to track down an engineer, a scarce resource in Southern Colorado. Their engineer has been traveling from Colorado Springs in his off-time to repair the station’s equipment.
As a temporary measure, a low-power transmitter was installed on the Alamosa office. The station is now broadcasting in a 15-mile radius around the city. The station also streams online at kris.org and via the TuneIn app on smartphones.
Rodriguez said the station’s seen a big jump in online listeners as many longtime fans didn’t even know that was an option until the transmitter problems arose and they “called up the station to ask what’s going on.”
The station has already paid about $4,000 for new equipment and the cost for labor will tack on even more to the station’s $13,000 in expenses.
The station was forced to delay its fall fund drive. The drive will now take place from Nov. 3-17. “Due to the expense and timing of this issue, we need donations now more than ever,” read a KRZA Facebook post. Listeners can donate via the station’s website, via PayPal or by sending it to the station office, 528
9th Street, Alamosa, Colorado
‘We have some old equipment up there, an old AC, and it finally gave out this year.’
— Gerald Rodriguez, KRZA general manager
Gerald Rodriguez, general manager of KRZA, hiked to the top of San Antonio Mountain nearly 10 times over the summer to make various repairs to malfunctioning equipment. The transmitter finally went out, forcing the radio station off the air. The station’s now raising money to cover the repairs and meet its monthly expenses.
A temperamental air conditioning unit was the first major problem faced by KRZA this summer. Rodriguez replaced it, but the transmitter went out soon after.