At 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, James Thompson, broadcast engineer for KACU, fired up the new transmitter that will allow KACU to be the first radio station in the Big Country broadcasting in HD.
“We wanted to lead the way in our market, here in West Texas, with the first HD digital radio signal broadcasting NPR and other public radio content,” said John Best, KACU’s general manager, in a press release Friday.
KACU went off the air at 9 a.m. Monday so Thompson and his crew could begin removing the 25-year-old, 1,800-pound transmitter and installing the new one, which weighs more than 2,000 pounds.
The crew worked all day Monday and Tuesday and by Tuesday afternoon, the new transmitter was completely installed, except for one part. A piece of equipment called the audio processor did not start up correctly, so Thompson had to contact the manufacturer for a replacement. While he waits for the shipment to arrive, 89.7 is back on the air in analog.
“It’s all installed and sitting there waiting to go as soon as we get this processor working,” Thompson said. “I decided instead of just waiting until we go digital, it’s better to have the signal on the air for listeners in the area to get their news and regular programming.”
Thompson said he hopes to have the situation resolved and be fully HD within a week.
The new transmitter is capable of broadcasting the regular analog signal alongside a digital signal, so listeners without an HD radio will not notice a difference in programming, said Myra Dean, KACU’s development director.
The digital signal, however, will allow KACU to broadcast three HD stations instead of one: HD1, HD2 and HD3.
HD1 will broadcast the same content listeners hear every day on 89.7. HD2 and HD3 will be home to different programs; KACU will announce those later this year, Dean said. The main difference, she said, will be the sound quality.
“It will be clearer, and the signal will be stronger,” Dean said.
The HD upgrade is an exciting one for many KACU listeners – and employees.
“If you have an HD radio, the sound is almost CD-perfect,” said Sommerly Simser, KACU reporter and senior broadcast journalism major from Las Vegas. “It won’t even sound like radio anymore.”